No Schedules, No Meetings–Enter Best Buy's ROWE – Part 1

(Photo: yum9me)

Managers often ask me how to use 4HWW within corporate environments.

I now have a new recommendation to add to the previous list: read the new in-depth description of Best Buy’s Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).

How did a Fortune 100 company increase productivity at headquarters 41% while decreasing voluntary turnover (corporate speak for quitting) as much as 90%?

I’ve been fascinated by this unusual experiment since reading about it in 2005. The best part? It began with a 24-year old new hire named Cali Ressler, not a top-down decision from the CEO.

Cali is now co-author of a new book with ROWE co-developer Jody Thompson, which details how it all happened — and how others can replicate (or at least emulate) its success. Here is an excerpt, followed by a exclusive first blog interview:

Our favorite meeting story comes from Phil, the hardcore Six Sigma black belt. He is all business.

One day, before ROWE, Phil was unable to come into work because of a snowstorm, which in Minnesota is perhaps the ultimate in socially acceptable excuses. Phil had six meetings scheduled for that day that were canceled because everyone was having trouble getting to the office. When he returned the next day, four of those meetings were never rescheduled. One was resolved with an e-mail, another with a phone call.

He had spent much of his “snow day” worrying about those six meetings. He was ready to drive in and brave the weather in order to have them. Now that he’s in a ROWE he thinks about that snow day a lot. When an invitation to a meeting comes up or when he’s thinking about scheduling a meeting, he puts on his “blizzard goggles.” Is this meeting really necessary? If there were a snowstorm today, would that meeting fade away, or could it be taken care of with an e-mail, or, would it in fact prove to have genuine value?

-From “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It”

Here is the first half of an exclusive blog interview with Cali and Jody about some of the core concepts of ROWE:

Can you give a quick definition of ROWE?

ROWE stands for Results-Only Work Environment. In a ROWE, each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. Currently, there are two authentic ROWEs—Fortune 100 retailer Best Buy Co, Inc. and J. A. Counter & Associates, a small brokerage firm in New Richmond, WI. At both organizations, the old rules that govern a traditional work environment—core hours, “face time,” pointless meetings, etc.—have been replaced by one rule: focus only on results.

In the 4-Hour Workweek, you helped people understand that because of technology, people don’t have to defer living until retirement. They can design their own lifestyle. Now imagine what would happen if the entire culture of a workplace went through the same transformation. That’s what a ROWE is. A ROWE is a work culture that gives people the power to take control of their lives. As long as they get their job done, they’re free.

Can you elaborate a bit on: “every person can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done”?

One of the misconceptions about ROWE is that it’s a work-from-home program. It’s not. If you want to work in a cube, that’s great. If you want to work from a coffee shop, then that’s great, too. The question in a ROWE is not “where is everybody?” but “is the work getting done?”

Can you describe what happened at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters when they went ROWE? What were the results?

Best Buy began its journey to a ROWE almost 6 years ago. The business results have been amazing. For one, people don’t want to leave. On some teams, voluntary turnover rates (i.e. people quitting) have dropped as much as 90%, and they’re experiencing all the cost benefits you get from that kind of retention.

[Note from Tim: It has been noted, however, that firings, or “involuntary turnover,” will often increase during the transition to ROWE. People can no longer disguise paper shuffling and excessive motion for delivering results.]

Meanwhile, productivity has gone through the roof. Six months after teams go live, they are asked how much more productive they perceive they are on a scale of 0-100%. Then managers are asked how much more productive the team is according to actual business results. If perception and reality match, that’s a winner. Under this model, ROWE teams show an average increase in productivity of 41%. It makes sense.

On the personal side, ROWE has transformed people’s lives. We’ve heard stories about ROWE saving marriages, allowing people to be better parents (and opened the door for some to actually be parents), get in shape and give back to their community.

We’d like to see people talk about work in way that doesn’t pit employee versus management. If you focus on results instead of time, both sides win.

[Continued in Part 2]


Odds and Ends: 4HWW Editing Contest Winner

First, just because I’m planning some experiments of my own: Follow Tim on Twitter?

Second, and more important, the winner of the 4HWW wiki-based editing competition is… drum roll, please… Tina PC! Tina, start looking at roundtrip flights anywhere in the world per the competition guidelines 🙂 Look for an e-mail in your inbox from one of my assistants and congratulations!

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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123 Replies to “No Schedules, No Meetings–Enter Best Buy's ROWE – Part 1”

  1. Absolutely true.

    Keeping it short and simple:

    Its high time companies have clear goals laid out and have managers/people achieve them at any cost (ethically).

    @ Tim

    There is a book called “Maverick” by Ricardo Semler, whose by-line is “The World’s Most Unusual Workplace”.

    Its absolutely amazing how he has automated his entire business. Thought you might find it interesting. Below is link for your reference…

    Take care

  2. As a manager who is implementing as quickly as I can these sorts of principals, I look forward to reading the book when it is released.

    As an example today I told one of my staff they didn’t need to ask me permission to work from home (or in this case from Beijing because his wife was there on business and he needed to baby sit his daughter while they traveled) because location is not important to me, output is.

    As long as they turn up for the team meeting once a month, and the face to face career development talks, I can see no benefit in forcing non-productive behavior like being in the office between 9 and 5.

  3. Hola Tim, me parece muy interesante tu blog y te felicito, pero una propuesta para tu web, seria que nos hicieras a los Españoles, una versión en castellano, 🙂 seria de gran ayuda.

