A Review on ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment)

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Millennials are entering the job market in droves – by 2020, 50% of the global workforce is predicted to be born between 1980-2000. With this influx, we can expect some major changes in workplace culture. Work schedules have evolved, with a preference for flexibility and work/life fit replacing the more traditional and often rigid 9-5 day. One of the most liberal of these structures is Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), a system that has changed expectations of what a workplace environment can be, attracting the attention of believers and skeptics alike.

ROWE is the brainchild of Cali Ressler and Jodi Thompson, who originally introduced ROWE as a transformation in workplace culture for Best Buy in 2003. The structure is simple: no set hours, no mandated time in the office, no micromanagement. The only expectations are to meet deliverable deadlines with a job well done. ROWE champions freedom, responsibility, autonomy, and results. After its implementation at Best Buy,  Ressler and Thompson determined it was a success, claiming voluntary turnover was down 90% and productivity was up 41%.  Since the Best Buy experiment, ROWE quickly caught on as a model for many industries.

Third party researchers have also experimented with the approach. Phyllis Moen, a professor at the University of Minnesota, found a variety of benefits including: an average of one hour more of sleep for employees per night, better health, more exercise, and improved morale.

The challenge in implementing these strategies appears to be changing the existing culture. In order for new policies to be adopted, employees must embrace the culture wholeheartedly and ensure no shame or pressure accompanies individuals who choose to take time away from the office. For example, a nationwide survey found that 40% of respondents agreed that individuals who asked for flexible work schedules for personal or family related reasons were less likely to advance in their careers. However, campaigns can mediate this stigma and encourage better work life fit. At BDO, a culture-changing advertising campaign hung posters with pictures of employees working from home, and senior managers publically declared their participation in the program in order to promote acceptance of the idea.

Not all companies agree this approach is best. Best Buy actually dropped ROWE altogether after Hubert Joly became CEO in 2012.  Joly states that ROWE assumes the “right leadership style is always delegation” and that leadership must be personalized whereas ROWE is “one-size-fits-all.” Marissa Mayer also ended ROWE at Yahoo! when she took the helm as CEO. According to a Slate article by Seth Stevenson, Mayer was quoted as saying employees are “more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” These are just a few of the challenges that can arise from a ROWE structure. As work environments adapt to the next generation, questions about teamwork, collaboration, and leadership must be answered – of course, the ideal would be to find a middle ground.

Here at Treehouse Partners, we certainly know the value of flexibility and autonomy. Treehouse Partners’ performance-based environment has similar elements to ROWE, emphasizing quality, efficiency, and results. However, the team is in the office most of the week, and collaboration is highly encouraged. Tasks are often tag-teamed in order to stimulate innovation and creativity. Team members often have other projects they are passionate about – one associate is a career coach, another helps run an international camp, and even our intern is able to take time to serve a program that empowers youth. Treehouse Partners embraces the diverse elements of life and promotes a coherent work/life fit.

ROWE manifests a change in culture many millennials desire, promoting a life that is productive, balanced, and enjoyable. As the landscape of the workplace culture evolves, lessons from ROWE can certainly inform any employer working to build a positive work environment. Treehouse Partners certainly embodies the spirit of ROWE, channeling the hard work, spontaneity, and fun reminiscent of our time as children building treehouses. And, as adults, we have also tasted the sweetness of success, and know the importance of hammering in that last nail, climbing to the top, and enjoying the results of a job well-done.