Toss out that time card, get more productive employees

Monday - 8/9/2010, 4:00pm EDT

Jody Thompson, co-founder of ROWE

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This week, Federal News Radio brings you the Best of the DorobekInsider. This interview originally aired on May 17, 2010.

Imagine a work world without a schedule -- without meetings -- where the total focus is on results.

The concept is called the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) and the federal government is testing its waters.

Federal News Radio told you about a pilot program recently launched by the Office of Personnel Management.

Jody Thompson is co-founder of ROWE and co-author of the awesomely-named book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: No Schedules, No Meetings, No Joke -- the Simple Change That Can Make Your Job Terrific.

She said it's all about breaking old habits.

"There's a ton of data that shows that people who have control over their time are much more productive, much happier and have richer lives, but there's this belief that not everybody can handle that -- and that's where the problem lies."

Thompson says many managers fall into the trap of stereotyping their employees and thinking they can't be trusted. In these cases, it probably has more to do with the manager not wanting to lose control than anything else.

This is where the Environmental Sludge Eradication Strategy comes in, and Thompson explains why it's the most important part of the movement.

"It's really getting the language of the workplace on results and not about how people are spending their time. . . . What ROWE does is level the playing field and gives every single person the autonomy and the control to work however they want, wherever they want, whenever they want."

Back in the 1960s, bras were burned. In the 2010s, apparently, it's time cards.

Mobility is one of the key factors that makes programs like ROWE doable now. Thompson says it's now time for the mindset to catch up with the technology.

"We've had the technology for a long time to be very mobile and we still, you know, put people in cubes and force them to come into work. There are some jobs that you have to be in a certain place at a certain time. If I'm a zookeeper, I can't feed the animals from my home -- I have to go to the cage. What ROWE does is it gives everybody, no matter what your job is, your own accountability to know when you need to be in a certain place. People with desktop computers are in a ROWE, but they still decide when they're going to use that tool -- the office -- to do work and when they're going to work from somewhere else."

If you're reading this and thinking, 'Ha ha this would NEVER work at my office,' Thompson says you're not alone. Most people react with a bit of a chuckle when they first hear about ROWE, but then quickly learn that results are what matters, not time sheets.

"What people think this is -- is they think it's like a telework program, and it's not. So, people get very nervous about that -- 'Where's everybody going to be and how are we going to know where to find them and how do we know if they're really working?' Those are valid concerns, but, again, it's about that control piece. . . . With telework, it's still controlled. It's still -- 'You can telework two days a week and I need to know when you're working that day and you need to be available the whole day to me'. It's extremely restricted."

In a ROWE, all you do is work.

It's also about getting rid of labels.

She said a lot of people still think that teleworkers don't really work if they're at home, they're hanging out and watching General Hospital.

This, of course, isn't actually the case, but part of moving forward in the 21st century is getting rid of those labels and making work schedules more flexible for everyone in the hopes of breaking down the walls between traditional office worker and teleworker.

"[With ROWE] we talk about one thing -- is the work getting done? Period."

Managers might have the most difficult time with this change, since they're making the move from permission-granting to performance-guiding. Thompson explains that it's actually easier than you'd think to get people to think outside of those traditional boxes.

"It's not your typical teach and train program. It's really changing people's beliefs from a very deep level. We actually have a 4 to 6 month process we take teams through, if it's a larger organization. We have one day seminars, as well, but we're really messing with people's minds when we're taking them through this journey. It's not easy, but when we're taking people through and everybody's learning this new way to think -- managers and employees -- they come out the other side and [ask] why did we do it that other way before?"

You know you've made the transition to results-only when everyone stops commenting about who's doing what, when. Thompson admits it's not easy to get to this point, but it's important.

"We're used to measuring activities. What we do when we go in is we ask this question -- If you do your job well, what is the outcome? Generally people say, 'I'll get 50 widgits done or 40 of these applications filled out'. Ok, that's great, but if 40 applications are filled out, what's the outcome? So, we keep pushing people to get to that higher level. . . . We get people attached to the broader purpose so that the activities they do actually get them there and they feel more engaged."

And that's the most important thing. If you want to have happy workers and a successful organization, making people realize that they're important and their work matters is key.

"When you get people involved, you're going to get a lot more buy-in and energy, than if you try to hand that down from the top. . . . That whole notion that, from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday -- we have no control over our time -- it's wrong, it's old, it's outdated, and we need to move on from that and focus on what's important. . . . That's why we're all on monster.com or any of those sites where you're looking for jobs. People are surfing those all the time because they're looking for their craving -- that freedom and control -- and they know that they can do better work if they have that control."

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Email the author of this post: dramienski@federalnewsradio.com

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