Leaders, Should you Go to a ROWE? (Part 1 of 3)

ROWE: Results Only Work Environment.

This is part one in a three part series on ROWE. It will cover pluses and minus and common mistakes made (I’ve made them all) and the right way to implement it.

Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it - ROWEThe principals of ROWE are simple. If you get your work done, it doesn’t matter when you do it, how you do it, how long it takes, or what you are wearing or where you do it. If you meet your objectives, your job is done. It eliminates the need to stay late to impress the boss or to miss your child’s baseball game because the employee manual says you have to be in your seat from 8:30-5:30 every day.

I’ve worked for and consulted for companies that operated in a ROWE. The concept originated, at least publicly, in the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, two former Best Buy employees who implemented ROWE there. My first reaction when I heard about the book was “why would anyone take management advice from Best Buy…didn’t they just close 100 stores and nearly file for bankruptcy?” Nevertheless, many of the premises of the book are right on target.

Both ROWE companies I’ve been involved with are as virtual as you can get. There are no mandatory meetings, no office hours. In fact, the average size of both companies is 40 team members and neither office would hold more than 15 people comfortably. Most people worked from home, coffee shops, or their own office.

Who ROWE is right for:

ROWE can be great for most modern companies, particularly those in service, IT, creative services, and other digital services. Service companies usually get at least four hours more coverage, so a normal 9:00-5:00 company gets coverage from 7:00-7:00. That is a win for everyone, especially the customers. More creative companies can get an early start or late finish outside of “normal business hours” to think. This allows people to work at the optimal times for their minds. See below for more on this.

ROWE is also very dangerous if not done right. Both companies were in a ROWE before I came on board. At the first company, I was in what I like to call “second tier leadership” and was not in a position to say “here is where you are screwing this up.” The second, for which I consulted, allowed me to speak more freely.

I will cover the negative aspects of ROWE and mistakes I’ve seen and made in the next post and finally in part three, the “musts” to effectively implement it. For now, here are the biggest pluses and benefits to ROWE.

Top Four Benefits to ROWE:

  1. It allows people to work at a time and in an environment that is optimal to their peak performance. For some people this means working at home in a split day (morning and evening with the afternoon off) while others prefer to work in the office. Early birds can get a lot done before noon and call it a day. Night owls might not even start working until the afternoon. Programmers can get some work done before/after everyone else is done bugging them.
  2. More teamwork. You would think there would be less teamwork if people aren’t necessarily working face-to-face, but I found quite the opposite especially in service teams. Service teams had to make sure there was coverage during business hours and they had to work their schedules out together.
  3. Freedom. I started working for a ROWE company 2 months before our daughter was born. I cannot imagine not working from home 2 days a week or occasionally waking up at 5:00 am to work, taking the mid-day off, and then going back to work. I cannot imagine missing out on everything I got to be a part of as a new dad. I also would have taken more time off in a traditional office environment. In a ROWE, I was back to work one week after our daughter was born. Again, that is a win-win-win for me, the company, and our customers.
  4. It puts the focus where it should be…on results. ROWE leaders don’t care if you come in early, stay late, or skip lunch. Numbers don’t lie. If you hit your sales quota or complete a project early, you are done. This is a universally accepted positive aspect of ROWE.

Stay tuned for parts two and three in this series to learn about the negative aspects and the wrong and right way to implement ROWE. Subscribe to my RSS feed or get posts via email so you don’t miss a post.

Question: Have you worked in a ROWE or known someone who has? What were some of the biggest benefits? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • ROWE is a fancy way of saying that you’re simply treating people like trustworthy adults. Adults work hard and get their work done on time.

  • Matt – looks to be another great series. I get SO much more done at home without all the interruptions (in a nonprofit with mostly volunteers – no one understands “do not disturb”). Sadly, much of what I need to do involves things at the office. I do like the idea of focusing on results. We all work at different paces, so that allows us to do our best work all the time.

    • Thanks Carol. I hope so :)

      I am with you. I love being in the office, with my door open, but sometimes I have to focus…and listen to Gregorian chant while doing so :)

      More to come….

  • Man, I would love this. Unfortunately, as a government contractor, I’m effectively paid based on butt-in-chair hours. When the USG finally gets around to treating us as respnosible individuals, I’ll have to come back and re-read this. Until then, it’s something I dream of. Or will have to figure out how to make a hybrid, since my people (eventually) will still have to account for their time so I can bill accordingly.

    That said…I love this idea.

    • Great comment Bret.

      I think one of the misconceptions of ROWE is that it is a synonym for “virtual.” It’s not.

      In fact many people still choose to work in the office. If that is what works best for them and the project. In a development environment, the project is the “R.” If, for example, a coding project is due by October 1 and is done correctly by September 29, I don’t care if they whiteboarded every day, didn’t see each other, or all wore matching Spider-Man outfits.

      If they complete it and there is animosity due to one team member not appearing to hold his weight, then that needs to be addressed. Relationships are also a part of the “R” long term. It may mean getting a new team member, not scrapping ROWE.

      Ultimately, in your example, the perceptions of that team member would come back to bite him. While meetings are optional in a pure ROWE (and I could certainly argue that a small percentage of meetings should not be optional), if the meetings are run correctly and value is received from them, every one will WANT to attend.

      What @twitter-16419939:disqus said is correct…in the end ROWE is kind of just a “fancy way of saying that you’re simply treating people like trustworthy adults. Adults work hard and get their work done on time.”

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