A Results-Only Work Environment Better Have Results
I first heard of “Results-Only Work Environments” (ROWE) in the book Work Sucks. We’d describe a ROWE as an environment where work is about producing things, rather than spending time in the office. To to say we’re strong advocates of this approach is an understatement. It’s the way we want to be treated, so it’s the only way we’re comfortable treating others. But it can be an adjustment for many people. To some a ROWE sounds like a utopia, but you have to remember that it means you’re on the hook for results.
To us the reasons for a ROWE are pretty self-evident, but since it seems to be revolutionary to most people we should probably explain why we favor one.
The first thing that springs to mind is: Why is the burden of proof on us in the first place? Why wouldn’t you want to base compensation on results? In fact I’ve never heard a satisfactory alternative. Conventional wisdom often seems to be “I can’t tell what my staff is producing, so I need them to sit in a chair for 8 hours.”
There are so many examples of inefficiencies in treating staff like children. If they don’t need to be in the office that day, why insist that they come in? If someone’s sleepy and wants to take a nap now and get back to their work later, why would you rather they just sit there staring at their monitor. In these cases, both parties are worse off. We trust our staff to make the best decisions about how to use their time. I don’t want to check up on you and you don’t want to be checked up on.
Are You Sure You Can Handle It?
Unfortunately the same expectations that have programmed managers to equate attendance with productivity have infected most of the rest of us too. Part of why a ROWE probably sounds wonderful to you is because you are thinking in largely the same vein. “No one’s watching over me? That will be so relaxing!”
While this environment frees you from the burden of having to prove your productivity by your presence, it also removes that crutch. Many people aren’t exactly killing it at their jobs. They show up from 9 to 5 and do what they’re told, but they’re generally disinterested. That’s not going to cut it when you’re being judged solely by results.
When we give someone ownership of a problem it becomes their problem. You can address problems when you think they need to be addressed, but you’d better be addressing them when they need to be addressed. You can go see a movie in the middle of the day, but you also need to be ready to handle problems that occur at inconvenient times. You’re in charge of delivering results.
This obviously brings a great deal of freedom, but freedom isn’t the only advantage of this style of work. Once you stop looking at how much effort you’re putting forth and start looking at how much value you’re adding, you’ll find it helps everywhere in your life. We’ve found that reality has a tendency to reward results and not effort, so it’s good to get in the practice of delivering those results.