The Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County, Minn., is the latest to practice a results-only work environment, or ROWE, and give people the freedom to do their job when and where they want, as long as the work gets done. One of the goals was to reduce rush-hour traffic in Minneapolis.
ROWE sounds like a novel idea, but has been around for years and is likely to increase as more people who were laid off discover the joy of scheduling their days on their own time and long for it when they find jobs again. Companies save money by letting employees work from home.
There may be something in the water in Minneapolis. Before Hennepin County joined the movement, Best Buy, which has its headquarters in Minneapolis, in 2006 got rid of schedules, mandatory meetings and staying past 5 p.m. to impress the boss. The move by Best Buy was only done at its main office in Minneapolis, not in stores throughout the country. Tech companies have been doing it for years, with 40% of IBM workers having no official office, a third of AT&T managers untethered to the office, and Sun Microsystems calculating that it has saved $400 million over six years in real estate costs by letting half of its employees work wherever they want.
If the bottom line of a business is getting results, then ROWE is working. Hennepin County found early evidence of efficiency by cutting a two-week backlog of public support cases to five days.
The Go ROWE Web site calls it the future of work, where teamwork soars because workers feel less overworked, and workers have healthier lifestyles while not having to commute.
A recent National Public Radio story on ROWE listed these basics of a results-only work environment:
- All meetings are optional. Staff are still responsible for what happens in meetings, and will come if it's worth it.
- Results have to be defined. Spell out explicit tasks or achievements and specific dates for them to be completed.
- Change the way you communicate. Having a colleague in the next cubicle can't be beat for communicating, but with ROWE it will have to be done by phone, e-mail or instant messaging.
- Every day feels like Saturday. Many people are incredibly busy on weekends, but feel more relaxed because they're in control of their schedule. ROWE lets workers set their schedule every day, and fit in laundry, conference calls, errands and other duties as needed.