Best Buy's ROWE Endeavor

Women with laptop

The blog I wrote on the problem with the phrase "work-life balance" really struck a chord. It was picked up by the Boulder Daily Camera, and the following week I was stopped on campus and elsewhere around Boulder by people who said they really agreed with me.

It seems I'm not the only one who thinks this way. While on the plane home from New York City last week I was catching up on reading, and happened onto an article in the December 11, 2006 issue of BusinessWeek about Best Buy, called "Smashing the Clock." The article describes how Best Buy is reshaping the workplace through its ROWE endeavor, or "results-only work environment." This innovative program "seeks to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity."

With ROWE, there are no fixed schedules; everybody is off the leash. No impression management "hustles" – you are judged for your output and not for the fact that you sit at your desk all day. This is a "post-geographic" office - work is no longer a place where you go, but something you do. Work is "location-agnostic." The program's co-founder says ROWE is like "TiVo for your work." (The article uses some great language I hadn't heard before; in fact it assigns terminology to the very system of flexibility that worked so well for my husband and I as we were raising our children.)

If you're a team manager of some type, you may be thinking that this sounds like a total lack of control. But it's not - there's a system to this just like any other HR system. You need to build a culture for producing excellent outputs, and you need to have high expectations for people. You need to measure productivity, you need to communicate regularly, and you need to build trust. And, if you're an unplugged worker, you need to truly share in the responsibility of the organization – you need to communicate, you need to be willing to make personal sacrifices for the job when required, and you need to produce. Period. Basically, unplugged workers need to make themselves essential to the organization.

So what happened when Best Buy allowed staff to work wherever and whenever they want? The article says that the average rise in worker productivity since the program went into effect is 35 percent. And voluntary turnover since 2005 for their three divisions was greatly reduced: (dot-com, down 90 percent; logistics, down 52 percent; and sourcing, down 75 percent.)

Sounds worthwhile to me!



Lucy Sanders is CEO and Co-founder of NCWIT.