Today, I spoke with Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, which is long overdue. These two are some of my personal favorites because they believe in a virtual workplace, freedom and logical reasoning. Why work 9-5, when you can achieve the same results working when you want to work. All that really matters in business is that you get the job done on time. Successful employees will get the job done before the due date and at a higher quality. Cali and Jody are authors, consultants, speakers and Twitter users.
Cali and Jody, what exactly is ROWE for people who’ve never heard of that acronym? Why is it relevant to today’s workplace and not that of the past?
ROWE stands for Results-Only Work Environment. It’s an environment where each person is free to do whatever they want whenever they want – as long as they get the work done. Today’s workplace was built on the foundation of a myth: Time + physical presence = results.
There was indeed a time when the forty-hour workweek served a good purpose, and physical presence was the only way to get work done. Somehow, though, the forty-hour workweek and physical presence morphed into the gold standard for competency, efficiency, and effectiveness.
In an information and service economy, it simply doesn’t make sense to use time or physical presence as measurements for a job well-done.
Today, the majority of the work done in office environments is knowledge work. Technology has advanced to the point where we don’t, by an means, need to be sitting in a cubicle or in an office building to get our work done. It comes down to this: Your company is providing you with a paycheck and possibly other benefits. They’re giving you a job and, in some cases, a path to a career. For that you absolutely, positively owe them hard work, focus, and dedication. More important, you owe them real, measurable results.
You owe them your work; you do not owe them your time. You do not owe them your life.
You preach about employee freedom a lot, but some “old-school” people I’ve talked to are against it because they don’t trust their workers. Have you heard any of these negative story’s? Tell us how Best Buy was able to embrace ROWE from a leadership perspective.
We’ve heard many, many “old school” stories. The unwritten rule in offices today is that you “earn” freedom by putting in your time. If you’ve been with the company for 20 years, have risen up the ranks and put in your fair share of late nights and weekends, you get more freedom than others.
In the traditional office environment, freedom is a privilege, not a right.
It can be taken away at the whim of management – if business calls for all hands on deck, bye-bye freedom (as if you don’t know, in a business-critical situation, what you should do). With trust in a ROWE, freedom over you spend your time is just the way it is – all the time. It can never be taken away because it’s the foundation for a ROWE culture.
In a large company like Best Buy, it was important that we not try to get buy-in for ROWE from the collective leadership team. At the beginning of our journey, we found two leaders (Sr. Vice-Presidents) that were open to hearing how ROWE could help them improve their departments’ productivity and retention. We moved team to team for a couple years, experimenting with the ROWE philosophy and perfecting the process. After about 40% of the population was ROWE (about 1500 people), the CEO and other top leaders were hearing more about what was happening.
At that point, ROWE teams were seeing significant increases in productivity and retention, so there was no going back. That data speaks for itself: ROWE teams see an average productivity increase of 41% and a decrease of as much as 90% in voluntary turnover rates. Once the data is there for your company, leaders can’t argue with it.
“At its heart ROWE is a chance for everyone to learn a better way to work. There is nothing fancy about this idea, and there is no reason why it can’t work everywhere. The approach lets people do what they’re good at instead of what you think they should be good at. It encourages people to contribute rather than just show up and grind out their days.” – Brad Anderson, CEO, Best Buy
Which generation cares the most about workplace freedom and why will company’s have to appease them in order to survive in the future (Gen-Y/X/Baby Boomers)?
Here’s a secret: Every generation cares about workplace freedom. The difference is whether they feel people deserve it. Let’s take them one at a time:
- Boomers: They want workplace freedom in a bad way, but most of them won’t say that out loud. They’ve given their lives over to work and they’ve (admittedly) missed out on a lot of happiness because they were being slaves to the clock. Because of their beliefs about the way work needs to happen, however, ROWE rubs many of them the wrong way. They don’t think those Gen Y whippersnappers should get freedom right out of the starting gate – they need to put in their time first. No pain, no gain.
- Gen X: They’re exhausted. They grew up watching their parents work themselves to the bone and swore they’d never do the same thing. And here they are, trying to put in their time at work, while managing a household of their own – and, many of them, caring for their parents, too. They can taste workplace freedom – and they want it now.