    Personalmente tengo un diseño de vida muy bueno, en estos momentos lo unico que me falta es un empuje economico, yo tengo una propuesta interesante para un negocio, que es lo que puede completar mi diseño de vida,( viajes, teatro, escritura y poder tener mucho tiempo para mi, esto ya lo estoy realizando pero deseo aumentar mis ingresos con este nuevo negocio para poder realizar mas cosas) pero no acabo de concretar por falta de inversor, 🙁

    algun consejo? 🙂

  4. So…very…jealous! 🙂

    If only there was a way to develop ROWE situations for government contractors. Working in a top secret environment is very demanding of actual physical presence.

  5. Wow! I am excited, astounded, flattered, ecstatic, honored, and downright giddy about being named the winner of the 4HWW wiki-based editing competition.

    Can I say “Wow” again?

    Wow. Thank you.

    Tina PC

  6. If results are the focus of any business, then anything that drives towards that is what counts. Not what time you start, when you finish, how many hours you put it. Deliver. Thats all that counts at the end of the financial period. It’s just common sense.

    I sometimes get the feeling work in many company’s is just show up, shuffle papers, have lunch, gossip, shuffle papers, go home and complain how nothing got done today.

    As long as the measurement of results are done in frequent intervals, companies have no need to fear of not delivering. Anyone who doesn’t in that period gets replaced. Employees who remain will be motivated to deliver and not just wait for their paycheck.

    It boggles me that companies haven’t actually adopted this approach!

  7. 60 Minutes did a great piece on a study very similar to this about a year or two ago that was really interesting. It is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it. I really wish there were a greater push for this type of thinking throughout corporate America. The idea that people must be at the office to be productive is illogical and outdated. Imagine how much gasoline consumption would fall off if millions of people were able to cut even a couple of days a week out of their commute. In all reality many people could perform their jobs just as well, if not better from home. But instead we will focus on suspending the gas tax over the Summer because obviously that’s the real problem here.

  8. Tim-Love the post and blog. Especially since I think meetings are the bane of the corporate world! Ok, bane is a bit strong. The are my biggest time waster and I do everything I can to eliminate them.

    Keep up the great work. Your book is an inspiration to us all. While I haven’t quite made the jump, I have cut back at work about 20 hours a week. I couldn’t do it until I figured out what to do with the spare time-work on my side business and prepare to compete in nationals (racquetball). On that note I’ll sign off. I have to leave for my first match in a few minutes!

  9. awesome post. I plan on starting my first business within a few weeks and this is going to come in handy in the future.

    Thanks Tim

  10. Interesting Post,

    I was just reading how it was being implemented in fortune 500 companies. Hopefully, more companies will follow this notion. I think Google may be the real first company to have done this. They have been doing it their own way from the get go.



  11. How are you feeling after that Kettlebell workout?

    Can we expect a future post about your kettlebell routine?

    Keep on swinging

  12. I have read some articles on this concept and it truly works. I am most shock that a big company was able to bring this change about… usually it’s the small guys that do.

    I still need to wrap my head around the compensation model for employees. Once I do…. it’s go time for my company.

  13. I read about the Best Buy experiment back around 2005 and I think that its an amazing idea. Unfortunately there are still people who are locking in the old way of thinking. Most of the time I can be more productive if I can set my own schedule and adjust to my peak times rather than the forced structure of 9-5. It would be great to hear about more companies taking the plunge and how it works for them.

  14. Hey there – I have an idea for an online business and I think it could be good. What I need to know is, what are the steps? Do I find a lawyer first? Or a wholesaler? Get the website going or put the word out first? Any help would be much appreciated!


  15. There are so many great ideas like this but it seems that most companies are scared to let control loose. I think they look at internet start ups as the poster boy for failure when there isn’t enough control.

    I wonder how long it will take the average corporation to follow this model or other companies like google and Zappos (who actually bribe new employees with $1000 to quit.)

    1. Zappos has a similar but distinct model called Holacracy. You should look it up, it’s wild. Their CEO is a badass.

  16. I am interested to know if you asked them anything about the plans to implement this concept in their retail stores? it seems impossible to do this in a retail setting, but rumor has it, it is already taking place in some areas.

    perhaps you have some ideas of how to implement a retail 4HWW.

  17. Manan,

    Ricardo Semler also wrote the book The Seven-Day Weekend – a book we found extremely enspiring as we were embarking on the ROWE journey. Check it out!

  18. B Smith,

    In a ROWE, EVERY meeting is optional. No more wasting time in unproductive meetings. Cool, huh? No more going to meetings just because you were invited. If the meeting is not set up to drive results, then it’s a waste of time. And you can respectfully decline.

  19. Matt – JA Counter and Associates in New Richmond, WI went live in a ROWE about 2 months ago. They’re really rockin’! More companies need to get on board – it’s time for big change . . . .

  20. Employing 4HWW principles…I try to arrange my work schedule so that I can have Friday afternoons free to go to Wrigley Field to enjoy Chicago Cubs games (my wife calls this my “therapy”). A few weeks ago, my employer (for business puropses, I am a self-employed independent contractor with only one client) had a meeting with me to discuss my lack of office time…even though I was on schedule to accomplish all of the tasks that I had been assigned.

    Maybe I should buy a copy of the ROWE book and have it sent anonymously to my employer!

