This is part three in a three part series on ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). If you missed parts one and two, read them here:

Part One: Leaders, Should you Go to a ROWE?

Part Two: Three Common Mistakes in Implement a ROWE

Four Things Leaders Must Do in a ROWE
There are four things companies and leaders must do when implementing a Results Only Work Environment
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I’ve found four things companies and leaders must do when implementing a ROWE. They are not one time events, but continual practices that the leaders of the organization must take part in.

The Four Musts of Implementing a ROWE are:

  1. You Must Train the Leaders…A Lot. In the previous post, I issued a warning regarding holding people accountable: If you or anyone on your leadership team is conflict adverse (i.e. you struggle with accountability), do not, under any circumstances, implement a ROWE. First, work on your leadership, then consider a ROWE. First, train your leaders and that includes yourself. Training must happen in-depth before implementing ROWE, during the implementation, and pretty much forever. If you don’t like training other leaders, you should not be a leader yourself. (Click to Tweet that). Leaders should be fully prepared to lead in a ROWE before it is implemented. ROWE is not an “experiment” and should not be learn-as-you-go.
  2. You Must Remind Your Team That ROWE is a Privilege. Working when you want and where you want is as a privilege. If you can’t get your work done virtually, you either lose your privilege or you lose your job. That needs to be made clear up front and continuously without sounding like an evil drill sergeant. People will work hard to protect privileges.
  3. Team Members Must Reach Out to the Leaders. They should be expected to reach out to you. This means at the very least a weekly report via email that they are required to send. I learned that there is a big difference between you (the leader) calling them and expecting them to take the initiative and call you. You must set the expectation that you expect them to call you sometimes, at least for your weekly one-on-one meeting. That little difference has a huge impact. When they call you, it is now their meeting, not yours. (Learn more about one-on-one meetings)
  4. You Must Empower Your Team. Yes, leaders should hold team members accountable. Yes, you should meet frequently. And yes, as a leader, you will be required to make some of the tough decisions. In a ROWE, however, you don’t set the schedules, just the expected results. So you must empower your team to make most of the decisions themselves, trust them to get the job done, and work together. If trust, delegation, and empowering your team are issues for you as a leader, do not even consider going to a ROWE. If it is an issue for any leaders in your organization, you must either change the leader or change leaders. That means training and/or hiring.

Conclusion: I am neutral on ROWE in the same way I am neutral on Mac vs. PC. I have seen it done very well and very poorly. It is right for many companies and absolutely wrong for others. If you are considering it or your curiosity has been piqued by this series, here are some further resources I suggest.

  • 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.
  • The Go ROWE web site.
  • Google “Results Only Work Environment” and read 3-4 positive and negative articles. Decide for yourself.

What say you? Is ROWE right for your company? How do you think you would work or lead in a ROWE?


13 thoughts on “The Four Things Leaders Must Do in a ROWE (Part 3 of 3)

  1. Bret Wortman says:

    Sounds like it’s a great tool, but like any tool, it shouldn’t be the only one you use. No carpenter can build a decent cabinet with just a screwdriver.

    Great series — thanks for introducing me to ROWE!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      LOL. True!

      I think that is the thing I have seen Bret. “We are going to a ROWE…everything will be better!” Nope. We’re still strapped for cash. Still have a flawed marketing plan, still no budget…etc. etc.

      The more I think through it, ROWE is not perfect. Neither is “non-ROWE.”

  2. Carol Dublin says:

    Interesting ideas. Sounds like setting expectations and empowerment are key components in making this work, and those are areas so many leaders struggle with. You’ve got me looking at some of these ideas in terms of my own leadership.Thanks for a great series!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:


      “setting expectations and empowerment are key components” to every business, ROWE or non-ROWE. One of things I think we can all learn from ROWE is that maybe, just maybe, businesses don’t need to be SO tied to “you must be in your chair from 9-5 every day or it’s not work.” And that accountability is paramount and that adults actually have brains and should be encouraged to work together as a team, not just take direction from above.

      1. Carol Dublin says:

        Yes – I agree. We all have a lot to learn!

  3. Todd Liles says:

    ROWE can be really powerful. Especially when you don’t have full time team members. You quit talking time, and just talk results.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      “You quit talking time, and just talk results”

      That pretty much sums it up!

      And you are right Todd, I didn’t think about teams with mostly part-time team members…that would be another category of companies who are perfect for ROWE.

  4. Joel Fortner says:

    I love this Matt. I need to go back and catch up on the previous ROWE posts.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Thanks Joel!

      Definitely do 🙂

  5. Lily Kreitinger says:

    I see the environment in which I work as ROWE-oriented. 90% of my work can be done anywhere in the world where there is a laptop and an internet connection. We work flexible hours, which means each team member sets up their work schedule and as long as we’re not like two ships passing in the night, we’re all good. Personally, I choose the early bird shift, where I come in at 7:30 and turn the light on (literally). I’m one of the team with a longer commute (takes me 90 mins one way) so everyone else is cool with me leaving at 3:30. There are times when I have to get back to email when I get home and that’s fine also. We are allowed to work remotely on occasion, and everyone can have a life and fit dentist appointments in.

    Personally, I prefer working at the office because there I’m not worried about doing another load of laundry or looking at the sock that has been hiding under the kitchen table for three days. I’m quite social, so being isolated at home drives me nuts.

    I like not having to be told what time to get there and what time to leave. I think we are treated like responsible adults and in turn we have an excellent team that is performing very well. There are some issues to still work around. For example there are other departments in our organization that do have to work fixed shifts and hours and clock in their time, due to the nature of their work. They don’t get to work remotely at all. This causes minor tension because my department can be seen like “the privileged ones”. Definitely in my case, ROWE does not equal 100% virtual. A lot of trust is put on us and we just respond to it.

    Great series, sorry for the long post but I’m making up for being absent for a while. Thanks Matt!!!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      First off…a 90 minute commute?!?!?!? Wow.

      I almost took a job that had a similar commute. Glad I didn’t. Will be writing a blog post about that actually 🙂

      I am with you on working in the office. About half the people in the ROWE companies I was involved with worked primarily in the office. I would say 9/10 people went to the office at least 10 hours/week.

      1. Lily Kreitinger says:

        Long commute on the train has allowed me to have a blog. Where do you think I type up my posts? :0)

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        ahhhhh…the train commute. Never had one of those. Mine would have been driving…2 hours both ways. Lots of audio books I guess.

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