Why Doesn’t Everyone Work in a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)?

lights-out-offices

Some people are able to live a life of flexible work hours and location independence without being self employed.

How do they do it? They’re some of the lucky few who’s employers have embraced a “results-only work environment” (or ROWE).

ROWE is a radical new way of working that focuses on results instead of face time. ROWE in practice means “each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want as long as the work gets done.”


This new work environment is potentially the ultimate in work-life balance and freedom for the cubicle dweller. It’s a boon to highly-productive people, and it may be just what corporate America needs to stop from losing their best employees to smaller companies, startups, self-employment and freelancing.

The results-only work environment is a new invention, and so far it hasn’t been widely implemented. It was created by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson and explained in their book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It.

ROWE has most notably been implemented at Best Buy, the Fortune 100 electronics retailer, where all 4,000 of their headquarters-based staff have become unleashed. The experiment began seven years ago, when Ressler was just a 24-year old new hire at Best Buy.

So far, the results have been impressive. The authors of the program claim productivity being up an average of 41% on ROWE teams. Employees and managers alike seem to absolutely love ROWE where it has been implemented. Voluntary turnover at ROWE companies decreases by up to 90%.

Why Doesn’t Every Company Go Results-Only?

So, if the results are so impressive, why isn’t it being more widely adopted? Shouldn’t employees be pressuring their company’s management to set them free and watch results skyrocket? Shouldn’t management be convincing their boards of directors that this is the best way to improve bottom-line results?

There are a couple of likely reasons ROWE hasn’t been put into action at more companies. First, shortly after the concept broke onto the scene in 2007, the economy imploded. Big companies are too busy laying people off and trying to stay out of bankruptcy to think about implementing a radical and somewhat unproven change.

Second, on the surface this would seem to be simply an attempt by employees to get away with getting paid for slacking off. People have been talking about telecommuting and working remotely for years, but have had little evidence that it does much more than improve employee satisfaction and eliminate commutes.

Some big technology companies have actually let large portions of their staff permanently telecommute. Up to 50% of the workforces at Sun Microsystems, IBM and AT&T have no permanent office. None of them have gone as far as Best Buy, though.

Getting Results

Going results-only means changing a company much more fundamentally than just letting half of your staff telecommute. The flexibility of location is only a small part of ROWE. To make it work completely, the creators of the program argue the implementation must be a complete cultural change.

In an “authentic ROWE” company (as Ressler and Thompson call it), people do whatever they want whenever they want as long as the work gets done. This is great for high-performers, and bad for people who have learned to be rewarded more for face time than results. ROWE calls for eliminating employees who don’t produce results.

What constitutes results under ROWE exactly? That’s the part that most who try to implement the system will struggle with. Some jobs are hard to measure objectively, and not seeing people face-to-face very often can make it more difficult. That may be another reason the program hasn’t taken off.

Whatever the fate of the “authentic ROWE” program, the intent behind it is good for employees and companies (not to mention the environment). If you are at your wits’ end with the culture of face time at your company, you might consider becoming a ROWE advocate. It could improve the lifestyles of everyone you work with.

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photo by Giant Ginkgo

I'm Corbett Barr, co-founder of Fizzle and entrepreneur for a decade. Get my weekly curated email of useful things for independent entrepreneurs »

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