May 29, 2008 / 12:08 PM / 12 years ago

Business Books: A freelance lifestyle in a corporate workplace

NEW YORK, May 29 (Reuters) - Picture an office where no meeting is mandatory and employees can come and go as they please as long as they get the job done.

“Too good to be true,” most cubicle occupants would probably say, but an upcoming book about this results-only work environment is not fiction. In fact, authors Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson pioneered the concept while working at consumer electronics chain Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N), which now makes the option available to about 3,000 of its 4,000 corporate staffers.

In “Why Work Sucks and How To Fix It” (Portfolio, $23.95), Ressler and Thompson maintain that time — or control over it — heals many corporate wounds.

Too often, they say, a company will treat employees like children incapable of working without supervision, while promoting mediocre performers simply because they put in a lot of time at their desks. Meanwhile, the traditional work week of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday no longer serves the needs of many customers.

In a results-oriented work environment (ROWE), however, a company focuses exclusively on job performance, rather than work schedules or office politics. At Best Buy, productivity has increased, and fewer of the employees that the company wanted to retain have left, although “involuntary” turnover rates have increased as unsatisfactory workers were exposed.

Employees can do their jobs at home or in Starbucks, first thing in the morning or in the middle of the night. One of the hallmarks of a ROWE is that a person who goes home at 2 p.m. is not leaving early, while someone who arrives at that time is not late.

The book, which is set for publication on Monday, includes the story of an e-learning specialist who typically wakes up without an alarm and does at least some of his work at home in front of the television set. Meanwhile, a dot-com employee has been able to spend more time with her son.

The authors have gone on to apply the ROWE concept at a small financial services company in Wisconsin through CultureRx, the consulting firm they have founded.

“We’ve perfected ROWE for the office environment today,” Ressler said, “but we know that there are elements of it that can be spread to any company in the country and across the world.”

But with ROWE still in its infancy, unhappy employees may have to resort to other measures. Luckily, a couple of new books offer some suggestions.

For those who want to make the best of the corporate life, “How To Be Useful” (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95) combines what author Megan Hustad calls the best of the past century or so of “success literature” and tailors the advice to the young and cynical.

“I’d like everyone to be more aware of what was being written back when working for a living was actually a source of inspiration to people,” writes Hustad, a former book editor and bookstore manager.

But there are always people who fantasize about leaving the rat race. “Escape from Corporate America” (Ballantine, $15) by marketing-executive-turned-career-coach Pamela Skillings provides a step-by-step guide to finding more fulfilling work, whether with another employer or as an entrepreneur, freelancer or artist.

“You don’t have to stay stuck in a job you hate, and you don’t have to starve to find work you love,” Skillings writes. “All you need is a plan and a little bit of nerve.” (Reporting by Lisa Von Ahn; Editing by Eddie Evans)

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