KAI RYSSDAL: With the holidays right around the corner, Best Buy is hawking a storeful of digital stocking stuffers. But it has something else on special: worker satisfaction. At corporate headquarters near Minneapolis, Best Buy is editing the word "schedule" from its vocabulary. Minnesota Public Radio's Annie Baxter has this report from our Work and Family Desk.
ANNIE BAXTER: You might not not be aware of it, but there's a dark force hiding behind the walls of corporate America. It's something people at Best Buy call sludge—it's the inertial belief that you have to live by the 9-5 clock.
CALI RESSLER: Sludge really keeps the culture of corporate America stable, the way it always has been, you know, for the last 40-50 years.
That's Cali Ressler, one of the founders of Culture Rx—it's a kind of Human Resources think tank housed at Best Buy's corporate headquarters.
The idea of sludge captivated Ressler and her colleague Jodi Thompson a few years back—that's when they were helping Best Buy put together a flex time program for workers at headquarters.
Jodi Thompson says, first of all, workers on flex time sometimes felt sludged by colleagues.
JODI THOMPSON: So an example of that would be, "Boy, she got to leave at 4 o'clock again today; I wish I had a kid."
And Cali Ressler says even with flex time, workers still felt like they were being treated like children. They were still told to work during set hours when they might not be feeling most creative. That was because the company still assumed that workers are most productive when chained to their desks.
RESSLER: We realized that employees were really going from one box of a traditional schedule to yet another box, of just another kind of schedule that puts controls and confines around when and where work can get done.
So Ressler and Thompson decided to throw out the notion of a schedule altogether. And they started a clandestine plan to get work teams at corporate Best Buy to adopt what they call a "results only work environment." Employees work whenever they want, wherever they want, as long as they get the work done.
After three years, about two-thirds of Best Buy's corporate staff are now on the results only work program...and the numbers keep rising. Turnover among staff on the plan is down by three percent and productivity is up by about one-third.
So Best Buy wins. And employees can now do a day's work without ever changing out of pajamas.
JEFF ROBLES: The key paradigm shift here is, you're not home. You're not at work. You're on the planet.
That bit of zen wisdom comes from Jeff Robles, a buyer for the company who's on the program. He says with all the advancements in technology, it doesn't matter where employees work or when. As proof, Robles pointed out that while I was posing questions to him and some of his colleagues, he was "working" on his blackberry.
ROBLES: Actually I was checking a couple e-mails.
But he might take a day off at the end of the week and he won't have to get permission. In the past, when relatives came to town over the holidays, he'd stress about how to fit them into his work schedule.
ROBLES: Just couldn't plan anything. The people would come in, you hadn't seen 'em in years, and you're working. So now I'm not even thinking, "I better figure out how," I know I'm gonna have time.
HR Consultant Jim Donahue with Hewitt Associates says so far corporate America only offers tele-commuting to about 20 percent of its workers. And most still have set hours, unlike at Best Buy.
JIM DONAHUE: Now that, you know, a major employer that's a Fortune 100 company or so is doing this, it gives it a whole bunch of legitimacy, versus coming from a consultant or an academic who says this is a good thing.
Donahue adds that Best Buy seldom does anything quietly, so he expects to see the company push the Results Only program with the vigor of a holiday sale.
I'm Annie Baxter, for Marketplace
Cali Ressler, left, and Jody Thompson of Culture Rx work on a pitch for their Results Only Work Environment program.
Best Buy's corporate headquarters espouses its workplace ethos on office walls.