Best Buy just announced that it was getting rid of its famously flexible work environment. Instead of being able to work whenever and wherever they choose, most corporate staff will have to work traditional 40 hour weeks in an office. Best Buy’s “Results Only Work Environment” program (ROWE) was designed to eliminate a culture that focused on facetime, rewarding employees for what they produced alone. Effectively, it didn’t matter where or when you worked, as long as the results were good.
The program was the brainchild of two Best Buy HR employees, Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, who pioneered the program in 2003 and saw it adopted for the wider corporate workforce in 2005.
They now run an HR consultancy which promotes the idea, and wrote a blog post highly critical of CEO Hubert Joly’s decision to end ROWE, accusing Best Buy of returning to “last century management practices.”
“… we think it’s unfortunate, if not downright silly, that Best Buy has made the decision to discontinue operating as a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) for corporate employees. They are sending a clear message that they are more concerned with having leadership excel at monitoring the hallways, rather than building a leadership team that excels at defining clear, measurable results, and holding people accountable for achieving those results. While we agree that Best Buy must take drastic measures to turn their business around, moving back to a 20th century, paternalistic ‘command and control’ environment is most certainly not the answer
In fact, any so-called leadership team can effectively get ‘all hands on deck’, dictate hours and delegate tasks, while their people brag about how many hours they put in ‘at the office’. That’s easy. But only true leadership has the ability to get ‘everyone on point’ with a workforce vs. a workplace that’s fluid, nimble and focused on what matters: measurable results.
They chalk up any problems at corporate to poor management and leadership, rather than any inherent problems with remote work, and say that ROWE is being used as a scapegoat for other problems with the company. The two regard getting rid of it is an easy, cosmetic move that won’t do any good for the company.
In an email, Best Buy spokesman Jonathan Sandler told us that “we certainly believe in workplace flexibility and are just looking for it to come in the context of a conversation between the employee and their manager.”
So flexibility will still be an option, but it will be at the discretion of managers, rather than solely the employee’s decision.
When the news about Yahoo’s decision to recall its remote workers broke, the two posted an open letter with some particularly harsh criticism for Marissa Mayer:
“We don’t think you deliberately meant to send a message to Yahoo! employees that you are an Industrial Age dictator that prefers to be a babysitter vs. a 21st century CEO that can lead a company into the future. Or did you?
When you took the reins at Yahoo!, cries of joy could be heard across the country… across the world. “Finally – someone who understands the high level of control people (not just working parents, but everyone) need to perform at their best in life.” There were high hopes for you and, we admit, lots of pressure to deliver on that. And last week, you didn’t just mess up. You dug yourself a hole that no one can see to the bottom of. You made a move that has effectively painted you as 2013’s CEO Who Doesn’t Get It. And we might as well just give that award to you right now for the next 7 years… because what you’ve done has sealed your place at the top of that list for a very long time.
The counterargument would be that the results at the two companies tell a different story. Both companies are seriously struggling, and clearly there’s more that could be done by the teams at both organisations.
That argument makes a bit more sense in Yahoo’s case, where it appears that remote workers were slacking off.
At Best Buy, on the other hand, no such evidence has come to light, and if Ressler and Thompson are right, the program’s saved the company money by reducing turnover and boosting productivity.
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