ROWE Results-Only Work Environment
We’ve heard all the arguments against a Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE, the most common being, “This isn’t anything new”; however, we question if any business has taken it as far as we have. There is always someone at some level who doesn’t get to work in a ROWE, or even if an organization is results-oriented, there aren’t many that are results-ONLY. We think the reason for this is because they would rather not deal with the idea of a ROWE at all.
It’s the same with people who say, “Yeah, but that would never work at my company.” A ROWE takes people out of their comfort zones, so many would rather shoot down the entire idea rather than put themselves through the possible pain of having to examine their beliefs.
If one is talking to someone (perhaps a manager) about a Results-Only Work Environment, and they start to object, here are some counterpoints to help overcome the objections that may arise. If there are any objections to a ROWE that we may have missed, please do not hesitate to send us an email and let us know the objection and how to overcome the same.
Employer Specific Objections
● “People will take advantage and slack off.”
Although a manager may not realize it, many employees are taking advantage and slacking off at this very moment. The reason one cannot tell is because the company is measuring them with a combination of results and time. In a ROWE, if the employer does not get results or outcomes required, then the employee is fired. Meanwhile, the productive employees work even harder to achieve the desired results and outcomes because they are being rewarded with control over their time.
● “How can you ever reach anybody if they’re not in the office?”
People are more accessible now more than ever with cell phones, laptops and tablet PC’s. In other words, the days of needing a phone plugged into a wall in order to do business are a thing of the past. In a ROWE, when it is necessary to reach an employee, one may reach him or her on a cell phone, through email and/or instant messaging. Another thought: when one is clear about timetables, outcomes and expectations, a lot of those spontaneous requests dry up. It is possible to start to anticipate those questions; one can plan better and therefore have fewer emergencies. Generally, one would not casually stop by someone’s office and interrupt his or her work to get the answer to one question. Instead, one would attempt to answer the question through other means, or simply send a short email to the employee.
● “This will work for some people, but not everyone. Some people simply need more supervision.”
Employees do not need supervision; instead, they need a clear idea of the expectations being placed upon them and the desired outcomes. If one were to call the local deli and ask them to deliver a delicious turkey sandwich in the next half hour, one doesn’t need to go personally to the deli to supervise the making of the sandwich, and then follow the delivery person back to the office. One trusts that the deli is going to deliver on expectations, and if they do not deliver a delicious turkey sandwich in a half hour, then one is faced with two choices: complain and hope that service improves or switch to a deli with better service.
● “How will we know if work is getting done if we can’t see people?”
How do managers know currently? In today’s economy, people work with information talking on the phone, typing on computers. When a supervisor or manager walks by a row of cubicles, he or she does not know for a fact that employees are actually working, or if they just look busy. In a ROWE, managers know the work is getting done because they have been crystal clear about goals and expectations. If employees do not deliver the work, the manager knows immediately, and can act accordingly.
● “Relationships are so important. What will happen to relationships?”
Relationships are important, and most assuredly will be fine. We assume that we’re improving relationships with employees and staff because we’re all in the same building together; however, being together doesn’t necessarily guarantee that people are connecting. In a ROWE, people work on their relationships with more purpose because one cannot assume other employees will be around, and they make career development, mentoring and coaching a part of the results to be delivered.
● “How can you schedule meetings if you don’t know when people are working?”
In a ROWE, managers can no longer casually schedule a meeting; however, managers do not schedule meetings based around time; they schedule meetings based on outcome. If the outcome requires that people attend, then they will attend. If they don’t need to be there in person, they can send a representative, or they can provide the information they’re supposed to deliver ahead of time.
● “How will we know if people are putting in 40 hours (or the specified number of hours I want)?”
An employer won’t know because it doesn’t matter. In a ROWE, employees’ performance is based on results. Managers tell them what they are expected to do, and they either deliver or they don’t. Time is not a factor, and, thus, employees begin performing rather than putting in time.
● “What about teams?”
Teams are generally considered overrated. In a ROWE, employees and management stop teaming simply because they feel obligated to team; they team up because the outcome requires it. In fact, teams get much stronger in a ROWE because there is natural cross training; when one cannot assume that others are going to be in the office, teammates make sure they can support each other in an emergency.
● “What if everyone decides not to work at the same time?”
That depends. Does the job require that people work at the same time? If the outcome doesn’t demand that everyone works at the same time, then the answer to that question is “That’s fine.” However, if the job requires certain employees be together or coordinate their effort, then the answer to that question is “that’s what they will do.” A ROWE gives employees power over how they work and when they work, but they still have to work, and they are still responsible for serving the customer, whether that customer is internal or external. That sense of responsibility-coupled with the power to meet those responsibilities however they see fit-actually breeds higher performance. Employees generally don’t think about blowing off work in a ROWE.
Employee Specific Objections
● “If there’s no line between work and life, how will I keep from overworking?”
There is no line between work and life because you have control over both work and life, so one doesn’t overwork because there is no incentive to overwork. As an employee, one is not getting rewarded for putting in more hours. He or she is no longer a hero for pulling an all-nighter, being the first one through the door in the morning or working on the weekend. Employees are only rewarded for delivering results, and once they have delivered those results, they stop working and do something else.
