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Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE): What Work Flexibility Really Looks Like

A results-only work environment (or ROWE) became all the rage in the early 2000s. But does ROWE work well for all types of companies? Could it work well for your team? If your employees are hinting at the need for more work flexibility in their schedules, perhaps a ROWE work model could be right for your business.

What Is ROWE?

The concept of a results-only work environment is based on the idea that employees are evaluated solely on the work they produce and not the number of hours they spent doing it. The model emphasizes reward for efficiency versus the time spent at an office desk, with research results showing a lower turnover rate amongst employees, higher productivity levels, and an overall environment of accountability and trust.

ROWE allows employees to organize their own days and time, giving them the flexibility to work around their family and personal schedules while still getting their work done. In a ROWE system, gone are the days when a team member has to make up hours after a doctor’s appointment or worry what the boss might say when their child gets sick and needs to be picked up from school early.

How Does Work Get Done?

It's about communication: communicating goals, priorities, and how success will be tracked. ROWE was an innovative approach before Covid, when most were still working in offices. With the majority of individuals still working from home, there's been a natural shift and greater focus given to work deliverables rather than the hard and fast times someone is at their desk. Does it matter if a task is done in the early evening rather than during business hours? It's about managing the task, not the person, and letting them take ownership of what needs to be done. Measure output, not presence.

Isn't ROWE Just Flexible Hours?

Not exactly. When HR managers talk about flexible hours that simply means that an employee still has to complete X number of hours - just whenever they choose to complete them.

Results-only work environments are different in that there is no X number of hours to complete. An employee is only responsible for the output and results they create, no matter how long it takes them to do so. They have complete autonomy to accomplish the task in the manner they wish, as long as it meets the deadline for evaluation.

In many ways, the ROWE system allows employers to relate to their team in much the same way that companies relate to freelancers. They do not micromanage a freelancer’s time as long as the results are in on time.

Would ROWE Work for Your Team?

That's a great question, and one that may take some time to consider. It's a great retention tool: employees love the autonomy and feel valued for their contributions, which leads to a happier and more engaged workforce. But there is a cost. Collaboration can suffer if individuals and groups are not brought together regularly to note progress and discuss roadblocks. For companies that are highly collaborative, organizing the team’s personally-created schedules to hold meetings could get complicated.

ROWE is also not suited for employees that need a strong management system to

help them reach their productivity goals. Since results-only work environments leave a lot of space for autonomy and personal growth, the system works well for highly motivated employees who take pride in their work and want to see the company succeed; it's perfect for a team of self-starters who don't need a lot of micromanagement to get the job done.

However, companies that aren’t currently in that high-performing space with their employees can begin taking steps to implement a ROWE system that will help their teams start on the path to autonomy and increased performance.

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