Not long after the announcement that Yahoo was ending the remote work program they had established, Best Buy decided to follow suit in an attempt to change the pace of lackluster productivity and overall company performance. Best Buy’s work from home program labeled as ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) will no longer be an option for current employees. CNN reports that it will not be as stringent as Yahoo and will still allow some flexibility and work-life balance to certain employees. “It used to be a right about which a manager had no say. Now it’s a conversation,” Best Buy spokesman Matt Furman said in an email. “We believe in employee flexibility but are looking for it to come in the context of a conversation between that employee and their manager.”
In contrast to 2006 when Businessweek did a write-up on the plan for ROWE at Best Buy, a new article in the San Francisco Gate highlights the changes and arguments made for eliminating it now:
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 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 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.
What does this mean for future companies, employees, and essentially HR and recruitment? Big change is coming. While some are upset about this step back in the progression of work-life balance, others are wholeheartedly on board with the move “forward” toward a more traditional work environment. Former Best Buy employee turned Minneapolis attorney recently wrote a post for the Star Tribune in support of Best Buys decision, citing, among other reasons, employees taking advantage of the system:
Another interesting financial problem for overly “remote” firms like Best Buy is that they have a massive accrued corporate liability for unused vacation and other time-off benefits. Employees at ROWE-type companies feel as though one e-mail during the day eradicates any need to report what would otherwise be a vacation day or sick day. There are employees who feel their week’s vacation can really be boiled down to just one or two days off since they had their phone with them at the beach.
Finally, a note of caution for those remote workers who insist that going into an office is simply too much to be expected of them:
There are millions of “remote workers” in other countries who agree with you completely. They would love to take over your remote-worker role — at about one-fifth of your salary. Winning the argument that your job and your skills are not needed at the office only further justifies your company’s sending your job to places like India with its vast, talented, educated and capable remote workforce.
Agree or disagree with the change, it would interest me to see the productivity and performance levels of the managers tasked with supervising the quality of work for those in the ROWE program. In dealing with problem employees over the years, when situations get to the point that a massive change needs to be undergone, all for the “greater good”, they can typically be pinpointed to a few weak links that started the snowball to begin with. Bad management is like an infectious disease to any company. ROWE may or may not have been a successful program for productivity, but when a ship starts to sink, it’s not those scrubbing the deck that you should be looking at to place blame.