  21. Dan – the gas tax suspension is a great example of a technical solution to an ADAPTIVE (social) problem. It SUCKS. Companies do the same thing – like ‘no email Fridays’ to solve the problem of too many emails. Or ‘Blackberry Blackout time’ to show someone how to get off their Blackberry and spend time with their families. INSANITY!

  22. Hello all. I’m a Newbie. I have recently received the book after living for a few years doing odd jobs and off of my savings. I recently bought a home with my mother (no mortgage) and want to earn an income that provides me with the opportunity to continue taking care of my mother and living with freedom and excitement. Other than reading the book; any other suggestions? Tim write me back if you have the chance…looking for a MENTOR (others as well can be my mentor) best of life to all.

  23. I just started a new business, pitching my website marketing skills to prospective clients. Reading this post saved me 2 hours of my time!!

    There was this prospective client I’ve been chasing for weeks, and he wanted to meet me in his office (a 1/2 hour train/bus ride across town). I took the plunge, picked up the phone, and sweetly asked him if we can discuss this over the phone, in order to save time. He gave me the job over the phone. Thanks Tim!!!

  24. The problem I see with implementing this in most traditional companies is the total lack of useful metrics for determining results. ROWE simply won’t work if your metrics are crap.

    Cali & Jody – do you address this in the book, or do you have any wisdom you could add to this post?

  25. Funny story…my drive through coffee gal yesterday asked how in the world I could stand the corporate world w/all the rules? I ask myself this every day. The digital natives are getting out of college (unlike my coffee gal who said she is going to take 7 more years to get a degree because she can’t imagine the corporate world yet) and they are NOT going to put up with corporate 9-5 rules.

    If companies don’t open their eyes (and maybe read a bit of what is actually going on) they are going to fail. Survival of the fittest & smartest will survive!


  26. This is the future. As the web generation starts to take over the corporate world the traditional work place will shrink. “You don’t pay me to commute, you pay me to produce X”. North America’s economy will be driven by knowledge workers, our products are intellectual, a product easily shared and produced through technology. Face time and 9-5 will be the exception not the rule. Work will be ruled by content and deadlines. This is how University Education works, so why not the work place? Professors don’t (often) care how or where just when and what you produce, so why should your boss? Associating salary with time is antiquated. If your company makes business decisions based on ROI and productivity; whether or not you produce the desired input in 4hrs or 40 is much less important than whether or not it is worth the $50, 75, 100K+ they pay you a year. If I produce value greater than the cost to employee me plus a contribution to gross profit I am a good employee, if I don’t fire me or outsource my function.

  27. Mike – the compensation model can be a head-scratcher. In fact, many things feel haywire in a ROWE. For example, one of the ROWE guideposts is “People have an unlimited amount of paid time off as long as the work gets done”. This guidepost really blows apart how we think about ‘time off’ policies. At Best Buy, the change happened first – now, and only now, after 80% of the campus turned ROWE did they begin looking at policy misalignment. Amazing! So, go, go, GO!

  28. Maria – yes, we do talk about measurement. Funny thing is, there should be clear measurement in any work environment – a ROWE forces managers and employees to get clear about goals, and then how to measure them. No more monitoring the hallways, but instead, monitoring the work. Even people doing ‘knowledge work’ should have a way to measure the outcome of their work.

  29. Great post, I have come to expect nothing less.

    I hope the ROWE model can stand the test of time and top level management changes (and stock price fluctuations).

    It’s going to be interesting to see how the adoption rate increases as the transient employee become more common place and technology breaks down more barriers.

  30. Wow. So cool. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is for me to read this. I’ve been arguing for a results-based work approach ever since my first office job (during the summer I was 17). I finished my first two-week assignment in a day and a half, and had to spend the next eight work days wandering the halls begging for something to do, with no success. People told me not to worry, I came cheap for what I did–but I certainly couldn’t just go home.

    In the years that followed, whenever I’ve tried to argue for results-based employments people have almost always resorted to an argument along the lines of “don’t be immature–that’s not the way the world works.” It’s wonderful to have an actual counter-example to give them now–and even more wonderful to know that a Fortune 100 company is now operating in this manner.

  31. Treating employees like adults, creative and inspired adults…what an innovation. A few inventing teams I’ve worked with have used such a model and the effect on creativity is equally impressive. I think any number of R&D groups would also benefit if they were liberated by ROWE.

  32. I think the whole ROWE concept has fantastic potential.

    But – there’s always a ‘but,’ isn’t there? – it presupposes that managers in corporate structures are actually bottom-line driven.

    I had a conversation around this concept with a boss that I worked with – and fired – once. We were discussing some flex-time (not for me, but for a couple of women in the department who were trying to manage with small kids at home) and the question arose, “Which do you want? Do you want productivity, or do you want control?”

    The boss answered, “BOTH. I want productivity and I want to be able to call upon their services whenever I wish. If that means that they have to sit in their offices and wait for me to request something, then so be it. I want them HERE. That’s why I’m paying them!” He got angry at the whole concept.

    Now, I’ve long since moved on so I don’t deal with him anymore, but his attitude is, I’ve found, pretty common. Business – some of them anyway – are apparently less concerned about productivity and income generation than they are about controlling the people who work for them.

    While, as stated above, associating salary with time spent might be an antiquated concept, it’s still strongly embedded in corporate culture. And, generally, corporate structures are loathe to change, moving with the grace and speed of a drugged slug.

