How Best Buy Has Changed Its Tune on Flexible Workby
Telecommuters may want to dust off those old suits. After Yahoo decided to end its work-from-home program, setting off a wave of debate and criticism, Best Buy said Monday that it will cease its flexible work program, called “Results-Only Work Environment” (referred to simply as “ROWE”), for corporate employees. ROWE was groundbreaking when it launched in 2005. Soon after, though, the company found itself struggling financially as online competitors gained ground. Management, in pulling back from this radical flexible work system, is looking to shake things up again as it faces extreme competitive stress.
Best Buy says it will still accommodate employee needs for work-life balance, but rather than working wherever, whenever, they will now have to seek permission from managers. The goal: to improve leadership, collaboration, and efficiency by having people together in the office. Sure, there will be instances when people will work remotely, but it’s a complete reversal from the enthusiasm the company expressed for ROWE in a 2006 Bloomberg Businessweek cover story. Here’s a comparison of what the company said to us then and what it’s saying now:
Then: ROWE aims to judge performance on output instead of hours, and demolish business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity.
Now: ROWE is “fundamentally flawed from a leadership standpoint” as it assumed the only acceptable way to lead is by delegating, Hubert Joly, Best Buy’s chief executive, said in February.
Then: “This is like TiVo for your work,” said ROWE co-founder, Jody Thompson.
Now: “Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business,” says Best Buy spokesman Matt Furman.
Then: “ROWE was an idea born and nurtured by a handful of passionate employees,” then-CEO Brad Anderson said. “It wasn’t created as the result of some edict.”
Now: “The decision to end the program came from the executive team,” spokesman Jeff Shelman tells Businessweek.com. “This was something we looked at as we moved into our new fiscal year.”
Then: There were no schedules or mandatory meetings.
Now: If you’re in the area, you’re expected you to come to meetings. “That’s how it is at a lot of workplaces,” says Shelman.
Then: Best Buy started a subsidiary in 2005 called CultureRx “to help other companies go clockless.”
Now: CultureRx, which Thompson and co-worker Cali Ressler spun off at the end of 2007, blogged on Tuesday against Best Buy’s change (“Welcome to the Past: Best Buy Embraces Last Century Management Practices”). “We are extremely disappointed,” Ressler tells us.