Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is Your Organization Ready To Go ROWE?

Imagine having the freedom to do your job when and where you want, as long as the work gets done. Sounds like a utopian workplace dream, but not likey to exist in the real world, right?

For some, this dream is a reality. An e-learning specialist at Best Buy completes an entire month of work in two weeks so he can spend the other two weeks following his favorite bands around the country. Sure, he checks in via email and cell phone, but he's out there livin' the dream 50% of the time.

This dream is made possible by ROWE: Results Only Work Environment. What is ROWE? According to Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, the creators of ROWE, it's a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence. Thompson and Ressler say that by focusing on results - and only results - the organization's performance increases while creating the right environment for people to manage all of the demands in their lives.

Here are the 'Nine Commandments' of ROWE:

  1. We do not post office hours or core hours. Our employees know where to be when they need to be there. We don't dictate it. Everybody has complete control over how they spend their time. All the time.
  2. We do not track time for our exempt/salaried workforce. We track work getting done.
  3. There are no hours-worked expectations for exempt/salaried employees. We do not talk about how many hours we work or demand 40, 50, or 60 hours out of people.
  4. We do not have a tele-work policy, handbook or tele-work rules. Tele-work is so 1970's, Work is just work. It doesn't need a location label, And, we don't have flextime.
  5. We do not track PTO (vacation, sick time, personal time, holiday time). It's not a benefit. Unlimited paid time off as long as the work gets done is the contemporary benefit that matters.
  6. Nobody asks permission to go to an appointment, event or any other personal activity. Ever. And they don't have to inform the team or management in an effort to be polite.
  7. We have adopted the Sludge* Eradication Strategy - NO SLUDGE in our workplace.
  8. We NEVER put 'mandatory' on a meeting invite. Every meeting is optional.
  9. We don't have any limits put on how or when we can work: "No E-Mail Fridays" and "No Meeting Wednesdays" don't exist in our organization.

Sounds like a good idea, right? In the right environment it can be. The philosophy lends itself easily to knowledge work. Implementing ROWE in service or industrial environments is more challenging. Best Buy, the original adopter or ROWE, has implemented this strategy in most departments at its Minneapolis headquarters. They've discussed bringing ROWE to the retail floor, but haven't yet figured out how to make it work.

The success - or failure - of ROWE also depends on the people. This strategy can only be effective if managers are goal-oriented. In traditional work environments, employees often complain that they can't be measured by results because their managers don't articulate what they want them to accomplish. ROWE only works if managers figure out what they want done and effectively communicate that to employees.

Employees have to do their part too. ROWE requires self-motivation. Managers aren't "supervising" - employees are essentially supervising their activities and how they spend their time themselves. Not all employees are up to this challenge. Two years after implementing ROWE, Best Buy's involuntary termination rate in three ROWE departments increased an average of 77 percent.

Not only do you need the right kind of people for ROWE to work, you need to figure out some regulatory issues. For non-exempt workers, ROWE appears to be in direct conflict with wage and hour laws. If employees don't track their time, employers won't know if - or how much - overtime pay is required. The FLSA makes it impossible to implement a pure ROWE strategy for non-exempt employees.

Is ROWE right for your organization? It's hard to say. On paper it seems like a great idea. In reality, there are some serious issues that have to be figured out to make it work.

*According to Thopson and Ressler, sludge is "skeptical, critical and often downright passive aggressive comments made by others who don't understand what a Results-Only Work Environment is all about." Examples of sludge can be found here.

Stephanie R. Thomas is an economic and statistical consultant specializing in EEO issues and employment litigation risk management. For more than twelve years, she's been working with business and government agencies like the DOJ and the FProactive Employer Podcast and is the founder of Thomas Econometrics. Follow her on Twitter at ProactiveStats.BI, providing expert analysis. Stephanie's articles have been published in Bloomberg Law Report, Corporate Counselor, and other professional journals.

Thanks to Stephanie R. Thomas / Compensation Café


No comments: