Fascinating BusinessWeek article – “Smashing the Clock”

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My Arizona buddy Pete just sent me the link to a really fascinating article by BusinessWeek online that chronicles the bold experiment by Best Buy to “smash the clock” and not require headquarter employees to observe any kind of fixed time schedule.

In my rant to CEOs awhile back, my point #8 was “Focus on the work people do, not how or when they do it.”  This is a concrete example of this philosophy in practice.

Excerpts from the article:

“One afternoon last year, Chap Achen, who oversees online orders at Best Buy Co., shut down his computer, stood up from his desk, and announced that he was leaving for the day. It was around 2 p.m., and most of Achen’s staff were slumped over their keyboards, deep in a post-lunch, LCD-lit trance. “See you tomorrow,” said Achen. “I’m going to a matinee.”

Under normal circumstances, an early-afternoon departure would have been totally un-Achen. After all, this was a 37-year-old corporate comer whose wife laughs in his face when he utters the words “work-life balance.” But at Best Buy’s Minneapolis headquarters, similar incidents of strangeness were breaking out all over the ultramodern campus. In employee relations, Steve Hance had suddenly started going hunting on workdays, a Remington 12-gauge in one hand, a Verizon LG in the other. In the retail training department, e-learning specialist Mark Wells was spending his days bombing around the country following rocker Dave Matthews. Single mother Kelly McDevitt, an online promotions manager, started leaving at 2:30 p.m. to pick up her 11-year-old son Calvin from school. Scott Jauman, a Six Sigma black belt, began spending a third of his time at his Northwoods cabin.”

It seems like this radically flexible schedule is having an impact on hard business metrics like productivity, employee engagement and turnover.  If indeed it is true and not hype, I am really encouraged and hope that some other companies try this approach.

Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, and for some, having a flexible schedule coupled with the perks of employment would be a good deal.

If you know anyone who actually works for Best Buy in this arrangement, I would be fascinated to hear from them.

Do you think it is hype, or would something like this have a real impact on your satisfaction level as an employee in a corporate environment?

9 Responses to “Fascinating BusinessWeek article – “Smashing the Clock””

  1. Jim Walton says:

    I would love the flexibility and it would make me happier in my job, but like many others who commented, I don’t see my employer jumping on board.

    I have several business clients on the side where I support their network and all things technical and I just took a long lunch today because I needed to be onsite at one of my clients while they were there to understand an issue that was going on. I normally do my own stuff after hours but there are times when I’ve got to be there during the day.

    I’m working hard to get out of my job and work on my own, so a flexible schedule would not make me any more devoted to my employer but it would be more bearable.

  2. Seraphim says:

    I work at a large corporation where such flexibility is fairly common. Many people work from home, managing their own schedules.

    Generally it works out fine, but there are some “gotchas”. When teams are scattered across several time zones, partly because some people are telecommuting, it tends to lower team productivity — harder to find people to set up meetings, harder to get the team together for a face-to-face brainstorm or planning session, when you can have people putting their ideas up on whiteboards and that kind of thing. You can replace some of this with technology such as NetMeeting or WebEx, but the “bandwidth” of communication in a face-to-face meeting is much higher. It’s just easier to organize work as a team, when you know where to find the team members at any given time of the day.

    With predominant telecommuting, it’s also much harder to have those in-the-hallway spontaneous discussions and brainstorms, which can be so helpful. Instant messaging takes care of some of that, but it’s just “not the same” as spontaneous face-to-face meetings.

    Another issue is that knowledge work is hard to measure. If you haven’t done the work to decide what to measure and how to measure it, and what performance really means, then you fall back on “soft” measures, such as the impression you make on people. And it’s harder to make an impression when you’re not physically present.

    Worst of all, some people abuse the arrangement, with a measurable dropoff in productivity over time.

    So, if management doesn’t like the idea, it’s not just because they are sticks-in-the-mud — it’s because there are real issues with this kind of flexibility. If the employee is diligent to be aware of the issues and pitfalls, and to work around them and be accommodating, and to generally just “be available” and let everyone know where you are and what you’re doing, then it can work really well. For some employees (and managers), that’s just too much hassle, and the standard 9-to-5 (or 8-to-6 ?), at-your-desk arrangement just works better.

