More on College as a Results-Only-Work-Environment (ROWE)

I’ve referenced Tim Ferris’ awesome blog post about Best Buy’s Results-Only-Work-Environment before, but it bears quoting again:

ROWE stands for Results-Only Work Environment. In a ROWE, each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. Currently, there are two authentic ROWEs—Fortune 100 retailer Best Buy Co, Inc. and J. A. Counter & Associates, a small brokerage firm in New Richmond, WI. At both organizations, the old rules that govern a traditional work environment—core hours, “face time,” pointless meetings, etc.—have been replaced by one rule: focus only on results.

In the 4-Hour Workweek, you helped people understand that because of technology, people don’t have to defer living until retirement. They can design their own lifestyle. Now imagine what would happen if the entire culture of a workplace went through the same transformation. That’s what a ROWE is. A ROWE is a work culture that gives people the power to take control of their lives. As long as they get their job done, they’re free.

One of the points I made in my last post about lifestyle was about the difficulty in transitioning from college to a “typical” corporate job:

I think it’s one of the hardest adjustments students have to make when going into the corporate world. All of a sudden you’re not able to decide what you do and when you do it. It’s like you regress back to being in high school.

The more I think about it, college is the ultimate ROWE.  I’m sure it was slightly different for everyone, but here’s how it pretty much worked for me:  you get a syllabus the first day of class that has all of your assignments, projects, and tests in it and it’s your responsibility to get all of it done.  You don’t have to go to class.  If you do, you don’t have to participate.  You don’t have to turn in homework (unless it counts towards your grade).  Your only responsibility is to meet the requirements of the syllabus, which usually entails turning in a few key papers/projects and taking a few important tests.  That’s it.  No one tells you how to do it or when to do it.  You can work an hour each morning a month in advance or do it all the night before.  Whatever works for you so long as you get it done.

Now why the hell aren’t more companies like this?  I know, I know, academia and business are two different things.  But the mentality of the results being what matters, that’s what should translate.  Clearly some companies are starting to make the push.  It just blows my mind that this isn’t more common.  It seems like such common sense.  I mean, at my job, everyone told me to come early and stay late because it “looked good”.  So I’d get all my work done in like 5 hours and then bone around on ESPN.com until 5:30 so I’d look like a hard worker.  Why on earth I couldn’t just take off at 3 was beyond me.  All of my work on all of my projects was up to date.  There’s just no motivation to work fast or efficiently.  You have to be there for 8-9 hours regardless.  It’s such garbage.

Conversely, if you build a company around accomplishing meaningful things, you’ll have employees who are willing to work longer, harder, and smarter because they care.  If they know that they can take advantage of downtime to run errands, spend time with their family, or relax, they’ll be happier and more satisfied with their job.

Seems like common sense…doesn’t it?

15 comments on More on College as a Results-Only-Work-Environment (ROWE)

  1. Leigh says:

    A friend of mine works for DE Shaw in Manhattan and he said he doesn’t have set hours, etc. They trust him to get his work done his own way and on his own schedule.

    I agree about college being a ROWE for the most part; unless you’re like me and go to a small private school that docks you points for not attending classes (usually you’d get two or three skips for free, but then you’d start dropping a letter grade for each additional skip or whatnot). I got a few B’s because I’d skip class to do things I really wanted to do like see an opera performance or go to the ballet. Oops!

  2. Adam McFarland says:

    Leigh -

    Thanks for the comment. I took a look at the D.E. Shaw website. Check out their culture page http://www.deshaw.com/Culture.html Pretty much exactly what I was talking about – it’s so cool to see it in action :)

    Adam

  3. I am a fan the results driven work culture and I agree that more companies should adopt it. It is an incredible lag on both personal and corporate productivity, to have people spending hours-on-end trying to “look” productive.

    That being said companies that want to switch gears have to be careful with implementation. The only danger to adopting such a system are those employees that are total slackers. Your system needs to be able to weed them out, quick.

  4. Adam McFarland says:

    Phil -

    You’re dead on. Weeding them out and getting them out while still surviving is key.

    In the Tim Ferris post he wrote: “It has been noted, however, that firings, or ‘involuntary turnover,’ will often increase during the transition to ROWE. People can no longer disguise paper shuffling and excessive motion for delivering results”.

    So if that’s the case, you have to have a plan to get them out without ruining the productivity of the remaining employees. You also have to have a plan to account for all the work you’ll be losing, which is still something, even if they didn’t do nearly as much as they should have.

