When people are considering ROWE, it’s not uncommon to run into mental roadblocks. We get it. So we took it upon ourselves to respond to the most common ‘yeah buts’.
After all, we’re your experts.
“People will take advantage and slack off.”
First, people are taking advantage and slacking off now. The reason you can’t tell is that you’re measuring them with a combination of unclear and often subjective results and how much effort and time they put in. In a ROWE, if you don’t achieve agreed upon, measurable, objective results then you don’t get to keep your job. No performance means no job.
“A Manager needs to be there for people.”
There are a lot of managers who genuinely care about their employees. Just as important, there are managers out there who have built their identity on showing the they care. “I need to be there for my people” they say. “My people count on me.” But there is more to being there for someone than physical presence. You can still be there for your people by giving them clear goals and expectations. You can be there by coaching their development, removing obstacles that fall in their path. Perhaps the best way to be there for them is to leave them alone and trust them to do their job.
“How can you ever reach anybody if you don’t know whether they’re in the office?”
People are more reachable now than they ever have been in human history. People have mobile phones (smart ones at that). People have e-mail. They don’t need a workstation. They don’t need a phone with a cord that plugs into the wall to be reachable. In a ROWE if you need to reach someone you e-mail or call them. But here is another thought: when you’re clear about timetables, outcomes, and expectations, a lot of those spontaneous requests dry up. You start to anticipate your own questions. You plan better so you have fewer emergencies. You don’t casually stop by someone’s office and interrupt their work so you can get the answer to one question. You work with more purpose.
“What if I get stuck with more work than anybody else?”
In a traditional work environment people can feel unsupported and under appreciated. You look around and see people who don’t produce and get paid way more. It’s easy to feel like a victim. On the practical side, a ROWE gives you the right to question the work you’re doing. If your manager sets unrealistic expectations or piles on too much work, then that isn’t good for anyone. In a ROWE it’s your job to stand up for what best serves the business and the customer. On the emotional side, you find yourself not focusing on how other people spend their time. You do your job and you enjoy your freedom, and what other people do becomes their business.
“We’re already doing this; this isn’t anything new?”
“This will work for some people but not everyone. Some people just need more supervision.”
People don’t need supervision. They need a coach. They need a clear idea of what they need to do and a clear sense of when it needs to be done. If you call your deli and ask them to deliver you a delicious turkey sandwich in the next half hour, you don’t need to then go down there to watch them make it and follow the delivery guy back to your office. You trust that they are going to deliver on expectations. And if they don’t deliver a delicious turkey sandwich in a half hour then you have two choices: complain and hope that service improves, or switch delis.
“Relationships are important. What will happen to relationships?”
Relationships are important. And relationships will be fine. We assume that we’re improving relationships with people because we’re all in the same building together. But being together doesn’t guarantee that people are connecting. In a ROWE people work on their relationships with more purpose and about the work. Because you can’t assume people will be operating like it’s 1952, you make career development, mentoring, and coaching a part of the results to be delivered. No more taking people for granted.
“How can you schedule meetings if you don’t know when people are working?
In a ROWE you can no longer casually schedule a meeting or spend hours perusing everyone’s calendars. You don’t schedule meetings based around who you think is ‘available’ at any given time. You schedule meetings based on outcome. If the outcome requires that people attend, they will attend.
“How will we know if salaried employees are putting in 40 hours?”
You don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. In a ROWE you measure someone’s performance based on results. You come to an agreement on what constitutes measurable results and they either deliver or they don’t. Time is not a factor. People start performing rather than putting in time.
“What about teams?”
Teams are overrated. In a ROWE people stop teaming just because they feel obligated to team. No more teaming for the sake of teaming, because it’s fashionable or expected. People team up because the outcome requires it. In fact, teams get much stronger in a ROWE because everyone is focused on the work, accomplishing the work, and making sure everyone has what they need to efficiently and effectively do the right work. Team building is forced fun.
“What if everyone decides not to work at the same time?”
That depends. Does the job require that people work at the same time? Because if the outcome doesn’t demand that everyone work at the same time, then the answer is, “that’s fine.” But if the job requires certain people to be together or to coordinate their efforts at the same time, then that’s what they have to do. ROWE gives employees autonomy to decide how they work and when they work, but they still have to get the work done. They are still responsible for serving the customer, and communicating with team members to do so. That sense of responsibility - coupled with the power to meet those responsibilities however they want - actually breeds higher performance. People don’t even think about blowing off work in a ROWE.
“If there is no line between work and life, how will I keep from overworking?”
In a ROWE you don’t overwork, because there is no incentive to overwork. You aren’t getting rewarded for putting in more hours. You are no longer a hero for pulling an all-nighter or being the first one through the door in the morning or working on the weekend. You’re only rewarded for delivering results. Once you’ve delivered those results, you stop working and do something else. It’s nice.
“How can you advance your career if no one sees you working?”
This sounds like the kind of worry that keeps people from participating in current flexible work arrangements. People fear that if they’re not putting in enough time, then they won’t get credit for the work. First, a ROWE doesn’t mean that no one ever sees anyone ever again, or that everyone works at home. Don’t worry - people will see you do your thing. But more importantly, you will be measured more for actual performance than perceived performance. If you’re given a goal and you meet that goal, then that is what will advance your career whether anyone sees you (with their eyes) do it or not. You get ahead through actual achievement, not by simply looking like you’re an achiever.
“What if somebody is out of the office for a whole month? Isn’t it just common courtesy to let people know where you are?”
A funny thing happens when we talk about a ROWE. We’ll say to people, “You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as the work gets done,” and it’s like their brains get all fried by the first part of the sentence and they don’t even hear the “as long as the work gets done” part. If you go to Hawaii for a whole month and you fail to deliver your outcomes, then you will be fired. If you don’t do your job, you don’t get to keep your job. But if you want to be out of the physical office or a month (or forever) and you can still meet your deliverables, then that’s fine. As long as the work gets done, you don’t have to beg for permission to be “gone”.
“Isn’t it unprofessional to answer a customer’s question while you’re shopping?”
First of all, why is your location part of the conversation? You’re worried that people are going to judge you because a person who is out shopping can’t also be working. If you answer the person’s question in a professional manner then why tell them where you are? Honestly, they don’t care. They want your help, not an update on your personal life.
“How will we know if work is getting done if we can’t see people?”
How do you know now? In today’s economy people work with information. They talk on the phone. They type on their computers. If you walk by a row of cubicles you don’t know for a fact the occupants are actually working or if they’re just looking busy. In a ROWE you know the work is getting done because you’ve been crystal-clear about goals and expectations. X is to be delivered to Y on such-and-such a date. If people don’t deliver the work, you know immediately and can act accordingly.
“If everyone becomes more efficient are there going to be layoffs”
Some people can sense the enormity of a ROWE and it scares them. People at all levels fear that they will find out the truth about their organization: that a team is bloated; that there are managers who have no business managing people. But is the fear of the truth a good reason to resist what is otherwise positive change? If your organization is bloated and top-heavy or overstaffed or undertrained or misguided, then yes a ROWE could put a spotlight on those truths. But most people know what’s wrong with their company already; there just isn’t any incentive for change. There can be some growing pains with a ROWE, but isn’t a sane work environment ultimately worth it?