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March 22, 2007

“I work when I want”

That’s the essence of the experiment Best Buy has been running for the last 12 months.  First at its corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, Best Buy is starting to expand its program, nick-named ROWE (Results-Oriented Work Environment), to let employees choose when they work, so long as all of their work gets done.  More than 60% of the company’s employees at its corporate headquarters are part of the program, and it has experimented with the concept in five of its stores to see if it works in the retail setting.  Could this help to drive down the employee turnover of more than 100% at its stores?  Best Buy states it costs $102,000 in recruiting, training, and loss of operational time for each employee that leaves, or 250% of their salary. 

A couple of important issues arise with this type of system.  What if there are no employees at the store during a busy time of day?  How do you get employees there?  Cell phone alerts could work really well, but seeing as Best Buy’s tend to be located in suburban communities, it could take their employees up to 30 minutes to get to work.

As Don Loper pointed out, ROWE will only work if the people at Best Buy are rewarded for getting their work done fast by either free time or a pay increase.  If an employee has the option of working 8 hours each day at a fast pace or an easy pace, they will naturally choose the easier pace, unless they get paid more to work faster.

I know many tech companies don’t care when their employees work, but it seems that in an industry such as retail, you are going to have a well-made alert system with incentives tied to import metrics, such as profit or cash flow, to make ROWE work the best.  Scott Berkun made this point clear when he analyzed the difference between work and progress.

It would be awesome if Best Buy could make ROWE work in their retail stores as it could make working in the stores a much better experience, by giving power to its employees over their work schedule, and also driving down the high cost of replacing its employees.  Given the correct structure, this concept will take off and over-turn the retail industry’s current scheduling model.

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Comments

That's interesting that large corporation like Best Buy is trying this out. I have very low hopes for this sort of "I work when I want" mentality at retail stores though - especially Best Buy.

I have never worked at Best Buy but I did my share in retail at Office Max and I can say that if people got to choose when to work, nobody would be working on weekends or nights and would completely throw off the entire scheduling process.

We'll see though. I'm interested to see what those people implementing this ROWE shennanigan come up with if it works out for them.

I can see how no one would want to show up during undesirable times, if there was no incentive to work then. Maybe the company could set-up a system where you were paid depending upon how many people were working vs. how many were required. So people who worked weekends voluntarily would get paid more, until the other workers showed up to bring the number working and the number required to equilibrium.

I was also trying to picture how this would work at a fast food restaurant (as I worked at McD's for three years), but I have much lower hopes for that industry being able to implement ROWE and stay profitable.

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