    Adam

  5. Leigh says:

    Adam:

    I forgot to mention; I have implemented this type of environment in my business. It is working out pretty well so far. I’m turning a decent profit working only 5-7 days per month, and on those days, I am not working a full day. I might work from 7-12 and then spend the afternoon at the park or reading. I love it because I’m building a lifestyle that works for me (much like you mentioned in another recent post).

  6. Spencer says:

    I quit a corporate job for a big international banking company after reading Tim’s book. I’m trying desperately to find a ROWE (I live in Melbourne, Australia) but down here its very traditional and especially in banking! 60 hour weeks where you don’t see your friends or family? Here’s a badge!

    Everything in Tim’s book rings true to me but obviously the older baby boomer generation who are in charge of all the companies nowadays feel threatened that their old way of doing business is absolutely meaningless and redundant. So change doesn’t happen.

    I loved the ROWE of college – it fitted me perfectly. If the results were slipping I’d drop a paper, or pick up one if I felt like I could comfortably cope. Transition to corporate life is difficult especially with all the political ‘sludge’ that goes with it.

    Good blog – Subscribed.

  7. Adam McFarland says:

    @Leigh – very, very cool. What type of business if you don’t mind my asking? If you don’t want to post here you can drop me an email (adam [at] adam-mcfarland [dot] net). I’m always fascinated by someone who has mastered the art of minimizing work and maximizing results.

    @Spencer – thanks for reading, glad to have you as a new subscriber. What you did by quitting your job takes a ton of guts…congrats! Btw http://www.electricvagabond.com/ is a very cool site. I have an eeepc myself and I love it, it’s so much fun to mess around with.

  8. Travis says:

    Great Post, Adam. I am a long time reader, but first time commenter.

    I can see how ROWE can work for a sales/consultant model, but I am struggling to see how it could work for admin/customer service type positions where a phone needs to be manned from 9-5.

    Any insight would be appreciated!

    Best,
    Travis

  9. Adam McFarland says:

    Travis – awesome to finally hear from you.

    I agree, it’s much tougher to implement for people in those positions. As soon as I read your comment I thought “I read an article about this…” It took a while, but I found it http://www.inc.com/magazine/20080801/beyond-flextime.html

    It’s actually another article about a company implementing ROWE from INC Magazine a few months back. They get into detail about how they even got the receptionist involved:

    “Judy Wentlandt is J.A. Counter’s receptionist. The team could readily imagine the salespeople — many of whom already had flexible schedules — moving to ROWE. But a receptionist? Skoglund was adamant — yes, the receptionist. She wasn’t sure just how it would work; she told her staff members to figure it out. Two weeks later, they came back with a simple plan. When Wentlandt gave advance notice that she would be at home or off-site, volunteers would be asked to fill the receptionist’s role.

    New technology allows all employees to view their desktop from any station in the office. The company is considering installing a new phone system that will allow Wentlandt to answer phones from off-site locations, giving her even more flexibility. “I don’t have the spontaneity that everyone else has,” Wentlandt says. “But if I need coverage, I get it.” She has left work to take her grandson to a museum and to attend her father’s birthday party. Before, she would have had to take vacation time or skip those events.”

    Give the article a read, it’s pretty interesting stuff. A great case study in a mid-size company that switched successfully to a ROWE :)

    Adam

  10. [...] great example was on my last post.  In the comments Travis asked me a question that immediately made me think of an article on Inc.  I searched [...]

  11. Leigh says:

    @ Adam – I’m a copywriter. I write mostly Web content for attorneys, but I also write e-books, special reports, sales letters, etc. The attorneys I work with tend to pay a premium for a knowledgeable writer, so where some of my fellow writers are struggling to find clients that will pay $8 or $10 per article, I was recently able to triple my rates and actually gain more clients as opposed to losing any. I guess you could say it’s a good niche.

  12. Adam McFarland says:

    Wow Leigh, that is a great gig and a very nice little niche that you can dominate. Copywriting is something I never really thought of when it comes to this type of stuff. Congrats on creating your perfect job!

  13. Leigh says:

    Thanks for the good wishes, Adam. :)

  14. Spencer says:

    @Adam. Thanks for the compliments on my site. Eee’s are great aren’t they! Keep your eye out for the next-gen of Eee’s coming next year with touchscreens!

  15. Adam McFarland says:

    Your welcome Spencer. I did not know that there were touchscreen’s coming out next year…very cool! The only thing that stinks about netbooks is that they are evolving so fast. The eeePC 701 that I bought less than a year ago is obsolete now! Then again, I just use it as a computer to mess around with and install different Linux flavors on it so it’s not a huge deal. Right now I have gOS which I find to be my favorite spin-off of Ubuntu http://www.thinkgos.com/.

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