Honeywell is joining the ranks of Yahoo and Best Buy by banning telecommuting for most of its workers worldwide, effective immediately.
The decision by CEO Dave Cote was shared with 129,000 employees last week via letters from top managers who outlined the policy change.
Going forward, workers who are not in sales or field service "should be working at their assigned Honeywell location. No regular work from home arrangements within [their department] are permitted unless I approve them," said letters issued last week by executives including Honeywell Chief Financial Officer Thomas Szlosek and John Waldron, president of the Safety and Productivity Solutions unit. "Working from home should be a rare occurrence to accommodate legitimate individual circumstances. … These occasional situations should happen no more than a few days a year."
Similar letters were sent to employees working in Honeywell's $15 billion Automation and Controls business in Golden Valley. Company officials declined to say how many workers the policy change affects.
Reaction within the $40 billion giant have ranged from mere shrugs to absolute dismay as workers adjusted to the idea that they can no longer work from home. Some bemoaned the death of "summer hours" where workers used to leave early on Fridays and finish work at home or the cabin. Other employees resented the end to a flexible situation they had come to depend on.
The new policy is "right out of the dark ages and driven by one egomaniacal CEO's need to control and bleed every last bit of soul out of the company," complained one employee from Minnesota who asked to remain anonymous. He worried that mandating office-only work would alienate millennials who crave flexibility. It may cause some workers to leave the company and fails to consider those hires who had explicit agreements for telecommuting, he said.
Management sees things differently and said the change was needed "to encourage the high level of collaboration we need to outperform," according to the letters to employees.
Honeywell executives said in the letters that when employees come into the office to do their jobs, it fosters teamwork and idea sharing. It also helps co-workers make decisions faster and become agile when addressing changes in the global markets, they said.
Honeywell spokesman Mark Hamel declined to comment on any negative reactions within company ranks.
Clarifying Honeywell's "remote work policy to employees," Hamel said, "reflects the collaborative culture that Honeywell expects and believes will help the company continue to drive the kind of results that our customers, partners and investors have come to expect of us."
Honeywell's change comes at a time of lackluster growth in the global industrial sector and at a time of restructuring within the New Jersey-based behemoth. The company reported third-quarter results Friday in which quarterly sales rose 2 percent, but net income slid 2 percent to $1.25 billion. The stock is trading near $109, down from its $120 price in July.
Honeywell joins other big companies in changing its telecommuting policy. Yahoo, Best Buy and Hewlett-Packard called all their remote workers back into the office in 2013.
Best Buy spokesman Matt Furman said the retailer received a lot of attention after it dramatically cut back on employee remote work arrangements at its Richfield headquarters. Before the change, Furman said employees didn't have to ask permission to work off site and didn't even have to tell bosses if they were working at all.
Under the new policy, every worker was expected to report to the Richfield campus or get management's permission to work off site.
That "reduced the number of people who were working someplace other than the corporate headquarters," Furman said. "Externally there was a lot of interest in [the policy change] and critiques. But internally, the vast majority of the employees fully understood the circumstances. They read the newspaper and saw the earnings. They knew this was a company that was embarking on a life or death turnaround and understood that all hands on deck were required."
At the time, the electronics retail giant, with more than 1,400 stores, was in midst of a major restructuring by Hubert Joly, the company's CEO who had taken over in 2012. The week before the policy change was announced, 400 corporate employees had been laid off.
Like Honeywell, the end of telecommuting at Best Buy, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard proved headline news and caused benefits experts to wonder if the practice would spread, said Cassidy Solis, workplace flexibility program specialist at the 285,000 member Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Many think that "the death of the remote workplace is coming. But that happens whenever one of the big dogs comes out and ends [the practice]. The research shows us a different story. Telecommuting is on the increase," Solis said.
Telecommuting on the rise
In 1996, 20 percent of companies let staffers work from home, according to SHRM. A soon-to-be-published joint study by SHRM and the Families and Work Institute found telecommuting is offered by 66 percent of U.S. companies today.
Companies must decide if the policy works for both the business and employees, Solis said.
Some firms report that offering remote work as an option helps them recruit and retain employees. Others credited it for transforming their firms into national entities because staff working remotely in different time zones expanded business.
Still, it's not for everyone.
"It depends on the business' circumstances," Solis said. "There is no right or wrong. And telecommuting is not the only flex work arrangement that an employer can offer."
Other companies allow flexible hours or generous time-off policies.
"That is what Yahoo did," Solis said. "In February 2013, Yahoo called everyone back into the office. It wanted everyone around the table to spark a sense of collaboration. But then, months later, they offered a very generous parental-leave policy. The beauty of a flexible work arrangement is that it matches both the employees' and the employer's needs."
Right now, there are no indications that Honeywell intends to offer additional benefits to soften its new policy.
"A core belief of our senior leadership team is that people work better in close proximity to other people, where ideas readily can be exchanged," Szlosek wrote. "As with all policies, these changes will be in compliance with all applicable laws. Raise any questions with your HR leader."