- Gen Y: They’ve lived a free life. They’ve had the world at their fingertips and know how to build and foster relationships without ever seeing people face-to-face. They not only care about workplace freedom – it’s what they expect because it’s all they know. To them, it’s not a privilege – it’s a right.
In the end, companies will need to implement ROWE to appease all generations. Boomers won’t be “retiring” – they want to continue working, but not in the same capacity as they have for the last 40 years. Companies can utilize ROWE as a business strategy for retaining that knowledge. Gen X has a lot more to give, but they want to give it on their terms. With ROWE, companies can get 41% more productivity from the same workforce.
Gen X is being throttled by the way the work environment is operating – ROWE will solve that. When it comes to Gen Y, ROWE is the answer to recruiting them into your company in the first place. Soon, their question when they interview with prospective employers will be “Are you ROWE?” Smart companies will be able to say “yes” and that’s where the talent will go.
If you’re a manager in an office environment and you want to implement ROWE, the ROWE Launch Kit is for you. Inside, you’ll find the elements you need to bring your team or department through the ROWE migration process. Because ROWE requires people to shed their old beliefs about work and take on a completely new way of operating (as individuals and as a team), there are finely tuned sessions and activities that need to be paced correctly in order to make the change happen successfully. The Kit contains a facilitator’s guide, DVDs, games and activities, and a copy of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It. It can be found at www.culturerx.com.
If you’re an individual contributor and you want to bring ROWE into your company, find one leader that is progressive and ready to take on the challenge of ROWE. Trying to get more than one leader on board will be a slow, painstaking process – one leader is all you need. There are free downloads at www.culturerx.com (including the ROWE business case) that will help you with your conversations with the leader that you select. Once they give the green light for a ROWE pilot, the ROWE Launch Kit has what you need.
Let’s tie this all back to the individual, personal brand. How does each employee or perspective employee benefit from ROWE and how might technology enable a virtual workplace that supports ROWE?
Each employee has the opportunity to bring their full self to their work and contribute in the most meaningful way possible. ROWE opens the door for each employee to be in the driver’s seat – in their life and in their work. There’s nothing more powerful than that – and nothing more fulfilling.
- Increased productivity – the key here is that employers don’t need to add headcount to increase output, as the common belief states. The employees you have are able to output more…but you need to unshackle them first and let them thrive in a ROWE.
- Increased ability to attract and retain – ROWE is like a magnet. People are looking for more than what traditional flexibility programs offer – they know ROWE is the new game and they won’t settle for less. Top talent will demand it, and once they’re in your company, they won’t want to leave. We have several examples of ROWE employees declining promotions for more compensation to stay in a ROWE. Now that’s retention.
- Innovation thrives – no one can have really, really great ideas when they’re playing by someone else’s rules. Especially rules that don’t make sense. In a ROWE, everyone starts to operate like they are the CEO of the company – like they have a big stake in the game. They become true owner-operators. Every business is trying to infuse that kind of thinking into their population – and ROWE does it naturally.
Technology is wonderful. It gives us the ability to work anywhere, anytime.
Unfortunately, we can’t utilize technology to its fullest potential when we’re still operating under rules from the Industrial Age.
We can have all the technology we want at our fingertips, but if the rule says “You need to be in your cube from 8:00 to 5:00 every day” (and you need a really good socially acceptable excuse – like going to the doctor – to not be), technology doesn’t do us any good. Time to make ROWE the status quo.
Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson are the Founders of CultureRx and creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Their first book, WHY WORK SUCKS AND HOW TO FIX IT, will be released June 2008 by Portfolio, a Penguin imprint. They have been featured on the cover of BusinessWeek, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, HR Magazine cover story, and on 60 Minutes and National Public Radio. Ms. Ressler and Ms. Thompson are also nationally recognized keynote speakers and have presented to numerous Fortune 500 companies and prominent trade associations. Prior to founding CultureRx, they worked at Best Buy and led the corporate headquarters into a Results-Only Work Environment.