Our conversation about work has changed over the past two years. “Flexibility” and “autonomy” have become the words to describe today’s workplaces. There is no better time than now to reexamine the multiple layers of how work gets done, question traditions, and improve the experience and outcomes of work for both employees and organizations. In this article we explore the concept of a results-only working environment (ROWE), highlight its benefits, and suggest how to get started.
The 40-hour work week
The labor landscape in the United States has been slow to progress throughout the past century. Prior to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1936, there was no such thing as working “too many” hours. In fact, in 1890, full-time manufacturing employees worked on average 100 hours a week. Ford Motor Company’s Henry Ford is considered the catalyst of the 40-hour work week; in 1926 he issued a five-day, 40-hour work week for his employees. Ten years later the US government made the Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 work schedule official. The Fair Labor Standards Act limited the work week to 44 hours at first, and then revised it to 40 hours in 1940.
And today, 80 years later, the 40-hour work week remains a cornerstone of most organizations’ standard practices. Could there be a better way to get work done?
The results-only working environment is a radical disruption of the 40-hour work week. Traditionally, organizations pay employees for the hours that they work. With ROWE, organizations pay employees for the outputs they produce. ROWE eliminates the constraints of time. For example, an employee may complete their work in 10 hours, instead of 40.
ROWE is not a new concept; it was first introduced by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, founders of the consulting firm CultureRx, who published the approach in their 2008 book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it. Thompson and Ressler pioneered ROWE at Best Buy, and it now exists in many companies including Gap, Girl Scouts of America, and Syvantis.
The opportunities of a ROWE environment
ROWE champions responsibility, autonomy, and results. It measures results by performance, not presence in a company or home office. Offices that have adopted ROWE describe these benefits:
- Increased freedom. A 9-to-5 work schedule inhibits true work-life autonomy. It also dictates for employees the hours they must work. Not all employees are most productive within that timeframe. Employees in a ROWE organization are free to work not only where they want, but when and how. ROWE eliminates time constraints, which live in the organization’s culture, fed by its practices and norms.
- Increased performance. When an organization reframes the purpose of work to be achievement of results instead of achievement of time, performance possibilities are endless. What once could be done in a traditional work week might be accomplished in a day, freeing up time for additional projects.
- Increased purpose. A ROWE organization sets clear vision and focuses on goals. Employees have a deep sense of purpose about how their work contributes to the organization’s objectives as a whole. Meaningful work is a great driver of employee engagement. It is essential to retaining committed employees.
The possible shortcomings
Despite its numerous benefits, ROWE does not work for everyone. For example, customer service roles require standard hours, and many client-facing jobs like retail are based on a store schedule. When considering whether to adopt a ROWE approach, organizations must be realistic about when and for whom it applies.
ROWE also assumes a certain level of self-motivation. Some individuals may prefer to measure their work by time rather than outcomes. It is important for organizations to be clear about their working environment expectations throughout talent attraction and acquisition processes.
How to get started with ROWE
Moving from a traditional 40-hour work week to one that emphasizes results first is not simply about changing an HR practice; it is a cultural investment. You must embed ROWE in your mission, vision, and values. It must become part of your organization’s value proposition and brand. And it must guide your employee hiring and talent development programs.
We at Brighter Strategies are passionate about performance; we have seen what organizations focused on results can accomplish. We partner with dozens of nonprofits to help shift their cultures from “the way it’s always been” toward “the way it needs to be.” Contact us today to learn how to begin the journey toward a results-only working environment.