Best Buy follows Yahoo in banning flexible work

The electronics retailer ends a program that stressed results rather than hours spent in the office. Do two big moves like this make a trend?

By Aimee Picchi Mar 6, 2013 12:39PM

Caption: People walk past a Best Buy store in New York in August 2012Yahoo (YHOO) caused a stir when 37-year-old CEO Marissa Mayer recently gave an ultimatum to her employees: Telecommuters must come into the office or leave the company. 

But now Best Buy (BBY) is following her lead. It's ending a program called the "results-only work environment," or ROWE, which evaluated workers on performance instead of the amount of time spent in the office. That allowed staff to work whenever and wherever they wanted, as long as they performed, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

With these big American companies shifting their policies, it raises the question of whether a backlash against telecommuting is brewing. While some question whether the ban undermines families, others point to the benefits of working under one roof: collaboration, innovation and creativity. 

But Yahoo's ban wasn't meant to send a cultural message about flexible work arrangements, says The New York Times. Instead, Mayer was seeking to correct some significant problems specific to Yahoo, where reportedly "entire floors of cubicles were nearly empty because some employees were working as little as possible."

Nevertheless, many former fans bashed Mayer for her reversal of prior policy, with some commenters on Twitter calling her decision "awful" and "ridiculous." 

The outrage against Mayer's move, compared with a relatively slow reaction to Best Buy's new position, may also demonstrate how people view female leaders differently than male CEOs. Many people saw Mayer, a young mother, as abandoning the type of workers she was thought to represent. 

Best Buy, run by (male) CEO Hubert Joly, is trying to fend off (AMZN) during a tough time for consumers, who are facing higher gas prices and taxes. 

"Bottom line, it's 'all hands on deck' at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business," Best Buy spokesman Matt Furman told the Star Tribune. 

Not everyone is pleased with Best Buy, either: Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, who created the ROWE program, wrote a scathing review of the decision. On their blog, they described the retailer as having gone "backwards in time" and being "downright silly."

They might have some basis for their argument: More Americans are working from home at least one day a week, according to a Census Bureau report released on Tuesday.

More on moneyNOW

Mar 6, 2013 3:03PM
When working for a company that offered TeleCommuting, I declined, and was one of the few that continued to show up "live and in person" every day; the decision to offer T/C was from HQ, and not my Supervisor. It didn't take long, but even though I was low man on the totem pole, the Super relied on me more and more since I was just a few steps away and wiling to take on what ever was asked, instead of requiring a call or email (and sometimes an argument) to communicate with.

It took many months, but when a senior programmer left, I was offered the position over the many T/C'ers that also applied. Reason? I may not have been the best at what I did, but showed initiative and commitment to both the Super and the company. In less than a year, I was promoted twice!
Mar 6, 2013 2:41PM

Too many people abuse this privilege. People will do the minimum without anyone watching them...for the most part. Even if they are measured on productivity they will do just enough to satisfy their bosses but not an inch more.

I have seen outside salespeople take advantage of this situation many times and then they wonder why they get canned.

Mar 6, 2013 4:19PM

Well, here comes the thumbs down. From a man's perspective.

(1) Many years ago (the 70's) I tried to work from home at least two days a week. At the time my wife was able to stay home with the kids  (3) and we made it on one salary. What began to happen was being home I was too handy to run to the store, watch the kids for a little bit, answer the house phone, play referee when the kids got too loud or were arguing etc etc. At the three month mark I decided I was getting nothing done and was being chastised at work for falling behind. I quit working from home and fortunately I kept my job.

(2) One of my doctors had a terrific young lady doing his billing and following up with patients as well as insurance companies working in the practice. She got married and had one child and then a second. Day care became too expensive and she gave notice to quit and stay home with her two children which became three over time. Doctor did not want to lose her and asked if he set her up at home and worked when she could, would she consider staying on. Eight years ago she said she would try, it worked and she is still with him.

Point is sometimes it works and sometimes it does not.

Mar 6, 2013 3:07PM

I used to work part-time for Best Buy and the thing that stood out to me the most, was the schedules of department managers, area supervisors and store management. Prior to working at Best Buy, I worked in retail management full time, for well over 10+ years. I was scheduled to close my store out 4-5 times a week and was mandatory to close my store out on either a Friday or Saturday and then rotate my Sunday’s with my assistant managers. But when I was at Best Buy - full time staff seemed to work during the slow business hours of the day (8am to 4pm – Monday thru Friday) and then part-time staff was relegated to big budget days and peak hours (7 days a week). I mean, it was great for me because I received plenty of hours - but whether we made budget that day or not fell on my shoulders and I just thought that was very peculiar because I was not a full-time vested employee? Here it is they were paying me $10 bucks an hour – but the person they were paying $18 an hour was sitting at home relaxing  during business peak hours? So I couldn’t understand their logic – or their return on investment when it came to paying and working staff?


I think flex-scheduling is great for people that work in the public sector (at non-essential agencies), because business hours are set. But in the private sector in service industry it’s a challenge to have very liberal working hours and have great return on investment.