    I think that Cali and Jody are the lucky ones; the right idea from the right people in the right place at the right time. The stars were certainly aligned in their case. But for far, far more organizations, an employee bringing up the idea of a ROWE might brand them as “not a team player” and other such HR-speak which could result in the dreaded career-limiting move.

  33. Hey,

    I’m very much into the ROWE concept. I implemented it at my jewelry company. My employees are compensated based on results, i.e. pieces made. On top of that, if they take care of errands, shipping, etc, I ask them to “bill me” for the time spent on it.

    It works really well, my employees love it because:

    – they can make their own hours

    – they can take some work home

    I love it because the system makes my company efficient and effective giving me more time to play!


  34. Tim, the next time you’re in Japan hop on down to Hiroshima and come see my company. We’re small, flexible, and I’ve been doing ROWE since the start. I work about 25 hours a week on average, and my secretary works maybe 30. Everything gets done, and that’s all that’s ever mattered. Very successful in 4HWW terms, very happy with my life-style, and if you’re looking for small, real-world 4HWW/ROWE success stories, I think we qualify. Also, ???????????????????????????????????

  35. Thomas – ROWE has been studied and proven to work in an office environment, but not a retail environment . . . . yet. Best Buy is looking at experimenting with this concept at retail in the future!

  36. G-man – people worried about your lack of ‘office time’ even though you’re on track to deliver RESULTS, definitely need to read the book – and act on it!

  37. Adam – oh! We were in pain reading your post! You got your job done, and had to wander the halls . . . what a waste. And it’s all because we believe people need to ‘put in thier time’. And about being ‘immature’???? WHAT? The mature thing to do would be for all employers to stop treating their employees like little children. Treat them like the adults that they are – set clear expectations around the WORK that needs to get done. Reward them with control over their TIME. Whether it takes 4 hours, or 40 to get to your goal is irrelavent. What is relevant is that the outcome is achieved. What a waste of our lives being slaves to the clock.

  38. Marvin – yes, there’s always a ‘but’. In fact, we’ve heard so many, we devoted a section of our book to the ‘Yeah, buts’. You’re so right. Mangement often seems to care more about control than productivity. They may say that the bottom line and productivity – really getting the ‘most out of each employee’ is their goal, but their behaviors are contradictory. It’s time to stop serving two masters – time and results – and start serving just one: RESULTS.

  39. I used to work an academic job where my boss was obsessed with me being at my desk all day. To him it was more important the number of hours I worked – and in general, the methods I used – than whether the job got done. He was a control freak. Insecure people want to have their hands/nose in every small detail.

    The ROWE will probably never become popular, because it takes guts to “let go” of your subordinates.

  40. OT: “Test Driving the 2009 Audi A4 at Infineon Raceway” – how was it? blog post coming soon? So cool! (So jealous :))

  41. Here’s my question:

    “… each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done.”

    How can a typical knowledge worker define “the work” in such a way that it’s ever “done?”

    I currently have enough work assigned to me that I could probably keep going, 9-5, for the next two years without taking on any new assignments. Some of those tasks are obviously more urgent than others, but they’re all on the list.

    I could never go home if I were waiting for “done.” “Done” doesn’t exist, when the to-do list is that long. Five o’clock, at least, exists.

    A ROWE _still_ sounds like a great idea . . . but how, how, how?

    (A note: The boss probably figures he has already applied the 80/20 rule when handing out assignments, and doesn’t want me applying it again — i.e., doing only 20% of his chosen 20%.)

  42. Mr. Ferris, I dig your vibe and I want nothing from you. I hope you will keep the discourse alive.

    A few respectful comments and questions I have asked myself:

    1. Greetings from Galt’s Gulch. I am on strike against the creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties.

    2. Could 4HWW & ROWE be symptoms of a bloated, bored, and spoiled national economy and workforce?

    3. For you acolytes, if you didn’t show up at work tomorrow, who would miss you… and why? Do you actually have a trade, a skill, a craft that fulfills you? Do others need that trade, skill, or craft of yours?

    4. Do you have trouble explaining to people what it is you do? Could you barter your labor for another person’s efforts?

    5. Are you just filling out TPS Reports?

    6. Is it possible that the bread and circus of 4HWW + ROWE = replacement by robots or lower paid, higher educated, and more motivated workers who will at best inspire their company, their co-workers and their clients or who at worst will not sit around bitching about how they’d rather be working in their pajamas or clogging or going to the Burning Man festival or shopping at Whole Foods or “learning from their children.”

    7. It seems that the one thing is terribly missing from all of these articles and comments: a voice from someone who is inspired, motivated, and passionate about hard work for its own sake. Could that person also be someone who is inspired by their boring profession, their “old” habit of getting in early and staying late, and their zealous drive to create a prefect product for their customers and clients? Maybe that someone can help someone else be or feel just a little bit better off because that boring laborer gave it their absolute very best and would not sleep until the problem was fixed, the condition was cured, or the defect was remedied.

    8. Have we thought that perhaps a person connects to something bigger and makes a nice living simply through their labors? Who earned a blue belt in jiu jitsu without bruises or being choked? Would you even want that belt? I prefer my bruises, my sore ribs, my aching muscles from being arm-barred and choked rather than any new belt. How about this mantra: No hedge funds or movie deals. No gimmicks, no tricks, just a solid day’s work for an honest wage.

    9. Maybe we few, we proud few, are just lucky to have realized that we were good at one thing, and that one thing is something we enjoy. The money follows the passion and all of the shortcuts in the world won’t change that. Neither will diets.

