If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the old model of working in an office for 40 hours a week may no longer be fit for purpose when it comes to creating work-life balance.
With working from home suddenly enforced on them, employees realized they could ditch lengthy commutes, be there to put their kids to bed and still meet deadlines by doing their jobs remotely.
In fact, some workers and companies are so enamored with this approach that they’ve taken flexible working one step further and brought in a Results-Oriented Work Environment.
What is ROWE?
In a ROWE workplace, you can come and go from your office as you please - there are no obligatory meetings and you aren’t even required to come into the office at all if you don’t fancy it.
Instead, the system works by measuring the performance and output of employees, rather than the hours they work or their presence in the office. It’s simple, really: employees have complete freedom when it comes to their projects and complete independence in meeting their targets.
ROWE was founded in 2003 by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson as a solid business platform. Due to their work, relationships between managers and employees are transformed to one which is based on trust, accountability and results.
According to Ressler and Thompson, results-oriented work can increase productivity for 40% of workers, while 78% fewer sick days are taken when it’s implemented in the workplace. However, turnover may be higher: 77% more workers are let go due to this working style because a lack of results is easy to spot.
But how can you manage someone when they aren’t in the office? Can you always trust your employees? How can you ensure they’re being productive? Realistically, can a Results Oriented Work Environment ever work? Let’s take a closer look and investigate:
What are the benefits of a ROWE work environment?
Businesses are always looking for the cheapest ways to improve employee retention. One way to do this is to introduce more flexible working patterns. According to research by IWG, 72% of office workers would prefer hybrid working to being in the workplace full-time, even choosing this over a 10% pay rise.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Office for National Statistics found 85% of adults who experienced homeworking during lockdown now want to split their time to work remotely.
This may be particularly important for working parents who want to spend more time with their children, and it’s useful for those who want to avoid a stressful commute.
ROWE gives employees the flexibility and choice they want. It lets them decide how and when they will complete their work and takes the weight off when they have a doctor’s appointment or need to leave early for their child’s school play. Many employers don’t offer the benefit of flexibility, so employees who have it aren’t likely to leave it behind.
According to research by Gallup, only 20% of employees worldwide are actually engaged in their jobs, meaning they “work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.”
However, it also means 80% are unengaged, which Gallup describes as “essentially checked out”, or they are actively disengaged, meaning they “aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness.”
This may result in employees completing their work to a poor standard, rather than working to the best of their abilities.
But with ROWE, employees are able to focus on projects that they manage themselves without facing distractions in the office. They can also spend more time concentrating on a task that they have ownership over, which may stop them disengaging from their work.
When employees’ efforts go unnoticed, they’re less motivated to work well. The same goes for when they’re forced to share credit with someone who hasn’t contributed much and has just come along for the ride. Since ROWE measures work on results, employees are more enticed to do well because they know they will be rewarded for their individual output.
The disadvantages of ROWE
Although there are clear advantages of adopting ROWE within your workplace, there are some potential drawbacks too.
Loss of collaboration
In a ROWE work environment, there aren’t many employees in the office and face-to-face meetings are a rarity. When you work in an office, discussing a project could be as easy as popping over to someone’s desk for a quick chat while you make a coffee. When you try to replicate this on email it doesn’t work quite as well.
Collaboration tools do make it easier to communicate with colleagues who work remotely, but this might not be sufficient to manage major projects.
Many projects need collaboration between team members, which is already difficult if the teams are in different locations, but even harder when individual team members aren’t working at the same time.
Usually colleagues bounce ideas off each other, but armed with only a screen and a keyboard, this can be difficult if not impossible.
It doesn’t work for everyone
A results-oriented work environment doesn’t work as well in companies that are service-oriented, especially when there are specific hours employees need to be available to answer phone calls or meet clients. It’s also difficult for businesses that rely heavily on collaboration to finish projects.
Often ROWE workplaces are difficult to manage because of the lack of communication with remote employees who have varying schedules. It also opens up the possibility that employees could practice unethical behavior to achieve their results if their methods are not checked.
Employees may also find it difficult to adjust to a ROWE system if they lack self-discipline or self-motivation. With so much flexibility, employees are essentially working for themselves. If they can’t motivate themselves to meet their targets and achieve the results they should, they may need more management support.
5 strategies to overcome the challenges of a results-only work environment
There are ways of getting around these potential disadvantages and making ROWE more likely to work in your business.
Here are a few strategies you could employ:
1. Bring in suitable people
The ROWE process should start with recruitment and ensuring new hires fit the way you want your staff to work. You need to look for individuals who are self-motivated and conscientious, and who are able to prove they can focus on projects to deliver tangible results.
Anyone who seems unprofessional, prone to procrastination or likely to deliver sloppy work shouldn’t be high on your list of possible recruits.
In addition, it’s important to convey the attitude of ROWE during the hiring process. Ensure interviewees know they can surrender the potential guilt that could arise from walking out of the office in the middle of the afternoon, as well as the temptation to judge fellow employees for doing so. This is a whole new world that many candidates won’t have heard of.
2. Set out thorough job descriptions
Making sure your new employees know what they’re doing is the next crucial strategy, so job descriptions must be as detailed as possible. If you fail to outline responsibilities, there’s a risk that tasks and projects could fall through the cracks because everyone thinks someone else is doing them.
Clearly defined roles and a caveat that people should use their own judgment to manage their workload should avoid this issue.
3. Establish SMART goals
When working hours aren’t set in stone, there must still be ways of establishing targets. To ensure this is the case, goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound.
Employees must know they’re required to deliver a certain piece of work by a particular deadline before moving on to the next project.
4. Build trust
The ROWE way of working means trust is essential, as you have to know employees will deliver results. However, the process works both ways and staff will want to know you're there to provide support where necessary.
Furthermore, trust between team members is also vital, particularly since they may not spend much time in the office together. Instead, encourage social events after work and put in workplace tools like collaboration apps to facilitate the brainstorming that might otherwise have taken place by a colleague’s desk to build connected relationships.
5. Keep tabs on performance
By its very nature, ROWE is performance-related and regular check-ins are therefore essential to ensure results are being delivered as promised. These can be in-person or virtual, but they could require a more coaching-focused approach to management than many people are used to.
Monitoring is also crucial to pick up on any incidents where employees are regularly missing deadlines, piggy-backing off their co-workers or rushing their work to get more time to relax.
On the other hand, these sessions can also be an opportunity to ensure people aren’t over-working and trying to prove their diligence through presenteeism, which can eventually lead to burnout.
Can ROWE work within your workplace?
If you do implement ROWE within your company, there are a few things you need to consider:
- If you can’t trust your employees, it won’t be successful
- If your employees can’t be motivated to achieve their goals, you won’t see productivity
- And if they don’t understand what their goals are, you’ll fail to get results
Overall, making results-oriented work environments work within your workplace depends on your company. If you can manage remote employees well and make use of collaborative tools, it can be a smooth ride. However, if you rely heavily on communication to complete projects, cracks in your team may start to emerge.