Giving Employees Freedom to Inspire Creativity

by Jennifer Miller on August 23, 2012

in Workplace Issues

A guest post by Meredith Wood

This morning, on the subway headed to work, I heard this announcement overhead: “We are being held momentarily because of train traffic ahead, please be patient.” Most New Yorkers know this sound all too well. What they also know is that quite often that “momentarily” really means 10 or 15 minutes. About 5 minutes into the delay, I see my fellow commuters anxiously checking their cell phones and letting out heavy sighs of disapproval. I know exactly what is on in their minds. They’re freaking out because they know they’ll be late for work. They’ll get those glaring glances from coworkers, and for the unfortunate ones, a possible reprimand from the boss. Me, however, I sit there, thankful for a few extra minutes to finish my book. Why no sighs for me? Because, where I’m lucky enough to work, there is no such thing as “business hours”.

woman outstretched arms freedomAt Funding Gates, we are ROWE (and proud of it). We’re part of a revolution called the Results-Only Work Environment. ROWE put simply is this: employees work wherever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. No meeting is mandatory. Employees stop doing work that is wasting time and focus on what they were hired to do. Employees aren’t evaluated on how much time they spend in the office; they are evaluated solely on the quality of their results. It’s a scary idea to process at first, but the results we’ve seen are incredible.

Beyond getting to enter our office every morning stress-free no matter WHAT happens on the subway (and believe me, the list is endless), we have our lives back. We go to doctors’ appointments with no stress, people can stay home if their kid is sick or if they are sick. You see, weight is lifted off our shoulders that now frees us to fully concentrate on our work .We are never stuck at our desks trying to find ways to fill 8 hours. If our work is done, we’re done. We know that to be successful at Funding Gates, the only metric we have is our results, so our focus is solely on accomplishing those tasks and accomplishing them well. We can’t hide behind “presenteeism”. Just because someone is in the office the longest, doesn’t mean they’re accomplishing the most.

Funding Gates is a software company, and to be successful in our industry we must enable our people to innovate, whether they are developers, marketers or any other member of the team. How do you establish an environment that heightens creativity? You give employees full control of their work. They work how they like, and are no longer weighed down by the things that don’t matter. This sense of freedom helps them create at a completely liberated level. We take walks if we need to, speak to who we’d like, do research, go to a museum, whatever we need to be inspired. We are more comfortable in our workplace, and with comfort comes less fear. More comfort ultimately means more risks. And with more risk comes more innovation.

ROWE can be scary at first. What if employees don’t do their work? Well, now you can identify that RIGHT AWAY. With results being the only metric, it’s easier than ever to see who is not working.

What if you’re not in the position to implement something like ROWE company-wide?

That’s ok! Some people think ROWE is impossible to implement at a Fortune 500 company, even though, ironically, it first began at Best Buy (read the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It to find out more). However, if you aren’t in a position to physically reconstruct your environment, you can still learn from the ways of ROWE and apply them to your team. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Look at ways to let your employees know you value their personal time, problems and lives. Make them feel comfortable coming to you if they need something. See if telecommuting can be a possibility (with today’s technology, it should). Could that be an option if say, they have a kid home sick?
  2.  Talk to your employees about how they like to work. Do they like a lot of noise? Do they need pure silence? Are they a morning or afternoon person? See if you can help each employee be part of an environment that best suits their style.
  3.  Give them some room to breathe. If you catch them off task, don’t make a comment. Some of your smartest employees probably need to be taking consistent breaks. Don’t make them feel nervous when you are walking around. Give them freedom to work and just simply wait for the results.
  4.  Be encouraging. If an employee comes to you with an idea, don’t immediately shoot it down. Even if it won’t work, acknowledge their ingenuity and their guts. You never know, their next idea (that you encouraged) could transform your company.

At the end of the day, if you can’t implement something like ROWE, just remember the heart of the idea: what can I do, as a manager, to give my employees freedom and make them feel comfortable? The answers are endless.

And if you are a company who thinks you could handle ROWE, go for it! You won’t ever look back. YOU will have freedom, along with your employees. The quality, speed and ingenuity of your results will astound you.

Meredith Wood is the Community Manager at Funding Gates, the first ever online credit department for small businesses. A ROWE company, Funding Gates has seen tremendous results and is particular passionate about what this environment can do for others. Always looking for good talk on company culture, connect with Meredith on Twitter @FundingGates.

 

photo credit: istockphoto.com

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Prasad Reddy August 23, 2012 at 10:33 am

Excellent Idea, on the face of it.

Not sure of the practical difficulties in managing the team – Or should we really require to manage :).

Very thought provoking and it will be great if a real life scenario is shared, as I am still not able to fully comprehend how collaboration, communication, allocation of work is being handled.

Jennifer Miller August 23, 2012 at 11:47 am

Prasad,

Just clarify – my guest columnist Meredith works for a ROWE company. Her post is “real life” in that she lives it every day. In talking with my colleagues who work in HR for larger companies, they are unsure of how to make ROEW work on a larger scale. I share that concern. I don’t dismiss ROWE as 100% impractical for large companies; rather I think that we can (as Meredith suggests) see if managers can at least model the *intention* of ROWE if not the whole concept.

Here’s how I see this playing out: It’s impractical for example to tell production or call center employees to “come to work whenever you manage to get here” – that will not meet the demands of the business or customer needs. By the same token, a manager who works in an office and insists that a knowledge worker be at her desk at 8 AM sharp every day is not honoring the spirit of the ROWE concept.

Michael Reynolds August 23, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Jennifer,

I think you are not quite understanding what a ROWE really is. You said:

“It’s impractical for example to tell production or call center employees to “come to work whenever you manage to get here” – that will not meet the demands of the business or customer needs.”

Actually, in a ROWE you WOULD leave scheduling up the employees. The idea is that employees are smart enough to figure out how to meet their results.

This post might help shed some light on the discussion:

http://www.gorowe.com/blog/2012/06/11/beyond-telework/results-only-workplace-culture-isn-rsquo-t-just-for-knowledge-workers/

As for modeling the “intention” of a ROWE, this is a weak attempt and more similar to telework or some other antiquated concept. ROWE is absolute, as indicated in the name Results-ONLY Work Environment. The keyword here is “only”. By focusing *only* on results, everything else falls out of the way. Simply modeling the “intention” of a ROWE does not allow this.

Jennifer Miller August 23, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Hi, Michael,

Thanks for your clarification. You’re correct, I’ve not worked in a ROWE environment.

Do you happen to know of companies (say, with 1000+ employees) who truly employ ROWE in either a manufacturing environment or a call center? I’m fascinated by the concept. And, frankly, highly skeptical. Not because I think front-line employees aren’t able to schedule their own work, but because I wonder about how it all flows together in a larger organization.

Michael Reynolds August 23, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Thanks for the reply, Jennifer!

Yes, I know that CultureRx has implemente ROWE in a call center before, as well as other large teams. It would be best to contact them at:

http://www.gorowe.com

They can probably give you all sorts of case studies. ROWE *can* work anywhere as long as management is willing to let go and trust the team :)

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