    10. Follow your bliss (whatever it is – work, play, or eccentric little hobbies). Then shut up as I will now. Or don’t, and keep buying Corti-Slim and boring all your co-workers to death at the useless meetings you’ve been attending at your unessential job for your soon-to-be-extinct companies.

  43. It’s a 1099-world! – Since 5 years I am living the ‘no-meeting’ live. Once a year, at a 3 day industry convention I get all my meetings with customers & vendors done. Any other time it’s brief, to the point e-mail and 30 sec – 2 min phone calls. No conference calls – ever! It’s being done, daily, around the globe. Tim & Cali – Thanks for sharing and giving me ideas, tools to do it even better.

  44. Charles – of course the work is never ‘done’ – that’s why we have jobs. But we are not machines. When people have control over their time, and have the autonomy to get work done wherever and whenever it makes the most sense, they actually get more done. This has been proven many times over at Best Buy. And the real beauty is that there is always ‘wasted time’ in any traditional work environment (frequent interruptions, for example)- in a ROWE, where people control their own time, they are much less willing to waste time – leaving more time to do what’s important to get a job done. Individual and team capacity increases! A quote from a Best Buy employee who told us that they were swamped, overworked and could never see the end: “I think I’m working more now than I did before but I’m getting more done, am less stressed and much happier. Thanks, Best Buy!” It’s all about having ultimate control over your own time – every second of every day.

  45. I watched Bambi Francisco of interviewing Tom Patterson of + he said he would rather see 1 Goal accomplished right in a week then 3 done Mediocre* So True*

    I’m very impressed with Best Buy + the co. Future Shop which they also own in Canada – Quality Name Brand Products at a Great Price!

    Darn I was Hoping to Win da Trip!!

    Have Fun Tina!! ;)) Peace*

  46. I run a restaurant. The work my employees do involves serving customers as they come in, cleaning as things get dirty,etc. Work is created throughout the day at various times. There is not a set amount of work that has to be done and as long as it gets done, physical presence doesn’t matter.

    How can I apply this idea to my kind of business?

  47. Jared – that’s a good question. And one we get asked a lot – ‘how would it work in a store, restaurant, nursing home, hospital, manufacturing plant?? Though we figured out the new work order for office environments, we know that other work environments are fraught with wildly held beliefs about how things SHOULD operate that create impediments to serving the business – the customer, to the ultimate level. Is there Sludge in your work environment? (We talk a lot about this impediment in our book) Who controls scheduling? What is the level of control your employees have over how they serve the customer? Are there rules and guidelines that your employees fight because they feel that they don’t make sense? Does management trust employees to make the right decisions for the customer ie., not let ‘rules’, old paradigms, or orthodoxies govern common sense behavior? Anyway, without knowing a lot about your particular environment, we do know something about you: You are drawn to a ROWE, so you have vision and ‘appetite’ for someting different!

  48. Great post Tim – and it immediately made me think of Ricardo Semler and his books Maverick (and the Seven Day Weekend), and the first person to comment on your post beat me to it! Maverick provides the background of Semler’s unique way of working, and Seven Day Weekend takes the story further. They both make fascinating reading, and are best summed up by Semler’s comment “Why is it that we’ve learnt to take work home on a Friday night, but haven’t learnt to play golf on a Monday?”

    I first came across Semler’s company SEMCO when it was highlighted in another very good book called The Stone Age Company by Sally Bibb. She works for the Economist and the book focuses on the new working methods of (the few) forward thinking companies, giving other examples like SEMCO. Sally talks a lot about trust-based companies, which she – as I do – see as the pre-requisite for success. As well as being results-orientated, Semler’s companies work on the basis of employees signing up to a set of agreed values – a million miles away from the rules & regulations far too many companies still adopt.

    I get very fired up about this topic so I better stop there, but hope you might find these books of interest, and thanks for the great post. I look forward to your further posts on the topic and hearing more about what Best Buy are doing.



  49. Maria – Never the Same River Twice writes, “The problem I see with implementing this in most traditional companies is the total lack of useful metrics for determining results. ROWE simply won’t work if your metrics are crap.”

    Most measurement metrics are crap anyway, whether they’re based on ROWE or a traditional work environment. But your point is well taken.

    Author Scott Berkun addresses some ROWE-specific metrics here:

    (Note: I’m not Scott nor have I ever even heard of the fellow until today.)

    It’s also clear that a ROWE won’t work for every situation – Jared’s example of a restaurant, or retail environments, are examples of where ROWEs probably aren’t feasible – but for many of us chained to desks in corporate rabbit-warrens the concept has some promise.

    Now, getting corporate managers to relax control and focus on results instead of face-time is another issue entirely. With that in mind – and maybe this is covered in the book – people are often promoted based on their “face-time” and networking within organizations. How does a ROWE situation impact these networking opportunities?

  50. @Marvin – Thanks for the Berkun link. Scott’s a brilliant guy and I had missed that post.

    RE: applying ROWE in restaurants and retail – while it’s not possible to apply ROWE completely in these types of environments, it seems to me that most restaurants, stores, and other walk-in types of establishments (like banks) are open too many hours, at the wrong hours, and don’t really serve their customers or employees optimally.

    Wouldn’t it be more efficient if restaurants adopted the European model of closing between lunch and dinner? How many people want to eat between 2pm and 6pm? Is it even economically worthwhile to keep the doors open then to serve those couple of people?

