December 9, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Imagine your boss announced that he or she didn't care how much time you spent completing your work or where you did it. What if that boss only cared about the quality of the results you produced? Consultant Jody Thompson made this approach thrive at retailer Best Buy, helping the company's productivity grow 41 percent and voluntary turnover drop by 91 percent during the mid-to-late 2000s. She pitched her methodology to a ballroom of government IT officials at the Center for Digital Government's Best of California event on Dec. 3. Many attendees appeared spellbound as Thompson explained the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), which she insisted could apply to any job. She and business partner Cali Ressler started consulting firm CultureRx to help governments and businesses transition to the ROWE office culture. I think all government agencies ought to consider it.
"ROWE" is not just a flashy way of saying "telework policy." Working remotely may or may not be appropriate in a ROWE, depending on what a given job requires. For example, in a ROWE, I would choose to work in the office free from home distractions.
The basic idea is to let people work when and where they want, as long as they complete their work at the level their managers stipulate. If a software programmer arrived at 9 a.m. and left after completing his work by 2 p.m., a ROWE-oriented manager would simply congratulate the programmer for being so quick and efficient.
"This is about paying people for work, not for time," Thompson said.
She considers it foolish to believe that employees work more if they're forced to spend a set amount of time working. Oftentimes, employees just slow down based on the amount of time they need to fill, according to Thompson. Why finish your workload in five hours if a co-worker with the same job takes 10 hours and looks more dedicated because of it?
Thompson ridiculed companies that built sprawling campuses with amenities designed to keep employees at their offices longer. All that accomplishes is creating a more pleasant prison, in Thompson's view.
"Employees don't want a dry cleaner at the office. They don't want a day-care center. What they want is some control over their lives," Thompson said.
It seems doubtful that an onsite customer service representative or security guard could function without set shifts. However, it would be fascinating to see how far governments could take the ROWE philosophy. As a new decade dawns, it could be a way to entice badly needed new talent.