  3. Nate says:

    I agree with much of the above. One of the HUGE reasons I am unhappy is because of the rigid structure of the corporate environment. I have to sit here in front of my computer even if there is no work to do…it’s insane!!

    I can’t see any major corporations offering the type of work structure that Best Buy supposedly offers anytime soon. It would mean giving up control, and anything that does that is surely going to scare CEOs.

  4. I don’t know if it’s hype, but if Best Buy goes ahead with this policy, I think they need to measure the effect “smashing the clock” has on the organization.

    How can they do that?

    One way is using tools like Richard Barrett’s Cultural Transformation Tools. We use them where I work and they are one way of measuring values, performance and employee engagement over time.

    I work largely on my own time, even within a small company, but I would think the employees would gravitate towards the policy.

    It reminds me of my college days. I had a class where the professor handed out a blank sheet of paper and we graded ourselves for our final exam…let me tell you, it was the most interesting moments in a final exam I can remember!

    “Smashing the Clock” would make for a great experiment…and a great short film!

    Thomas R. Clifford
    Corporate Documentary Filmmaker

  5. For five years I worked from my home in Italy for a company in Silicon Valley – they had offices in Europe, but I reported to California. I travelled out there four times a year for several weeks at a time, even longer in summer when I could bring my family with me.

    This worked well for everybody up to a point, but, for it to keep working, you have to have management that knows and trusts you – and turnover on their side may mean (as it did for me) that no one knows any more quite who you are and what you’re doing there. Then they start to wonder how come you get to work from Italy and no one else does!

  6. andy says:

    I think Rob has it nailed.

    Too many organizations (my current one included I would venture) would rather have “faces present” as a metric than “results delivered” (whatever they happen to be for any given process or initiative).

    My other thought is that when management doesn’t trust its people to perform without a taskmaster, perhaps they have the wrong people.

  7. Rob Wallis says:

    It would have a GREAT impact, but good luck in seeing it implemented on a large scale. Corporate owners/ managers/etc. just don’t have the ability to process beyond the “you are here at 8, you leave at 5 no matter what” mentality.

    The fear is too great for them to allow such flexibility.

  8. Laura says:

    I’m curious, is this only in the Minneapolis office for Best Buy? My boyfriend used to work at their Canadian head office in BC until about six months ago and oh my God, was he ever stuck in a rigidly structured time schedule, in addition to being expected to be on call 24/7 to accept phone calls.

    For me personally, if my company were to offer me a flexible schedule that required me to work only as many hours as it took to complete my work, and at the hours and location that suit me, I would probably stay there forever. And I HATE my job. But more than my job duties, I hate that I have only enough work to keep me busy 30 hours a week but have to put in those extra 10 hours of “face time,” and I hate getting up early in the mornings and having a structured lifestyle. Being able to work from home, take breaks when convenient, and start work in the afternoons would have such a huge positive impact on my lifestyle. I would probably choose a flexible schedule over every other job perk you could possibly offer me, including a raise.

  9. Lee Cockrell says:

    Yes, it would have a HUGE impact. I do contracting nowadays, and I don’t have to worry about using vacation time to take the cat to the vet, having to split precious days off between vacation and christmas. The company I worked for 1.5 years ago constantly nagged me NOT to take days off. They tried to get me to cancel my vacation! For no other reason than “we have billable work.”

    The problem is that full time employment is a *standard* instead of an *option*. While continuity of personnel and work level are important, I would argue that your personal life takes priority. Full time employment with two weeks off per year just doesn’t give enough time off.

    My wife really wants to have flexible or reduced time but is afraid her employer won’t let her. (She is in a sector which would be difficult to be an entrepreneurial in.) I would really like to hire her in my corporation so she can have the employment benefits while contracting her work out at a number of hours per week she feels comfortable at.

    The 40-hour work week is an anachronism.