    Coincidentally, line staff are most qualified to figure out high and low traffic times. Their input in the scheduling process could be invaluable if anyone wanted to listen to them.

  51. Firstly … Congrats Tina PC

    ROWE looks like a great concept and seems to work hand in hand with 4HWW.

    I’m currently working as a contractor and I must say the company I’m working with is doing a great job of letting results speak volumes. While not quite to ful ROWE the company is for the most part Virtual and meetings really only take place when they are needed.

    As was said above, ROWE isn’t a work at home program and it shouldn’t adversely affect networking opportunities. If anything, being able to head down the local coffee shop to chat and get to know folks would enhance networking.



  52. I run my own company in this same fashion, and while we’re much smaller than Best Buy, it most certainly works. I would imagine that a lot of smaller firms run their shops in such a way as well, particularly those in the knowledge sector.

    What makes this story of particular interest to me, though, is the fact that a company the size of Best Buy actually figured out how to step out of the corporate mindset of “presence equals productivity,” to implement such an inherently logical idea like ROWE.

    I look forward to reading more about the system in the book, but I imagine the largest challenge must have been creating a system that “managed” a “non-managed” workforce. Even a free-flowing stream has its banks to keep it on the right course. . .Best Buy must have had to really think of some clever ways to staying on track as well in spite of what some might think would be measured chaos. Once other firms learn their system, open-minded professionals can copy it and hopefully duplicate the results.

    It all comes down to creating your own ideal workplace, I believe, and if people actually take the time to sit back and think about how things can be better, and what they really want out of life and work, then find ways to make those two things happen the way they’re visualized, the whole world can truly be our proverbial oyster.

    When I was an advisor at the University of Minnesota, I always used to ask my students who weren’t clear on what they wanted to do with their lives one question: “If you didn’t HAVE to work, then what would you do with your time?”. The answer almost always had them thinking about their true passions. Once our passions are out in the open, finding efficient ways to then do the things we HAVE to do are created.

    It seems like Best Buy took this individual approach and applied in in the largest sense to its own massive organization. What a coup, and what a revelation that must feel like for every employee with a dream of a rewarding work and personal life at their firm.

    Rock on, Best Buy. And, of course, Cali and Jody!

  53. I had no idea Best Buy operated this way. Wow! Maybe Circuit City should do the same thing. Thanks for the great post Tim…

    1. The fact that Best Buy prospers today, and Circuit City is bankrupt

      should indicate something, it seems. If I were the sort that

      Invested in public companies this would be one I would check

      out as it is possible, likely even, that the market may be

      undervaluing the long term benefit to the company currently.

  54. Many years ago I managed a small number of retail stores specializing in photographic equipment for the “serious amateur,” and try as I might I could never really determine a pattern for people’s shopping habits. Sometimes it was like clockwork, but more often than not, the times we expected it to be busy (and I staffed for it) it wasn’t, and when we expected it to be slow we were rushed off our feet. Then again, sometimes I got it right. But it was more of a crap-shoot than anything, a lucky guess.

    If, for instance, I decided to close the shop early on a Monday evening and a client popped by my locked doors at 8:30pm, they’d be more likely to go to a competitor. Not only would I lose the primary sale, I’d also lose the follow-up sales and service. This forced us into a situation of being open far, far more hours than were really necessary because one could never know when a client might want to stop by.

    Using the restaurant example, Maria is right that not too many people chow down between, say, 2pm and 5pm. But some do. And while it might not make short-term sense to staff a restaurant during those slower hours, it does mean that those few clients who like to, or need to, patronize a restaurant during those hours are going to go where it’s open, which means they’re also more likely to return (assuming the quality is good). So that means that the restaurant that’s closed between 2 & 5 will not only miss out on thate sale but also the sales from those same customers that would patronize that restaurant between, say, 6pm & 11pm.

    Short-term savings might mean for longer-term losses.

    So while it might seem on the surface that front-line staff are better qualified to predict traffic volumes, the fact is that that the average consumer is a very fickle creature. And whichever retailer bends to the will of that fickleness is more likely to be successful.

    Again, I hasten to add here that I’m all for ROWE, but how it could be applied in a competitive retail environment with razor-thin margins still escapes me.

    Then again, I haven’t read the book yet…

  55. This topic definitely excites me and gets me thinking about how to make this work to some extent in public education. I keep thinking there is some connection to making this work at a high school level for students, but not sure for any other level, nor for the educators themselves. Most education is still stuck in its Industrial Age model; moving, maybe, but very slowly. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

  56. Tim taking a mini retirement in SYD and environs Dec/Jan can we look forward to a post?

    How about the kettle ball workout? I would love to see a post on your workout regimen.

  57. Great Post – I’d heard about Best Buy some time ago but Enjoy getting the details and look forward to the book. We started a technology company 3 years ago with this mind set from the get go and it’s been the best decision ever made.

  58. For Colbert? I have a few thoughts.

    I just started working on a project for Dr. Warren Farrell, an author who writes about the convergence of gender equality, business, family and quality of life. His most recent book (2005) is titled “Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap — and What Women Can Do About It”.

    I haven’t read any of his books yet, but have become familiar with his work through his websites and YouTube videos. I think there is an unintentional affinity between your work and his. More specifically, I think he has clearly identified issues in a sociological context that you have intuitively addressed on a more personal level. You’ve essentially solved the problems that he has brought to light.

