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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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