Susan Hoaby recently learned from Instagram that one of her employees was in Paris.
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But that wasn’t surprising – she doesn’t worry about when and where her employees work.
Her company, JL Buchanan, employs a results-only work environment (ROWE), a management strategy that focuses on results and employees’ performance, not where and when people work.
“That is the power of trust,” said Hoaby, who is the CEO of the retail consulting firm. “She is in Paris, but I know her job is still getting done. She might be doing some [work], coworkers might be shoring her up, but I am not worried about that. I am trusting she took the trip with everything in order.”
In a ROWE, employees don’t have to request to leave early, or work from home or even from a different country.
“Each person is 100% accountable and 100% autonomous, which means I am self-governing and independent,” said Jody Thompson, principal of CultureRx, who also helped create the concept of ROWE.
Generally, ROWEs still have physical offices for employees, but Thompson explained that the need for dedicated work spaces tends to decline.
“Real estate costs can drop significantly in a ROWE since people have let go of work as a place you ‘go,’ but rather as something you ‘do,’” she said.
Hoaby transformed JL Buchanan into a ROWE in 2009 and said employee engagement, productivity and efficiency has increased, along with its profits and top line sales.
The idea of ROWE seems simple, but it can be challenging to implement. It means giving up the deeply ingrained notion that the best employees are the ones who are always at their desks. It also means surrendering any guilt that comes with attending a child’s school function in the middle of the day or hitting the gym in the afternoon.
And it requires removing any judgment or questioning of other workers when they leave the office.
In a ROWE, employees have unlimited vacation days with no need for approval.
Giving workers complete autonomy
WATT Global Media, a content and marketing services company in the agribusiness industry, implemented ROWE in 2012, following a big transformation period with several new hires.
CEO Greg Watt was worried about retention. Not only has the shift been good for retaining employees, it’s also been a great recruitment tool, he said.
“Butts in seats doesn’t create good work. It gives you the perception, but it doesn’t necessarily drive excellent performance,” said Watt.
ROWE gives workers’ complete autonomy, but to be successful workers need to have clear and detailed goals and metrics, Thompson said.
“I have to know exactly what I am getting paid for in terms of measurable results.” Results are the only thing employees are being measured by, so they have to be clear.
Employees at WATT have become more involved in setting goals and objectives to determine what is achievable, and everyone is on the same page on exactly what is expected by when.
“Goals are now created bottom-up and not top-down,” Watt said. “For too many years, it was the same establishment of goals, but now it’s a two-way dialogue.”
While most employees enjoy the freedom that ROWEs allow, managers tend to have a harder time adjusting to the new working style.
“They are used to having control,” said Thompson. “They have risen up the ranks by being able to control people, and now they have to be really good at the work and deliver measurable results and some managers get wigged out by that.”
Managers need to become “results coaches” in these workplaces since regular check-ins with employees to review progress and performances are a big part of ROWE. They are there to help workers be their most productive and help solve any issues or problems that come up. In a ROWE, the hierarchy feels more horizontal than vertical, Thompson explained.
“In a ROWE, you are constantly asking: Is this the right goal? Do we have the right measure? There has to be constant course correction to make sure you aren’t wasting your time,” she said.
A ROWE goes beyond achieving the so-called work-life balance.
“This is the best solution to work that meets life, it’s work-life integration,” said Lana Jones, vice president of talent and culture at JL Buchanan.
But just because workers have more freedom, doesn’t mean they’re working any less.
“I work harder in this job than I probably have in my 25-year plus career,” said Jones. “It’s about working smarter, not less.”