In March 2017, one of the most notable proponents of remote working also reversed its policy, when IBM informed over 2,000 of its US staff they could no longer work from home. The company told Bloomberg that bringing staff back into a traditional space could lead to faster, more productive, more creative workers.
"IBM's strategy is about adopting the best work method for the work being done," a spokesperson said. "For example, small, multi-disciplinary teams of engineers, coders, project managers and designers work in close proximity, often directly with clients or end users, continually generating and refining ideas."
Even the most technologically advanced companies have been forced to recognise that remote working has drawbacks and unintended consequences, alongside the advantages of flexibility.
Research supports the view that the creative, collaborative qualities of the office environment can't simply be replicated on the screens of our smartphones, tablets and laptops. Studies by Justin Kruger at New York University have shown how we consistently overrate our ability to communicate over email, and fill in the gaps in communication with faulty guesses. Meanwhile, Robert E Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University has demonstrated how digital technology has failed to create environments where collaboration succeeds as well as it does in the office. Shared physical spaces and proximity to each other are crucial to effective understanding between employees.
Flexible working hasn't always improved the lives of workers either: for many, a reliance on digital communication has ended up blurring the boundary between work and home. As Monash University's Anne Bardoel points out, technology "has increased our ability to work from home and outside of regular hours, but at the same time it has increased the expectation that we will do so".
In this way, remote working further complicates the difficult work-life balancing act that employees already face. Other researchers have identified what they call "flexibility stigma", where remote workers in high-level roles feel they need to put in long hours at evenings and weekends to demonstrate their passion for the job, fearing that otherwise they will be overlooked for advancement.