ROWE: The Grown-Up Version of Work

Nov 03, 2011 -
There’s something inherently wrong with the way we work. That’s the premise behind Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson’s Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) initiative. They believe the modern workplace is cluttered with regulations, expectations and antiquated practices that have nothing to do with the actual work we’re supposed to be doing. In fact, these things usually interfere with it. ROWE seeks to change this by focusing on the one and only thing that really matters: getting the work done, and doing it well.

What ROWE is (and isn’t)

ROWE is different than flex-time and work-from-home programs, which still operate on traditional metrics of time tracking and accountability. It’s more of an anti-program, really. There’s no time-keeping, no mandatory attendance, no need to explain yourself if you work better in the evenings or want to take an afternoon off to watch your kids play softball. In a ROWE, the only thing employees are measured by is the results they produce. How they do their work, where they do their work, and when they do their work is their prerogative. As long as the boss sees projects completed well and on time, it’s no questions asked. When you stop and think about it, it seems kind of ridiculous that everyone doesn’t already work this way.

What ROWE does differently

Here’s a quick breakdown of the benefits of focusing on results only: Workers are more efficient. It’s a generally accepted truth that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. If you have to be at the office for eight hours each day, you’ll find a way to keep yourself busy, whether it’s dragging out that report you’re writing or spending some time in Farmville. It’s a waste of both the company’s time and yours. Disruptions disappear. Gone are the aspects of “work” that interfere with actually doing your work. So much of our workday is filled with distractions that have nothing to do with producing results. Co-workers stopping by to chit-chat. Meetings that last forever but resolve nothing. Hour-long commutes in rush-hour traffic. All this nonsense is eliminated in a ROWE, so you’re free to focus on simply doing the job you were hired to do. Employees get their lives back. In this age of 24/7 availability, the lines between work and home are blurred. (Ask anyone with a Blackberry connected to their work email.) ROWE gives employees the ability to control their work-life balance whatever way works best for them. Attend a conference call by cell as you pick up your dry cleaning. Write a report on your laptop while you watch your kids at the playground. Instead of trying to compartmentalize “work” and “personal” time on someone else’s terms — and feeling guilty when neither area gets your full attention — employees are able to live whole, integrated lives on their terms. Adults are treated like adults. Do we really need someone telling us when to take our lunch break or how many days we’re “allowed” to get sick? We’re grownups. We manage households, finances and families, all with no supervision and no employee handbook to keep us in line. Being treated like we’re 10 and can’t be trusted is insulting — and resentment doesn’t fuel an employee’s best performance. Sure, some employees really do need someone glancing over their shoulders, but ROWE is good for that, too, as you’ll discover in the next point. The wheat is cut from the chaff. One of the biggest concerns about ROWE is that people will take advantage of the system (or lack thereof). But the nice thing is that in a ROWE, those kinds of people are exposed pretty darn fast. Let’s face it: some employees are really good at playing the 9-to-5 game. They’re masters of office politics, nodding enthusiastically at every meeting, chipping in for every birthday/retirement/shower gift, coming in 15 minutes earlier and staying 15 minutes longer than everyone else (and making sure you know exactly who isn’t as punctual as they are). What do they actually do all day? Who knows? But they’re model employees! Refreshingly, none of this is worth a wooden nickel in a ROWE. If you don’t produce results, you’re out. And as an employer, wouldn’t you want to know who your “good” workers really are? Employers win, too. Happy employees are better employees. Disgruntled and burnt-out employees won’t give much more than the bare minimum needed to collect their paychecks. But empowered, satisfied and respected workers are inclined to actually care about their work, to feel like their efforts matter and to want to deliver the best results possible. It’s a win-win. Want to learn more about ROWE? Check out Ressler and Thompson’s book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution, or visit the ROWE website. Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.