The Wall Street Journal:

Although working from home has been expanding steadily, some chinks are appearing in the trend. A few big promoters of home-based and mobile-office work arrangements, including AT&T, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and parts of the federal government, have called some home-based workers back to the office, causing some to quit.

The callbacks are small and don’t reflect a full retrenchment, but the factors at work — a push to consolidate operations, and the notion that teamwork improves when people work face-to-face — suggest other employers might follow suit as recession clouds loom.

AT&T called an unspecified number of its 5,000 to 6,000 telecommuters back to the office late last year as part of a consolidation of operations, a spokesman says.

SBC Communications, which acquired AT&T and BellSouth, among other companies, and took the AT&T name, now has a national network of offices, making telecommuting unnecessary, he says. Also, some managers wanted to bring workers together to reorganize their work and build new teams quickly.

And the federal government, also a big promoter, posted a 7.3% drop in telecommuters from 2005 to 2006, partly because of a callback by the Interior Department. Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant secretary for the department, cites some managers’ security worries about the potential theft of laptops with sensitive data, or hackers intruding on remote users’ wireless networks.

But if these bellwether employers can call telecommuters back to the office, any company can. Telecommuters are easy to fire or relocate. Andrea Meyers had been working successfully from home for three years when her small employer laid off all of its 30 telecommuters with no explanation. It may be easier to sever people working from home, she says, because they’re “not visible.”

Photo by sean dreilinger.

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