    Back to the Colbert concept… I’m a firm believer that the personal is political. I think Dr. Farrell’s work could illuminate precisely how your ideas are intrinsically political already. It’s not much of a leap. The intersection of money and sexual politics is certainly provocative enough for Colbert, and I’m sure he recognizes that your calmly charming delivery will go over with his audience well.

    Good luck with it.

  59. Tim,

    Thanks for the post. As for your desire to be on the Colbert Report, I think that it is completely doable. I think the show is as much a lifestyle program as it is a political magazine, what with the Colbert “Nation” and such. Colbert is certainly a mark for more conservative show hosts and similar types as he has set himself apart (see the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner) as a rogue political comic and journalist.

    You are portrayed, many times, especially via the more traditional media channels that have covered you and the 4HWW, as a rogue idealist in an otherwise stale and unquestioning business and entrepreneurial terrain. The ideas contained in the 4HWW concerning lifestyle design and the concepts of the NR readily and intelligently challenge the status quo. Colbert does the same on his show. I think you would be a good fit for the program. I would be willing to take a stab at making first contact with an agent or someone in talent booking for the Report if you were interested.

    Best Wishes,


  60. In ROWE, you’re no longer trading hours for dollars. So how are they paid? Base salary plus commission?

    Dr J

  61. I am certainly excited about this topic and would be interested in anyone else’s thoughts about some of the concepts being used in the education field, particularly public schools. I think it could work at the high school level for students, just not sure how for employees.

  62. Hi Tim, was great listening to you last week at the MFAA Conference in Sydney. I hope you enjoyed the night dive with the sharks. I am trying to implement your strategy of batching the emails for myself and my staff. I don’t believe we will be able to just check them only once a day, but have set 3 time periods being 8.30, 12 and 3.30. I am struggling to get a script for the out of office reply and was interested in your input with this.

    It would be something: “In an effort to improve our productivity I will be checking my emails only 3 times during the day at 8.30, 12pm and 3.30pm. If however you require immediate attention please contact me on 07 5576 6299. Have a great day”

    I appreciate your assistance with this.

    Ian Fraser

  63. @Ian

    Just search “autoresponder” and “auto-responders” on this blog and you’ll find a bunch. There are also a few in the comments here!

    Thanks mate 🙂


  64. Go figure. You empower your staff and provide an environment that promotes coming up with creative solutions and good things follow. I just can’t believe it took us this long to figure it out.

    Off to Best Buy to pick up some Lionel Richie.

  65. Many years ago, I worked in the editorial/PR office of a non-profit organization. At one point, I got so frustrated with the toxic office environment, I asked the boss to give me a laptop, adding that I could be more productive at the top of Mount Lemmon. (That’s a 9,000-footer that’s just north of Tucson.)

    The boss turned me down, and it was then that I realized that Being In The Office was sacrosanct at this place.

    I mean, there were fundraisers who did a lot of their work outside the office, but even they got the evil eye for it. Especially when they went off to play golf with an important prospect. Oh, brother, did that ever stir up a hornet’s nest of controversy around the office.

    It’s been years since I worked there, and I find that I’m productive in many places besides my little office. In short, I’ve found place-based productivity to be highly overrated.

  66. You’ll be amazed at how big companies still want to cling to the 9-5 “face time”, remember what they said about “can’t teach old dogs new tricks”? I work for an old school management who still requires you to wear a tie even though you’re not meeting clients and definitely won’t budge to even try out this ROWE concept.

  67. I have eliminated all of my “meetings” that were wasting my productive time. My background (a litigation attorney) molded me into believing that meetings were a vital part of my work life. I have since left the legal business and started a Real Estate Holdings Co. (The Plutus Group, LLC) and Real Estate Brokerage Co. (The Housing Market, LLC) in Merritt Island, Florida. By applying the simple techniques from the article, I am able to conduct most of my “meetings” via email and telephone if necessary.

    In fact, we have had more time to devote to our marketing, tithing and production. We teamed up with Habitat for Humanity of Brevard and lived on a billboard for 72 hours to raise money. Check out these sites/linkes.


  68. Dr. J – Salary or compensation models did not change as a result of ROWE at the corporate offices of Best Buy. What DID change, is that employees started to get really clear about the outcome of thier work and how to measure it – resulting in a more planful, focused, and productive workforce. What’s interesting, is that people finally understood what they were getting paid FOR. When you’re getting paid for your ‘time’, it’s easy to gloss over what you’re getting paid to actually DO.

  69. Being in an university, I’m into ROWE (not with this name, of course; not with any name…) since 1978, but for classes, of course.

    Law still requires presencial classes. Otherwise I’m ready to start e-learning today, no classes. If it were possible, two part-time assistants, 20 computers and a server could be done away with; if this were extended to the Department, it could work with 3-4 people instead of 8. And the physical space required would shrink to the secretary’s desk, and the secretary could easily be shared with other departments.

    You just find the problems and bring the solutions, as well as the solutions for the boss’s problems. Where and when you work is irrelevant, though there are deadlines (and internal and external quality control for the work produced). These are usually met with considerable advance. If you need to talk with someone, you just call or e-mail or use VoIP conference or whatever.

    Since 2001 I live in a rural area and take the intercity train to deliver classes, sometimes coming back the same day.

    My first eye-opener in education was Problem-Based Learning. From then on I became a firm believer in treating adults as adults. Unfortunately, it seems most people can’t, and hamper the entire system with a simile of control. Now, that’s really expensive in productivity.

