A strong focus on results is essential to the success of any company. But many entrepreneurs today are wondering – is it possible to focus only on results when managing workers?

The results-only work environment, or ROWE, is a management strategy created by two former Best Buy staffers. At its most basic, it’s a flexible work environment that’s focused on results, not processes. At its most extreme, it’s a workplace with no 9-5 schedule, no mandatory meetings, and no benefit to being tied to your desk. Instead, employees work how they want, where they want, and when they want – whether that’s at home on a weekend or at 2 A.M. on a Tuesday night – as long as they finish what needs to get done.

In recent years, ROWE has been shaking up how many business leaders think about their workforces – and it’s had big results for some companies, from software developers to accounting firms. ROWE organizations have seen greater employee satisfaction, less turnover, and even higher profits. However, ROWE isn’t for everyone, or every company. It requires a flexibility that many (if not most) workplaces just don’t have.

One area that seems to be especially primed for ROWE? Startups. Most startups are small, agile, and on the cutting edge of both technological and managerial developments. Does that make startups a perfect candidate for results-only work environments? Let’s take a look.

Can ROWE work for startups?

The ROWE system first gained traction at Best Buy, where corporate (as opposed to retail) employees used it to revitalize a faltering work environment. Although the electronics superstore eventually abandoned ROWE and replaced it with a more traditional supervisory system, ROWE’s early successes at the company were promising.

Could ROWE’s initial success at Best Buy be applied to startup companies? After all, startups value creativity and flexibility, and generally demand high productivity from a small number of employees. ROWE can be a great way to help workers meet aggressive goals, without making them feel like they’re trapped in an office all day.

What ROWE brings to the table

One of ROWE’s biggest selling points? It allows for greater worker productivity and happiness. Unlike more traditional telecommuting arrangements, ROWE lets employees decide when, where and how they’ll work best. It maximizes productivity, and reduces time wasted at the office. There’s no clock to punch in, which can be a big benefit for employees and leaders alike. Other chief benefits of a ROWE include:

  • A decreased need for micromanagement, allowing company leaders more time to focus on their job duties
  • Greater freedom for creative employees, who may feel constrained by a traditional office environment
  • Fewer unnecessary meetings that drain company resources and discourage employees
  • A focus on hiring the best and brightest for key positions
  • Less use of office space, which can mean more affordable leases and lower overhead costs

Potential drawbacks

A ROWE workplace might be attractive to employees – after all, who doesn’t want a more flexible work schedule? But that doesn’t mean that all business leaders and managers are on board. In fact, many worry that the drawbacks of ROWE will far outweigh the benefits. One of the biggest drawbacks? Even with today’s technology, it’s difficult to create a collaborative environment when your team isn’t together in one place. Other potential drawbacks of ROWE include:

  • Difficulty in creating a strong workplace culture at a new startup
  • Lack of collaboration between employees in different departments
  • Difficulty communicating with clients and partners who don’t use or understand ROWE
  • The risk of employees taking advantage of the system to do less work

Is ROWE the right choice?

Is ROWE right for your startup? That depends on your unique workforce, culture, and goals. As you evaluate management options, it’s important to identify your biggest goals. Think about the type of work environment that you want to create in order to meet them.

If your startup is fueled largely by collaborative teams that need to be together for frequent meetings, you’ll need to think seriously about whether ROWE could really benefit your enterprise. After all, your business is far less likely to benefit from spontaneous, ongoing collaboration when your creative employees aren’t all in the same building.

It’s also important to remember that ROWE can only succeed if your hiring strategies are in line with this type of management. Critics of ROWE have expressed concerns that many employees will simply slack off if given the freedom work wherever and whenever they want. While ROWE supporters argue that this system helps businesses identify employees who excel and those who fall behind, it’s important to remember that startups may not have the capital to waste on initial turnover.

If you can’t be sure that you’re hiring the absolute best person for the job, every time, you may encounter serious problems with the ROWE system. Less extreme flexible arrangements – like requiring that employees spend at least two days a week in the office – might be a better solution for your startup. Giving your employees the opportunity to both collaborate together and work independently provides the perfect combination of freedom and oversight, and could help you get a happier team with more productive results.

Have you ever tried ROWE (or a variation of ROWE?) What was your experience? Do you think results-only work environments could work for startups?

Abby Perkins is the Managing Editor at Talent Tribune, a SoftwareProviders.com blog dedicated to all things HR.

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