Friday, 30 March 2012

Let's ROWE!




1:15. Skim an article about productivity. 1:17. Space out for awhile. 1:32. Refill coffee cup. 1:34. Check for new emails. Still 1:34. This is my typical afternoon as a clock-watcher. I don’t plan to watch the clock, I just can’t help myself. There’s nothing like being bored out of your mind and knowing that you can’t leave yet to drag time to a standstill.

Perhaps it’s because of my clock-watching habit that I’m so intrigued by the idea of a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). ROWE is a concept created by two Best Buy Human Resource managers, Judy Thompson and Cali Ressler. Instead of working a set number of hours per week, work is based on results. You are free to do your work whenever and wherever you want, as long as you get your work done. It’s such a simple concept on the surface, but it has the power to revolutionize the way we look at business.

Clock-watching aside, consider how a ROWE would impact your personal life. There would be no need to flex your hours in order to pick up your kid from school. You wouldn’t have to waste a precious vacation day waiting for the repairman. If you friend was visiting, you could meet her for lunch and not have to rush. Just imagine not having to set your alarm, sit in traffic, and slip in late through the side door.

But wait, if your boss can’t see you how will he know you’re working? Wouldn’t productivity plummet as these irresponsible slackers spend their days sleeping in and shopping? As it turns out, the truth was quite the opposite. Productivity sky-rocketed 35% under Thompson and Ressler’s scheme, while employee turnovers dropped 90% (Lee 34).

As impressive as they are, these results are hardly surprising to me. As my afternoon demonstrates, the fact that I’m physically at work does not mean that I’m doing work. Instead, I’m finding ways to alleviate my boredom and pass the time. However, even if I was swamped with work I would be more focused on the task at hand if I wasn’t worrying about personal errands. With a ROWE, I would have the flexibility to get my work done and get the cat to vet on time.

Requiring employees to sit under the watchful eye of the boss does nothing to foster trust and cooperation. If anything, it creates a passive-aggressive environment of presenteeism and guilt, where each employee rebels in his or her own way. Some feel a twinge of happy revenge after sneaking out early, while others maintain that the first one in and the last one out is the winner, regardless of the impact on their personal lives. Generationally, the stereotypes persist. “Some boomers felt they’d been forced to choose between work and life during their careers. So everyone else should, too” (Conlin 65).

ROWE isn’t just an extension of flextime, which Thompson and Ressler refer to as a “con game” and a “total joke.” They feel that the problem with flextime is that it heaps “needless bureaucracy on managers instead of addressing the real issue: how to work more efficiently in an era of transcontinental teams and multiple time zones” (Conlin 63).

With flextime, you’re expected to make up your hours to ensure you still get a full 40 hours each week. Flextime results in the same amount of clock-watching, with the added bonus of feeling stigmatized because you were “lucky” enough to work a modified schedule. No matter how you slice it, 40 hours is 40 hours. In the spirit of complete honesty, I think Kelley Butler, the Editor-in-Chief of Benefit News, said it best:

“Traditional work hours benefit companies more than they do the employees…if employers really want to keep valued workers, it is time to make a change” (7).

Thompson and Ressler found a way to make that change and in fact, their plan worked so well that they have since branched out as private consultants and created CultureRX, a Best Buy subsidiary designed to help other companies set up a ROWE. They also published the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It to further explain their idea (Westcott 31).

A ROWE might not work for everyone, but then again, isn’t that the point? We don’t all have to follow the same path, and work in the same way. As employees reexamine their priorities and the millennial generation takes to the work place, I can clearly see the benefits of this alternative. It’s time to change the way we look at work and finally stop watching that clock.


Butler, Kelley M. “Time to ROWE with the Flow.” Employee Benefit News Mar. 2007: 7. Web.

Conlin, Michelle. “Smashing the Clock.” BusinessWeek 4013 (2006): 60-68. Web.

Lee, James H. “Hard at Work in the Jobless Future.” The Futurist 46.2 (2012): 32-35. Web.

Westcott, Scott. “Beyond Flextime: Trashing the Workweek.” Inc 30.8 (2008): 30-31. Web.

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