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Best Buy Says Goodbye to ROWE as Another Work From Home Program Bites The Dust

Yahoo! may be trend setters after all – Best Buy just released it was ending its work from home program called Results Only Work Environment or ROWE (Well…sorta.)

You now need your manager’s approval first. Actually, ironic considering ROWE first began at Best Buy in an effort to give the company a competitive advantage. The former CEO of the company even wrote the forward for another book by the creators of ROWE.

The Federal government also tried the program, determined it didn’t work, and ended it last year.

So what do Yahoo! and Best Buy have in common? They both have yet to fully overcome their biggest competitors in the marketplace and increase innovation, despite increased stock prices. A review of how things get done is often a sign that the company is facing challenges. This does have a certain logic to it; our people backed by our processes deliver productivity and profits. Ok, so if facing issues in both areas then slow down, investigate why, collect a diverse set of data, analyze, and then take action.

They could be organizational, leadership or strategy related issues, contributing to the potential of lack of long-term sustainability.

The problem is all too often organizations don’t slow down, they don’t really collect and delve into all the available data. They see one data point (often related to money) and decide that one sweeping change will fix the issue. Making rapid policy changes without taking a holistic organizational view is like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole. What data led Best Buy’s CEO to determine the ROWE was “fundamentally flawed?”

“In a turnaround transformation, direction needs to come from the top. I make sure to get to a conclusion based on fact."

- Hubert Joly, CEO Best Buy

In a world where some of the most innovative and successful companies are leading the pack partly due to a focus on people and profit – removing your work from home policy won’t exactly make your staff more productive and innovative. In fact – studies reported by Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network suggests quite the opposite.

“Unscheduled” absences – 78% of employees who call in sick really aren’t – cost U.S. companies 300 billion dollars per year. That’s about $1,800 per employee per year. You do the math…

Still not a believer?

- AT&T workers work 5 more hours at home than their office counterparts.

- American Express workers produced 43% more than their office counterparts.

- Compaq/HP increased productivity 15%-45%.

So if your company is facing any type of challenge – before making sweeping policy changes - follow these 3 steps to encourage your work force to be more engaged and higher performing:

  • Get recent diverse data. Not just financial data. If you think an issue exists, ask employees, stakeholders, and even customers for information. Do they see the same concerns those in the boardroom do? If so, do they see it as an issue? Perhaps they may see issues that those in the boardroom failed to notice. Once you get the data, if it validates the original thoughts and decisions, then ok. But if it doesn’t, then start looking into taking actions around the information your stakeholders shared.
  • Communicate with them. To increase engagement and productivity and achieve a high performing culture, frequent, transparent, and authentic communication among leadership, employees, stakeholders and customers is a necessity. It builds trust. Trust is a key factor to making programs like ROWE and telecommuting a success. To keep employees engaged and productive and committed to the organizations strategy, mission, and vision, they need to feel heard, understand leaderships concerns, and know what is going on and why (within reason).
  • People are your organization. Organizations can’t exist without people. People make the difference in every business. To create a high performing culture with engaged and productive employees, you must recruit and retain the right people for your culture. Many things may bring employees through the front door, but bad work environments drive them out. To build a highly engaged and committed workforce, let employees know they and their ideas are valued and provide a culture where their voices can be heard. This increases trust. Creating this type of environment increases employee motivation and retention and reduces employee turnover. This type of positive environment helps people reach higher levels of productivity.

“…This guidepost doesn’t mean that people are disrespecting management…there is complete trust between employee and manager…people are focused on the bottom line…if you’re getting what you need from people so you can do your job, end of story.”

– Cali Ressler & Jody Thompson from Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It

Though Best Buy’s CEO is a proponent of accountability - props to him – forcing people to be in an office doesn’t necessarily mean more accountability and productivity, which leads to profitability. However, for a man who is so fond of data and facts, I’d like to see the information that lead to this decision. Speaking of data – here is another way to achieving long term sustainability - ask those who are doing it well how and why.

Ask employees at successful companies like Apple or others with a telecommuting policy if their cultures captivate innovation and high performance…and then ask them if their employer focusing on silly things such as whether they’re in the office or not (assuming they are performing) would have a negative impact on their productivity…

About Scott Span, MSOD: is President of Tolero Solutions an Organizational Improvement & Strategy consulting firm. He helps clients to facilitate sustainable growth by developing people and organizations to be more responsive, productive and profitable.

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