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. This is definitely the wave of the future. I firmly believe that politicians should offer companies incentives to employ such models, because they would greatly benefit our economy (reduced gas consumption as previously mentioned being just one of the perks). It’s so encouraging to read all these comments, because I have forever felt the same way and was always told I was naive for having the philosophy that work should be evaluated on what gets done instead of how much time is spent doing it. I’m an artist who works for himself, but last year additionally started work for a non-profit organization. I found that I could complete everything that was assigned to me in a few hours each day, but being confined to the office from 9 to 5 was interfering with my ability to perform my artistic duties. Initially, I was told there was flexibility with the position, but eventually the company admitted that even though I could get everything done in a short amount of time, they really wanted to have “the body” around all day (their words). That’s when I knew I had to move on. I always found that particular approach to be silly and counterproductive.

  2. Great article about the concept of ROWE. I had never heard of the concept before today. I think it could work at most companies. I wonder how he was able to get the ear of top management at Best Buy?

  3. It’s so exciting to hear about ROWE! I am just starting my career and already depressed and burned out by the “put in your hours in your seat” crap. I could be twice as productive if we could just be treated like adults and given some measurable work to do. Do employers really want to spend the big bucks to keep a bunch of smart, responsible people chained to their desks accomplishing next to nothing (and bad mouthing the company on the side because they hate their job so much)?

    ROWE is the way to go! This gives me hope!

  4. I love the idea of ROWE so much that I created a job board for ROWE (results only work environment) called “rowejobopenings dot com” so ROWE companies please sign up your jobs. The world is waiting!

    * It’s amazing to me that with all this technology we’re still expected to be sitting in chairs from 8 to 5, then spend 1-2 hours commuting both ways.

    It’s sick that my job as an IT person is still being done like this when I can do my job from anywhere and probably get more work done and be happier but my boss loves to walk up to my cube and BS about some idea they have and that’s considered the software requirement, ugh!

    As a society, we’re stuck in this 1930’s manufacturing mentality and we need to see you with your “butt in a chair” or we think you’re not working, that’s so deflating to your workforce.

    If I were to start a new software company today I would not buy expensive cherry wood desks or waste the companies profits on expensive company cars or lavish trips to the Bahamas.

    It’s a complete waste of profits especially when work can be done from anywhere. Keeping your company lean and scrutinizing every penny is still a good way to run your business.

    Lets hope this ROWE movement happens soon because burn out will become a huge issue for our workforce and we can’t afford to lag behind in this truly global economy.

    We’re going to need happy workers which in turn make efficient workers and helps increase the bottom line.

  5. Hi Tim, Check out the latest from Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard..

    Aiming to move 12% of our Public Service to “working from home” by 2020..

    Kinds stoked at how progressive my country is becoming.. (NBN stands for National Boradband Network and is kind of a big deal here because our country is so vast and lacking in such major infrastructure)

  6. So how to proceed if work doesn’t get done by some in the team? In fact I’m currently working at a company that doesn’t much car about meetings or when someone is showing up to work, it’s like you describe. Get work done and you’re free. But we do stumble upon the issue that individuals don’t do their stuff and projects get delayed because of this, even worse others have to compensate for that. What is your advice to manage those cases?

  7. Love your blog,posts and podcast. And most of all, love ROWE and what it has meant for the employees of SIG. And we are thankful to Linda Skogland,President of JA Counter for turning us on to the power of ROWE. And it just makes sense given the changes in technology and the changes in the workforce. Why make people sit in a cube if they can do their best work and concentrate somewhere else if they still get the job done and get it done at a high level.Hope more people check out ROWE due to your post.

    And LOVED your Tony Robbins interview

  8. I feel like every step of our new business you are right on time with blogs like this! We are currently working on designing our culture now while it is easy. This is a huge help. Read it tonight, going to listen tomorrow.

  9. tl,dr: you can negotiate working remotely following a simple plan. As long as you become valuable to your company, you can set your own conditions.

    I built up a “ROWE” for myself alone, step wise, in the company where I work. I did each step with the mindset of not accepting situations that I don’t like, and the steps can be replicated (more on this below).

    I live in Europe. I always have the feeling that in US there’s a chronic non-productive workaholism problem that we don’t have in Europe. 5 meetings in a day? To me that’s clearly dumb. What do you do in meetings? Nothing productive. So it’s basically a wasted day of things that can be solved over email in 5 minutes. To me and (I think) to many people in Europe that’s obvious… US working philosophy has a deep rooted issue, it seems.

    How did I “negotiate” a “ROWE”?

    I entered my company 2 years ago in a 8 hours schedule. I did my best to work decently quickly and doing things well, not for a particular reason, simply because it is the only way I can work. My boss and colleagues were happy with that so they valued the work I do. I was standing as valuable to the company and sitting on top of a decent amount of savings, thus in a position of flexibility and “power”.

    However, the pay was low, not really worth it. I looked for some other job with better pay and I was doing interviews. I told my boss that I wanted to leave because they pay is low (low income per hour). I also was considering distance from home. My boss told me literally: “what conditions do you want?”

    I asked him to reduce the work hours from 8 to 5 every day, but to keep the same salary. Thus my income per hour increased by about 1/3 and I didn’t have an exhausting and horribly boring 8 hours/day work… The amount of work I could do in 5 hours was less than what I could do in 8 hours, but the company could survive all the same, obviously. I gave him some conditions, he basically accepted whatever I asked him.

    Again, that’s because I was in a position to negotiate. I think it’s also because I’ve been always very honest with him and he values that a lot.

    After almost a year of this schedule, me and a friend were going to do a Kickstarter campaign, I needed more time, so I asked my boss another change in contract… and he accepted.

    Now I am working from home and with no schedule. I just count the hours worked and earn in a per hour basis. At the end of the month my salary is the number of hours worked * my income per hour. Everything is done by email. Everyone gains. I don’t have to be in an office and I have lots of flexibility in how I use my time. The company gets maximum productivity on an employee since there are no hours lost doing unproductive things. If everyone in the company was working like this they could even save money in renting an office in my city.

    By the way, the Kickstarter rocked!

  10. It’s a neat concept, but eliminating face time? Sounds very dystopian. And, the results based approach is great, but it’s going to be challenging to implement processes for people to work at home, or the coffee shop, for many industries. Not impossible and not against the idea, but would like to see it in place a bit longer before jumping to personal conclusions.