Mar 6, 2013 2:21PM
Flexible work seems to be the fall guy for companies that haven't changed with the times and are facing obscurity. Flexible work programs need to be properly managed so that employees are set up for success from the beginning.
Mar 6, 2013 4:34PM
I'm not sure how we got here.  Telecommuting was always viewed by most people as an option for an occasional need or as a scheduling convenience.  It seems that for some of these companies it had become the standard rather than the exception.  I don't understand the willingness to dismantle it, any more than I would have understood allowing people to work exclusively from home.  What ever happened to common sense and balance in the american workplace.
Mar 6, 2013 4:57PM
When tech was new and exciting- Apple, Microsoft etc.  the flexible work system was pretty good, because these young guys were all excited about a whole new industry and often worked many long hours.  However its now a mature industry and the people working in it are just hired employees and will, like most employees, do just  the minimum necessary to maintain their position.  Putting someone like that in a home office environment will lead to less and less productivity.  The sad fact is that most people need someone to crack the whip to keep them moving.
Mar 6, 2013 3:03PM
Just make sure that the employees working from home are performing. I am all for telecommuting and it makes me more productive because I don't have to waste 2+ hours a day in the car and can, instead, work more. If gas wasn't so expensive and our California roads weren't so crowded (where I have to sit in traffic for an hour a day) then going into work wouldn't be such a big deal. Or, if we had high speed trains or subways in all our cities like many other countries in the world then going into work wouldn't be such a big deal because it would take a fraction of the time (and I could work on the train). Instead, going into work forces me to pollute the air and contribute to traffic jams and so I'd rather work from home.
Mar 6, 2013 3:45PM

There's no problem in working at home if one is a contract worker who only gets paid for results. There is also no problem in working at home if one is constantly connected and monitored, and if a failure to be "on deck" for a certain number of hours a day results in one's telecommuting privileges being revoked.


Best Buy is not using the very technology they sell. It's not that hard to have people hooked up via webcams to prove that they are sitting at their desk and available continuously for collaboration--it's the managers who don't want to have to do the "extra" work of using that technology.  It's the same thing at Yahoo--stupidity.

Mar 6, 2013 4:47PM
Good thing I am working at home work office has no power
Mar 6, 2013 6:31PM
Best Buy has much bigger problems than flexible work hours/schedules. This will have little to no affect on BB's future and relevance in the market place.
Mar 6, 2013 6:12PM

Some have said the telecommuting arrangement does not always work.  In those cases, it is because productivity suffers by the home / work boundary getting blurred.  I would think that if productivity is good, there should be no problem.


The real problem is that it takes more effort to measure productivity than to measure attendance.  Management likely prefers to count heads rather than measure output.

Mar 6, 2013 6:01PM
Working from home is fine as long as the company supplies its workers with projects and keeps them on strict deadlines. I work from home and would never take advantage of it but I know many people that do. If you're working from home, you should be ready to work off and on all day. If the company is going to essentially give you an opportunity to literally be with your family all day as an employee you better be ready to make the sacrifice of being available all day. It doesn't mean that you are constantly working but if needed be ready to work outside of the normal 8-5.
Mar 6, 2013 7:39PM
Ok so let's get this straight.  Best Buy is in big trouble financially and are one of the top 5 businesses hinted to be on it's way to closing.  So what do they do to help the situation? Why make things worse for employees of course!! Not a very smart move in light of their standing in the market.  If they think it'll improve business by having the employees in the offices they need to take some business courses because obviously they don't know that won't make a bit of difference.
Mar 6, 2013 6:18PM
Just wanted to add my two-cents (it's been a while).  I worked for a major sporting goods retailer for many, many years as a district administrative assistant.  My little office was located in one of the stores and was equipped with a 3-line phone, a fax machine, a computer and a nice sized filing cabinet.  My boss, the district manager, was on the road and I never saw him unless we were meeting for a specific reason (district meeting, grand opening a new store, etc).  

Basically, I sat in my little office alone, answering phone calls, responding to e-mails, compiling data, etc for 8+ hours a day.  There was no need for me to go to my office 5 days a week for that.  Other than to get my interoffice mail, I could have very easily (and efficiently) done my job from home.  And I could have picked up my mail a couple times a week (there was rarely everything that was extremely urgent and if there was, it was usually FedEx'd).  But the company was old school and the idea of me, a lower level admin working from home would have made someone's head explode.  However, when a director had a baby that ended have health issues, she was allowed to telecommute.  hmmm.

Anyway, that was a few years ago and now I'm teaching science in the inner city.  With the amount of work I take home every day, I feel like I am working 2 full-time jobs.  At least the 2nd one I actually do get to do from home.  :) 

Mar 6, 2013 7:58PM
On days I telecommute, I end up lying around and JERKIN' IT.


And, I doubt I'm the only one.

Mar 6, 2013 7:20PM
To all the mom's out there who have been fighting to be acknowledged for their "work" as stay-at-home moms, you can't telecommute and watch your kids, do laundry, vacuum, and make dinner.  If you're productive, some bosses might let you work at home, but expect them to.  It's a privilege, not a right.  Some will allow it if you prove you can do the work, but nobody can mind children and do housework and be as productive as they can in an office environment so you should either work in an office or get paid according to what you produce.  If you get shut out distractions and work exclusively on the company's tasks, that's another story.  Don't make demands if you can't fulfill them, but allow give and take.
Mar 6, 2013 7:18PM
I work from home sometimes.  On the weekends...
Mar 6, 2013 6:02PM
Good deal If a company hires you then you need to work for that company on there grounds
Mar 6, 2013 10:54PM
I wonder how many telecommuters have jobs with multiple companies?  It wouldn't be hard to put in enough time on each one so that no one would really notice and then pull in two salaries.
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