Just Say ROWE

A workplace with no schedules or no meetings? Undoubtedly every employees’ dream…especially when they’re trapped in an all day meeting. I have to admit, after reading Tim Ferris’ post about the Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE, that’s currently being employed at Best Buy, this employee got a little jealous. 

The thought of not having to worry about "signing out" by repositioning a tiny magnet on a giant dry erase board every time you step away from your desk is definitely enticing. And meetings? Don’t get me started. I mean, sometimes they serve a purpose. But, when you’re talking about stuff, you’re not doing stuff. And that’s the point of ROWE. According to Ferris, "each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done." Sigh. Sorry…I caught myself daydreaming.  

If you’re going to meet, make it purposeful. And if you want to keep it short, make sure you have a clearly defined agenda that includes time limits for each topic. You might even decide to appoint a time keeper to make sure your discussions don’t run over the allotted time. 

Is it for everyone? Unlikely. In a corporate office where business units don’t have to interact face to face with customers or other business units on a daily basis, they don’t have to worry about schedules. But, if you’ve got customers (like say a brick and mortar Best Buy store), there’s something to be said for knowing where people are so you can track them down when you need to. If you’re going to move away from schedules altogether, just make sure everyone on your team is easily accessible. To ease the transition, maybe you can spring for iPhones. 

Beyond possible customer services drawbacks, employees might prefer the structure and oversight of more traditional work environments. Some telecommuters miss working with others so much, they’ve started the trend of organized "coworking" where they get together with others to work independently while still getting  some of the human interaction they’d get in an office setting. Before trying to change your corporate culture, think about the personalities and work styles of your team and how that cultural shift will affect (both good and bad) how they do their jobs. 

Not ready to ROWE? You can look to Google for a gateway strategy. Instead of the "do whatever you want when you want" mantra, they give their engineers "20% time" where they can work one day a week to work on any project of their choosing. It’s great because it gives the creative free spirits time to do their own thing and it also encourages those who crave structure a chance to dip their toes in the water.  

I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear, but if you’re ready to ROWE the first step in scrapping schedules and meetings is to schedule a meeting to come up with a strategy to make the change. Sweet irony. 

Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).

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  • Shawn Graham

    Thanks, Jay. I will say I've been very impressed with the design of some their concept stores. Although I think it's taking customers time to adapt, I bet same store sales at their concept stores will ultimately far exceed those of their traditional outlets.

  • Jay Tatum

    Dear Shawn,
    Well done. The article cuts to the chase and leaves the reading audience doing the same thing as you - daydreaming about that kind of job. I don't know how well that ROWE plans works, but I can attest to the fact that customer service is lacking in at least a dozen Best Buys I've been to shop.
    But rather than go down that road, I would think that a job in which there is no schedule and no meetings may be far too progressive for the working class population in many organizations. This sounds like a really high trust kind of environment with some very strong accountability for getting the "work" done. I'll be keeping my eye on Best Buy and see how well this works for them and whether their forward-thinking, progressive approach positions them for greater productivity and sales or sinks like the Titanic. If they succeed, ROWE may become the new buzz phrase and if they sink, rowe may be the only choice they have in staying afloat.