- Best Buy launched a remote work pilot in 2004
- It was met with some resistance, especially in management
- After some adjustments, culture became accepting
- The program was successful in reducing employee turnover
The Covid-19 pandemic forced a large percentage of workers into remote situations, flipping our expectations and habits in a short period. We are used to framing successful remote work in these terms. But remote and flexible work has been happening for decades at many companies. In a recent New Yorker article, we found out how Best Buy started a remote working pilot back in 2004. It was a good story of how remote work can thrive, as well as how it can struggle.
Drivers of Remote Work
Why did Best Buy venture into this type of program? They were dealing with intense competition for good talent. One of the great things about the Twin Cities is the amount of fantastic companies that headquarter their operations here. Best Buy found it was losing employees to other companies in the area, because people could shop their talents around without having to move. Sound familiar? It should, as the competition for talent has heated up over the past year. People have experienced the success of remote work and how it gives them freedom in their lives. In fact, 4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021. The main reason cited for this shift was the want for remote and flexible work. Thus building a remote work culture is becoming increasingly important to stay competitive. But how exactly does a company do this?
Building Remote Work Culture
Even though the pandemic conscripted millions of remote workers in a short period of time, it wasn’t an easy adjustment. It took effort for many of us to adapt to the new paradigm. Best Buy went through its own struggles when implementing a pilot remote work program. The remote work plan went through several stages, evolving at each step.
At first, the program allowed people to choose which days they worked in the office and which days they worked remotely, without having to ask permission from a manager.
Sounds like a reasonable plan, right? On the surface, each employee is offered plenty of autonomy. But there were problems:
[They] soon realized that even this looser scheme gave managers too much control over their employees’ time.
The Best Buy team was finding that this method was still restrictive. Even though a worker would pick their days beforehand, life would still throw them a curveball. Things would inevitably come up at the last minute. Switching an office day into a home day would still draw ire from certain managers. The pilot team at Best Buy found they needed to go even further. This next step would take an overhaul – not just in office behavior, but in company ethos.
Ressler and Thompson took a leap with their pilot program, telling the participants that they could work whenever, wherever, as long as the work got done, without the need to commit to a fixed schedule in advance or even announce their decisions.
Though most of us have been doing some form of remote work for over a year, we still might not be viewed on a outcome basis. For full autonomy in a remote environment, the nature of communication itself must change. This passage helps to explain:
The pilot participants had to rewire their office interactions to expand these casual handoffs into a structured negotiation: what exactly is being asked, when exactly is it needed, and what other communication will be required between now and then to get it done? Both parties had to agree on a plan that balanced the urgency of the task and the reality of its executor’s workload.
There were other strategies employed to reduce the stigma of certain actions. Certain phrases were deemed as “sludge” and detrimental to the team. Difficult conversations were held where employees openly shared their frustrations.
After some time, the remote culture did succeed at Best Buy. All tasks needed clear definitions and agreed upon deadlines. Meetings became optional. The pilot met its goal of reducing employee turnover. The program spread throughout the company, so that 80% was using its model by 2008. Best Buy estimated millions of dollars saved in lowered turnover. Employees in the remote work program thought they were more productive and happier for working in this method.
Remote work culture is not something that will simply “work” by itself. Trust and commitment are needed at all levels of the organization. The remote work program eventually sputtered at Best Buy due to new leadership, misconceptions about work, and enough long-term turnover without remote work onboarding. To be truly successful in remote work, the whole organization needs to pledge together to the plan. This remains true for the “new normal” in a late-stage pandemic world. We know that the most important resource at your business is the people. Empower them through a remote work program, and use the Circle View core values of Alignment, Transparency, and Accountability to help your business flourish.
Still want more info on how to manage a remote team? Download our free Remote Roadmap to Success here to get you started on the journey.