    Office is a terribly distracting, unproductive environment. “Corridor politics” and constant interruptions for nothing are a waste of concentration; I can do in a morning what I couldn’t possibly do in two days at the office. By not being there not only do I finish my work much faster, but also find fixes and improvements for more aspects of it and have more time for myself (and spare a lot of my patience, health and money by not commuting).

  70. ROWE is a fascinating concept but the example of Best Buy puts it into perspective. When I think of Best Buy, I don’t think of the executives who get to work four hours a week in return for an income they can survive on, I think of the ‘grunts’ on the ‘front-line’ who work full time for minimum wage and then overtime (if they are ‘lucky’.) These are the people who really need a 4 hour work week as they are most likely juggling a family and/or study. I’m also concerned for the former ‘paper-shufflers’ and other ‘involuntary-turnover’ victims. Where they sent off to fend for themselves or were they assigned the task of creating another department increasing the productivity of the company. Even if you see people as assets, they still have some potential value wether they know it or not.

  71. I am a “superstar” employee in my organization and I’m incredibly efficient and effective at what I do, but I cannot get even ONE half-day to telecommute because the bosses don’t trust their employees will produce if they’re not “watched.” Wardens, anyone? My work is a specialty and I’m caught between a no-compete clause and a move-and-you-lose-custody clause, so I remain with this organization.

    I have tried for the past decade to get some changes through the system, but cannot get management to pry loose their fingers of control. I’ve been told they don’t care if I spend half my day twiddling my thumbs as long as I’m in the office. I finish my entire day’s work in TWO hours, three if I’m having an off day or a crisis. I could seriously finish a week’s work in one long day and take off the other 4 days, but no, I MUST put in my time and be chained to my desk 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. So I’ve found a way around it.

    I come in at 6 (allowed) and finish my work by 8 before most people show up to fritter their time at the coffee pot for the next 2 hours. I spend the rest of the day working on non-work stuff at my desk (launching an unrelated business via outsourcing). Because I look busy, the bosses don’t have a clue that I’m not working on their projects, though my supervisors know and don’t mind a bit because I still accomplish more in 2 hours than others in my office do all day. I always finish my work ahead of schedule and get lots of awards for it, but my salary is based on the number of hours a week I’m in the office and not on my productivity.

  72. Fascinating posts and a lot of interesting comments. As our society becomes more competitive there be a lot more of this. Virtual companies – stripped of all the bloat can out compete at just about anything. Look at WordPress.

    Secondly I have always been interested in the question of how highly intelligent and creative people are best *managed*. I don’t know.

    Thirdly – certainly here in the UK the entry barrier to any kind of *management* position is depressingly low. And what all these guys love are hierarchies, control and meetings. Plus reports. They have lived their lives by those Mantra.

    Finally in my personal experience and with very few exceptions where shareholders go conventional management structures follow. There are the big obvious outstanding exceptions but that is the general practise.

    The whole dot com crash was caused by absurd over investment in risky startups followed by stifling the initiative of the founders.

  73. I’ve read the 4-hour Work Week, Work Sucks and also another title this weekend called “The Best Service is no Service” which I found in the local Borders here in the UK. Tim’s work takes the latter one to extremes!

    While i’m doing some of the ROWE concepts under the radar, I have one team who answer calls from Internal customers. On the one hand, I want them to handle the call traffic professionally, but on the other hand, I want them to work towards eliminating the reason for the call in the first place (and no, I wouldn’t lay them off if they pulled it off – just give them more interesting tasks to do in line with their own aspirations).

    How do you code up a ROWE type objective for that? It’d be great to know what a typical ROWE “this is how you add value” objective is framed at Best Buy…

    Ian W.

  74. I think that this will definitely help Best Buy with their corporate objectives. From my experience, on the sales-side, the managers are usually less knowledgeable than the customers in terms of management principals. I remember, a friend told me when he was working there, the managers left the phone on hold (with a customer on the line) and went on lunch break.

    This program will definitley weed out the weak from the strong.

    Great Post and excellent Interview.

  75. Great post!

    I think that a lot of these companies/managers/and supervisors are conditioned to believe that in order for an employee to be productive, they must be able to reach out and touch you. i have so many friends who work for organizations that will not even consider the prospect of their employees telecommuting, not even for one day a week. Afterall, why have the corporate office with the glossy conference room tables and the perfect lil cubes, if no one will use them.

    I, for one, am a lifelong resident of the laptop nation.

  76. SneakybutProductive – You’re doing the right thing. Glad you found you’re niche. Have you at least tried working a 4 days a week, 10 hours a day?

    That’ll at least give you an extra day off and save some money and time on the commute.

    I use to work at a movie theater slinging popcorn. During the day the theater was really dead. It always amazed me how many coworkers just stared at the walls or wasted their time socializing about nothing.

    Many of them are still working at that theater. I left 3 years ago.

    During that time I brought in books and taught myself a little spanish, learned how to bartend, and read entertainment trade magazines.

    I later moved on to become a bartender, (now I work in the corporate world for entertainment) and have used my spanish to get by in Cancun when I visited last New Years.

    In the corporate world I still continue this trend of getting my work done and work on my own projects. Even if a company doesn’t approve of ROWE no one has an excuse to waste time.

    Now with Web 2.0, smartphones, and cheap laptops everyone can be productive. Its all about creativity.

  77. Our new division has implemented ROWE, and we are very hopeful for the positive results. Breaking old habits and procedures is tough.