Between the rise in popularity of Tim Ferriss’ “Four Hour Work Week” and other movements that aim to redefine the role of work in our lives, it’s no surprise that a new practice – called the “Results Only Work Environment” – is gaining traction.
So what is a “Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)”? Essentially, this system gives workers complete flexibility in terms of how they do their work – encompassing work hours, locations and styles – and how they meet their given objectives. The style eschews traditional “9-to-5” schedules and cubicle farms, allowing employees to self-police themselves and their objectives in whatever manner they deem appropriate.
For example, if your software developer has a young family and finds he’s better able to complete his work in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed, a ROWE embraces this by giving him the flexibility to set his own hours and work from home. As a result, the interruptions that child rearing naturally creates – from school conferences to doctor appointments and more – no longer disrupt his productivity and allow him to work on his assigned projects in a more focused way.
But while this system may sound like an ideal solution to workers who are sick of reporting to the office in the wee hours of every morning, implementing it within your own workplace isn’t without its challenges. Here’s what you need to know to make the transition to a results oriented work environment as smooth and productive as possible:
Tip #1 – Set Clear Goal Expectations
As you might expect, the key to succeeding with a ROWE is setting, defining and enforcing clear goal expectations. Simply letting people loose from the dreaded cubicle environment without a concrete way to determine what they should be working on or how to prioritize tasks in their new remote work spaces is a recipe for disaster.
Most often, these expectations are set on a case-by-case basis, with the employee’s input playing a significant role in how work goals are determined and managed. If you’re considering implementing a ROWE, speak with the employees you feel are best suited for this work style and ask them to outline how they’d measure productivity in the absence of a forty hour work week. You might be surprised by the ideas or level of detail they’re able to bring to the process.
Tip #2 – Use Technology Responsibly
One of the major failings of the current standard working style is that it holds everyone to an “always on” mentality. Being expected to take calls or answer emails at all hours of the day might seem like its improving productivity, but is actually much more likely to lead to burn out and overall employee dissatisfaction.
But when moving to a ROWE, many managers struggle to remove this shackle. After all, if employees aren’t in the office where productivity can be monitored, how can these “old school” bosses ensure that workers are really working when they say they are?
However, resorting to constant communication to allay this concern is a mistake, according to Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, co-creators of the Results Only Work Environment:
“The magic of technology is that it makes more people more reachable in more places at more times during the day. But in a ROWE, availability isn’t the goal. In a ROWE, the only thing that matters is results.”
Instead of requiring frequent check-ins, establish a defined system for employees enjoying a ROWE to let co-workers know when they’re working and how to contact them should an emergency arise outside of these windows. A simple email auto-responder with away times and contact info can achieve this purpose, as can a more complex project management system like Basecamp.
Tip #3 – Manage Communication Channels
The standard “9-to-5” working environment is rife with unnecessary communication – from department memos that go unread to meetings that exist solely to make people feel as if action is being taken. Ideally, implementing a ROWE in your office will eliminate many of these failings (after all, it’s hard to call a meeting when all of your employees are working remotely on different schedules!) and force you to prioritize communication to be sure it’s serving the right purpose for all involved.
The key to achieving clearer, more concise communication is to assign priority communication channels and ensure that any communication that occurs is necessary for all parties. Many offices find that reporting status updates to a Twitter-like service allows members of a team to tune into office communication on an “as needed” basis and obtain required information without disturbing other parties. If communication must be elevated beyond this function, smart ROWE offices prioritize email messages above phone calls and in-person meetings to avoid unnecessary interruptions.
For an example on how to structure these communications to be as effective as possible, check out Gist founder T.A. McCann’s recommendations on his blog post titled, “Every journey begins with a few tiny steps.”
Tip #4 – Establish Repercussions for Failing to Achieve
Unfortunately, the reality is that not all people and not all job descriptions are suited for a “Results Only Work Environment”. Some employees who experiment with this system will miss the camaraderie of an office setting, while others will be unable to manage the distractions present in a remote work arrangement without bosses peering over their shoulders to enforce productivity.
For this reason, ROWEs aren’t a “set it and forget it” solution to enhancing employee satisfaction. Instead, it’s a good idea to implement this system on a trial basis with your workers and establish defined measurements and feedback opportunities that allow all parties involved to determine whether or not the system is working.
Tip #5 – Don’t “Half Ass” It
Although it will certainly take some time to transition from standard work procedures to a Results Only Work Environment, don’t let the challenges associated with this change prevent you from embracing it fully. Incorporating only some principles of the ROWE while still holding firm to typical office practices is bound to leave employees even more stressed out before!
If you’re considering transitioning your staff to a ROWE and nervous about what the results might be, start by putting one department or a few key employees on a remote arrangement in order to test the waters. Be sure to implement ROWE principles fully for these employees (that is, don’t expect them to both work remotely and remain beholden to traditional corporate schedules) and then expand the program as needed if you see it making a concrete difference in your office’s productivity and morale.