In a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), people get to do whatever they want, whenever they want as long as the work gets done. Right now, there are two authentic ROWEs: Fortune 100 retailer Best Buy Co., Inc. and brokerage firm J.A. Counter & Associates in New Richmond, WI. Both firms have embraced technology in ways that allow them to maximize productivity (up an average of 41% on Best Buy teams) while also giving people control over their lives. Here are our 10 tips for how you can start moving toward a ROWE by being smarter about how you use the tools of the 21st century workplace.
Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.
#1: Use technology to increase freedom, not to increase availability
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. Teams, departments, and organizations need to get clear about the outcomes they’re trying to drive. Then, employees can use technology to meet those outcomes on their own terms. Technology becomes the means, not the end.
#2: Let the people decide how to use their Blackberry, iPhone, etc.
There have been a number of stories in the news recently about “Blackberry Blackouts,” company policies that forbid their employees’ using their PDAs after 7:00 p.m. or on weekends. This is like telling people that they can shop on eBay but only during normal store hours. If people want to answer e-mail at 3:00 a.m., let them. As long as they’re getting results and making their deliverables, it’s their choice as to how they use their time.
#3: Make phone and teleconferencing the norm, not the exception
In a lot of work cultures, conferencing in to a meeting is reserved for out-of-town or overseas partners. But there is no reason why someone who wants to work at home that day can’t conference in to a meeting. Yes, it can change the dynamic of a room to have someone on speaker, but what’s more important? An employee being physically present or making a meaningful contribution?
#4: Ignore the time stamp
If someone sends you an e-mail at midnight, do you think they’re working strange hours? Why? In a ROWE, this is called Sludge, which is any time you judge someone for how they use their time that doesn’t fit into the usual norms about where work happens and when. Technology allows people to free themselves from the shackles of “core hours” and the confines of the cube. Celebrate their freedom and you can have it, too.
#5: Stop telling people where you are and what you’re doing (and stop asking)
You know that guy on the plane who immediately calls his office when you land and starts telling people that he just landed? Don’t be that guy. And don’t be the person who asks, “Where are you right now?” when someone calls you. In a ROWE, it doesn’t matter where people are, only that they are getting the job done. Would you rather know where people are or that they answer your question?
#6: Make your Out-of-Office reply more useful (or better yet, don’t use it)
It always cracks us up when we send someone an e-mail and get an automatic Out-of-Office reply and then get a response from that person an hour later with the answer to our question. In a traditional work environment, work is a place you go. “Out of the office” means not working. In a ROWE, work is something you do, not a place you go. You use your Out-of-Office reply only when you’re genuinely off the grid. And then it has information on how to get in touch with the person who’s backing you up.
#7: Establish a clear hierarchy of contact methods with your technology
Even though availability isn’t the goal in a ROWE, people do need to get in touch with you, and they need to understand the best way to get in touch with you given the circumstances. Since you use technology to control your work, you need to clearly communicate with other people how you’re using e-mail, voice mail, etc. Create a hierarchy of contact methods so everyone knows how you roll.
#8: Pause before creating a recurring meeting in Outlook
In a ROWE, every meeting is optional. Even recurring meetings. Even “mandatory” meetings. Every meeting is optional. So if you’re about to set up a recurring meeting, first ask yourself if it genuinely needs to occur at the same time every week (or every month). Often, it’s better to schedule meetings on the fly, to meet the needs of the business. Or maybe you don’t need that meeting at all….
#9: Let people control Outlook
Better yet, don’t allow people to schedule meetings for you. Imagine a corporate world where you have complete control over your calendar. (We know… it’s pretty great.)
#10: Treat everyone like an overseas vendor
When we communicate with people overseas, we have to be thoughtful, concise, and clear. We have to be mindful of the barriers created by time, space, language, and culture. We also have to trust that they’re going to do the job. We can’t send them a note that says, “Hey, are you around later to chat about this thing I’m working on?” We can’t pop by their cube for an impromptu meeting. We can’t work on the fly. Now imagine what would happen if we treated everyone that way.