● “How can you advance your career if no one sees you working?”
This sounds like the kind of worry that keeps people from participating in current flexible work arrangements because of the fear that if we’re not putting in enough “face time” then we won’t get credit for the work. First, a ROWE doesn’t mean that no one ever sees anyone ever again, or that everyone works at home, so people will see the work being put in; moreover, and more importantly, an employee will be measured more for actual performance than perceived performance. If an employee is given a goal and the goal is met, then that is what will advance that employee’s career; one gets ahead through actual achievement.
● “A manager needs to be there for their people.”
We appreciate that a lot of managers genuinely care about their employees, and we also suspect that there are managers out there who have built their identity on showing that they care. “I need to be there for my people, ” they say, “my people count on me.” However, one must realize there is more to being there for someone than physical availability. A manager can still be there for employees by giving them clear goals and expectations, coaching their development and removing obstacles that fall in their path. Perhaps the best way to be there for them is to leave them alone and trust them to do their job.
● “What if I get stuck with more work than anybody else?”
Many feel isolated and unsupported at work as they look around and see that some that do not produce get paid more than those who do produce, and therefore spend a lot of time feeling like victims. On the practical side, a ROWE gives employees the right to question the work they are doing. If a manager sets unrealistic expectations, or piles on too much work, that isn’t good for anyone, and in a ROWE it’s the employee’s job to stand up for what best serves the business. On the emotional side, one may find oneself not caring about other people’s level of work. Employees that perform enjoy freedom, and what others do or don’t do becomes their business.
● “How is the company going to really know what the results are supposed to be?”
We think this is the best question you can ask about ROWE, but it’s an even better question to ask in a traditional work environment. When companies plan or schedule, they base their assumptions on hours, but generally there is no discussion about outcomes. Part of the migration process involves an individual, team or organization finally asking what should be the obvious question: “what are we really trying to accomplish here?” Some jobs (making widgets) are easier to figure out than others (servicing customers), but in the end every job can be measured. Basing performance on these new, clearer measures is what leads to the impressive bottom line gains a ROWE creates.
● “Who’s going to answer the phone?”
The logistical aspect of this question has a thousand workarounds-voice-mail, call forwarding, spreading the task across a team of people-but the question behind this question speaks to people’s fears about letting go of control. We find that a lot of business leaders say they want innovation, leadership, and proactive participation from their people, but then they short themselves with too much worry over availability. They would rather have control over middling performance than set people free and let them achieve more.
● “If everyone becomes more efficient, are there going to be layoffs?”
We think that some people can sense the enormity of a ROWE and it scares them. People at all levels fear that they will find out the truth about their organization: that a team is bloated; that there are managers who have no business managing people. We say this isn’t really our problem. If an organization is bloated and top-heavy, over-staffed, under-trained or misguided, then it’s true that a ROWE could reveal those truths. But we would argue that you might know this already, and there isn’t any incentive for change. Why not get people in a job where they belong?
● “Isn’t it unprofessional to answer a customer’s question while you’re shopping?”
First of all, they don’t have to know unless one decides to tell them, and there is no reason one has to report to a customer where he or she is located. We call this “Sludge Anticipation”; one is concerned that people are going to judge because of the perception that an employee who is out shopping can’t also be working. If one answers the customer’s question in a professional manner, then the question of the employee’s location becomes a moot point because they don’t care; they want your help, not an update on your personal life.
● “What if you really need to reach somebody?”
People are more accessible now more than ever with cell phones, laptops and tablet PC’s. In other words, the days of needing a phone plugged into a wall in order to do business are a thing of the past. In a ROWE, when it is necessary to reach someone, it is possible to reach him or her on a cell phone, through email and/or instant messaging. One’s coworkers and colleagues are not there to be a search engine/file cabinet/dictionary. If it is a true emergency, then there is probably more than one person to get help from; and if there is only one person who can answer any question in an organization, then that is an organization problem, not the fault of the person who isn’t available.
● “Isn’t it just common courtesy to let people know where you are?”
We think it is common courtesy to respect people’s time and their personal choices about how they use that time. If the job is getting done, then there is no need to check in with one’s location.
● “If people don’t show up we have to worry about them.”
There are coworkers, not children. We worry about co-workers today because everyone is expected to show up at around the same time. In a ROWE, patterns are changing every day, so it’s impossible to know when to start worrying. There really isn’t a “normal” anymore; there’s no more “she should be here by now” or “he’s usually here by now.” That goes away.
● “What if somebody goes on vacation for a whole month? They don’t even have to tell us, right?”
A funny thing happens when we talk about a ROWE; we’ll say to people “You can do whatever you want when you want, as long as the work gets done” and it seems as though their brains get fried by the first part of that sentence and they don’t hear the “as long as the work gets done” part. If one goes on vacation for a whole month and is not there to deliver the desired outcomes, then he or she will be fired; but if one wants to be out of the state or out of the country for a month, and he or she can still meet the deliverables, then he or she does not have to justify his or her physical absence.