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A results-only work environment is a way of working in which employees are fully autonomous and fully accountable for producing results. Work is defined as something employees do, not a place they go. This management strategy shifts the focus away from time spent at work to results produced. Leaders coach performance and manage the work instead of employees’ time.
ROWE began as an innovation experiment at Best Buy headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2003. Two employees questioned if the way they were working was producing the best outcomes for the company and its employees. Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler wanted to create an environment where people could thrive and the company could achieve desired results.
Researchers refer to this as a dual agenda.
“In a results only work environment, employees have complete control over when, where and how they work. Instead of being tied to a particular location or set of working hours, staff are held accountable for the outcome of their efforts, whether that means meeting a sales target, customer-satisfaction rating or productivity goal."
An authentic ROWE is a contemporary work culture built on the foundation that people are hired to produce clear, measurable results.
Managers stop questioning where and when people are working and shift their focus to managing clearly defined work being accomplished by an agreed upon deadline.
Autonomy: employees have complete control over their time, they determine when and where to complete their work. Accountability: employees own their careers, their jobs, their training and making sure they have what they need to get their job done. Managers are responsible for clarifying what needs to be done, the outcomes that need to be achieved. Managers and employees communicate to set reasonable timelines for completing the work. Results: each individual is clear about the measurable results they need to produce. Everyone at the organization is responsible for working together to achieve the desired outcomes.
Productivity, Revenue, Growth, Attracting and Retaining Talent, Employee Engagement, Efficiency
Certified ROWE organizations (for example, Mabel’s Labels) report higher productivity, increased revenue, reduced turnover, more successful recruitment and better engagement from staff. After achieving ROWE certification, JL Buchanan reported increases in employee engagement, productivity and efficiency, profits, and top line sales. Early adopters of the ROWE system at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) showed consistently higher employee engagement scores compared to their co-workers as measured by quarterly pulse surveys. Certification as a ROWE attracts and retains talented employees. At CMHC, ROWE is the number one reason new employees choose to work there.
ROWE employees are healthier, feel less stress and anxiety, and sleep better.
ROWE reduces the risk of serious health problems. Biomarker data (blood pressure, body mass index, a pre-diabetes marker evident in blood, and more) was collected to create a cardio-metabolic risk score to predict the likelihood of a cardiovascular event. Employees who had higher risk scores at baseline reduced their risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event by working in a ROWE when compared to a control group of employees not working in a ROWE.
ROWE reduces stress. Researchers collected saliva samples to measure cortisol levels over a period of time before and after a ROWE implementation and found the ROWE work redesign had a positive physiological effect on employees.
Why is reducing stress important? According to the American Institute of Stress, job stress costs United States employers $300 billion annually.
ROWE employees are more loyal to their companies.
Voluntary turnover decreases.
Employees working in a ROWE are more likely to stay with the company.
According to a Harvard Business School Case Study of a large organization, employees stated they could not imagine returning to the old way of working and that the freedom they have in a ROWE is priceless.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)
McKinsey & Company recognized the results-only work environment as an example of diversity enabling infrastructure. CMHC (mentioned above) uses all of the data it collects to inform its D&I strategy and create targeted interventions to address pain points. CMHC’s transition to a Results-Only Work Environment is a holistic example of this.
Reduces work to non-work conflict
Research studies reveal that employees and managers figure out ways to work smarter resulting in: parents spending more time with their children and elders who require care; adolescent children faring better in terms of mood and sleep; and employees getting extra sleep, finding time to exercise and volunteer in their communities. Working in a ROWE also assists employees dealing with family crises.
Return on Investment (ROI)
The estimated return on investing in ROWE is 1.68 meaning for every dollar invested, the company saves $1.68. (this number includes: reduced absenteeism, reduced presenteeism, lower medical costs, and reduced voluntary turnover).
Real Estate Costs
ROWE certified companies tend to reduce real estate costs by decreasing dedicated work spaces for all employees.
Improved Environmental Outcomes
According to eWorkplace, a study conducted in the Twin Cities metro area, no longer requiring employees to drive to and from the office during rush hour traffic, reduces carbon emissions as well as wear and tear on roads, thus reducing costs associated with maintaining roads. A Canadian government agency reported reduced gas emissions of 5.3 million kilometers, the equivalent of reducing carbon emission by 1,300 metric tons per year.
No Post-Pandemic Employee Rebellion
Watt Publishing closed their offices during the pandemic in 2020. Once public health conditions allowed them to re-open their office building, they did, with relevant rules on mask-wearing and social distancing. Employees continued to choose when and where to work, at the office or elsewhere. CEO Greg Watt did not change any policies, or create complex re-entry plans. Watt reported that the company did not experience any kind of employee rebellion from unhappy employees.
Future of Work
Daniel Pink called ROWE the future of work. In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink recognizes Jody Thompson as one of the six business leaders who offer wise guidance for designing organizations that promote autonomy, mastery, and purpose, the key elements for motivating performance and who have created a bold path forward for the future of work.
Less than a year into his job, in which he was tasked with turning around a company considered on the brink of bankruptcy, former CEO Hubert Joly said Best Buy’s program had given employees too much independence.
A government organization reported that employees spend less time socializing with coworkers at the office.
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