A Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

By Eric Dickmann

March 8, 2020

Results-Only Work Environment, ROWE, Trust, Work-Life Balance

As I write this, the news is filled with stories about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Cruise ships are quarantined at the ports, travel restrictions prevent people from flying to certain countries, and conferences are being cancelled. The stock market is stressed and businesses are locking down travel, asking employees to start working from home. Will this finally be the impetus that business needed to embrace remote work?

While some companies have seen remote work as a valuable incentive to attracting the best talent, others have been reluctant to embrace the idea because it requires a different kind of management style. A Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) is what companies reluctant to embrace remote work, need to consider. It's a human resource management strategy co-created by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler.

More and more successful companies are adopting ROWE and seeing the benefits. But setting up a Results-Only Work Environment can be a challenge.  For ROWE to work, you need quality employees you can trust. But trusted employees are not usually the biggest obstacle. The problem often lies in the shift of mindset from manager to a "results coach."

There are a few things you need to consider to put in place a ROWE. If you can't trust your employees, it may not be successful. If your employees lack motivation, you may see issues with productivity. And if they fail to understand their goals, you'll fail to get results. Making ROWE work within your workplace depends on how you implement it within your company environment.

Why Should a Company Adopt ROWE?

Many companies that have implemented a ROWE have already begun to see results. Veronica Wooten, in her article at the Digital Insider, cited a few reasons why a company should adopt ROWE:

  • It Values Time: The beauty of ROWE is that it respects employees' time and independence. It gives people the freedom to divide their time as they choose. This results in less time wasted and increased productivity during work hours.
  • Accomplishing More (or the Same) in Less Time: ROWE has a different way of viewing and measuring success in the work environment. Managers aren't after employees to put in 80 hours, 40 hours, or 20 hours a week - they care more about the results.
  • Fewer (and Shorter) Meetings: Company meetings can be a significant drain on an employee's time. Meetings can often involve more people than necessary and because of poor meeting skills, drag on unnecessarily long. Often times, these meetings accomplish very little in the end. In contrast, ROWE forces employers to more thoughtfully consider the necessity to meet. As a result, teams are likely to do more in meetings and waste less time.
Results Oriented Work Environment

Potential Hurdles to Overcome

Everyone's work style is different. Some workers thrive in an office environment. While others are miserable clocking in and out every day. ROWE gives employees the freedom and flexibility to choose their own hours and the type of environment that maximizes their productivity.

For remote workers, especially those new to working offsite, there's an adjustment period. It's important that they find a dedicated space to do their work and ways to minimize distraction. Building trust as a remote employee is crucial. Employees need to be available to take calls, respond to messages, and be engaged. But they also shouldn't be afraid to take advantage of the freedoms remote work provides. There's nothing wrong with doing a load of laundry during the workday or taking some time at lunch to mow the lawn. Breaks are important. It's just that remote workers can often take the time and put it to productive use, rather than spending it gossiping by the water cooler. Managers need to be mindful of this and focus on the results, not that remote workers are glued to their chairs during business hours.

A Virtual CMO is a great example of the power and flexibility of remote work. It's an executive leader that works remotely to manage marketing strategy and execution on a fractional basis. The Virtual CMO must divide their time between multiple clients with their focus being on producing tangible results. It's not about the hours spent but rather the results produced. This is why it's such an appealing value proposition for small and midsize companies. They get the skills and experience of a seasoned executive without the costs of a full-time hire. It provides both flexibility and measurable results in a cost-effective manner.

Setting Up a Functional ROWE

The basic idea of ROWE is: when, where, and how you do your work is less important than the results produced. Bob Wang, in his article at the Firm of the Future, presented five principles
to set up a ROWE:

  • Be Accessible Anywhere, Anytime: The whole approach collapses if you fail to have the
    infrastructure to support it. You may need a cloud service for company data to be accessible anytime, anywhere.  If you need to reach someone, you email, message, or call them. Manager's presence manifest in giving clear goals and expectations. They can be there by coaching their development.
  • Come From a Place of Trust: Trust your employees from day one. Give them some space and flexibility. Only withdraw you've proven that they misplaced trust. In a ROWE, people work on their relationships with more purpose and about the work. Remember that this level of freedom is new for you, but likely for them as well.
  • Delegate Ownership Instead of Tasks: Shift away from a "do this, do that" style of management. Pass total responsibility to employees by giving them 100% autonomy and accountability. In ROWE, if you fail to achieve the agreed measurable results, then you may lose your job. No performance means no job.
  • Train With Intention:  Give your employees the competence and trust they need to excel. Handing over responsibility means more training. Do this with intention. There is a need to explain what the employees need to do and why they need to do it. Moreover, they need to know what success or good results looks like.
  • Define the Meaning of Results: You must define specific results if you're going to compensate people based on it. They must reflect on the compensation structure you establish. Communicate this structure to everybody.  A base salary plus a monthly results-based bonus is recommended. It makes discrepancies in pay rates fair. Everyone can see and understand how and why top producers earn more.

The Future of Work

Most organizations understand that the future is not about the workplace. It is about creating a workforce. ROWE is designed to reduce wasted hours and unproductive, discontent employees. The goal is greater efficiency, productivity, and most of all - happiness.

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About the author

Eric Dickmann is the founder of The Five Echelon Group, host of the weekly podcast - The Virtual CMO, and a CMO On Demand for a variety of small and midsize companies. An executive leader with over 30 years of experience in marketing, product development, and digital transformation, he has worked with large, global companies and small startups to develop and execute marketing strategies and bring innovative products to the market.

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