ROWE: An ideal working concept or just a fantasy?

The Results-Only Work Environment concept allows people to work whenever and wherever. Is it a dream or nightmare? Here is a project manager’s view on implementing the system.

What the Heck Is a ROWE?

To this end, employees are given the freedom and autonomy to schedule their workdays while ensuring that deliverables are met. In a ROWE work culture, performance is measured not by how much time you sit at a desk, but by whether or not you meet the relevant key performance indicators that have been defined for your role. In a ROWE, there are no set hours or prescribed number of vacation days. You either get your work done or you don’t.

Make it Count

The concept sounds like a dream come true. And it is—with one caveat: it works only for the right type of person. Adopting the ROWE concept is a fantastic opportunity for high performers to create their own idea of a work/life balance. Organizational skills, focus, motivation, trustworthiness, and a sense of responsibility and accountability are imperative to be successful in a ROWE.

Working in a ROWE doesn’t mean you work less. It means you make your time at work count. You don’t sit at your desk scanning Facebook or getting the latest scoop on Caitlyn Jenner. Instead of wasting two hours a day gossiping around the watercooler, you put that time to better use and spend it with your family or go for a jog. You work effectively and efficiently when you’re the most productive. I, for example, am not a morning person. Try to wake me up to watch a sunrise and I’ll punch you. I have more energy and better focus in the evenings, when it’s quiet around the house or the office. So, I’ll save communicating with Japan or sending purchase orders to somewhere else for these later times. No point in composing a perfect project brief for a Chinese engineering team at 11:00 AM when nobody there will be around to read your oeuvre until 10 hours later.

Realistically, every role has different job functions and requirements. Interpreting schedulers, for example, have to be sure that the phones are staffed all day, while project managers on the translation side tend to be able to keep their schedules more fluid.

To eliminate such sludge and negativity among team members, workshops and open discussions are needed to clarify the concept, to encourage communication, and to figure out how everyone can benefit in this culture, regardless of the role.

Who’s a Good Candidate?

A successful implementation of the ROWE concept in a translation production department involves not only the right motivated, overachieving, close-knit team, but also the right technology, foresight, and flexibility. In this type of work culture, team members are treated like adults, with adult responsibilities, adult accountabilities, and adult choices. They work autonomously with no other measures of performance but the results they produce. With little to no involvement from management, they coordinate time off with anyone that might be affected by their absence.

The Internet, cell phones, Skype, and other work-sharing platforms allow team members to not only choose their most productive times to work, but also to work from anywhere they have an Internet connection. When a team is spread out all over the world and across various time zones, communication is key. And, while many meetings are optional in a ROWE, some meetings—which must show a purpose and specific goal—are important for all team members to attend (in-person or online) to ensure that nothing falls by the wayside. To this end, brief 10-minute daily huddles are suggested. These simply serve to check in and keep each other informed of priorities and potential issues for the day. In longer weekly production meetings, the week ahead is discussed and planned.

what’s the Drawback?

Naturally, a ROWE works better for driven team members who can work without a lot of supervision than for those who tend to be unfocused and unorganized. To this end, every new team member must be screened carefully before being selected. Each team member also needs to be allowed to discover and work in his or her specific “sweet spot.” To ensure that the workload is evenly balanced and that there are not just one or two project managers doing the heavy lifting, coworkers should be sensitive to each other’s needs. This means that time off should be distributed fairly.


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