"You're adjusting to all those individuals and how they're choosing to run their entire life, not just their work life," says Susan Hoaby, president of JL Buchanan, a retail consulting firm that implemented ROWE in 2009. "The world is changing, too. Everybody's working harder. Everybody works 24/7," she adds. "It's easy to blame ROWE for feeling like you're working hard. You're working smart, and working smart is harder."
Moen's research found that Best Buy workers did, at times, work long hours. But employees largely didn't mind because they appreciated being treated like grown-ups in a high-performance workplace. They could relax during down times.
Even if the work is intense, an office-hours-free environment is a huge boon to employees juggling other pressures. "Both the qualitative data we have and the quantitative data show that this really reduces the stress on workers," Moen says. At Best Buy, young workers would come in later so they could exercise in the morning and, as a bonus, avoid traffic. People with young kids could work earlier and attend school activities in the late afternoon. Employees in the program got one hour more of sleep per night, on average, than employees in a traditional setting, Moen found.
A common reaction to ROWE is that it works only for certain workers, that it couldn't be applied to receptionists, fast-food workers, nurses, shop floor managers, teachers. Thompson counters that the type of work doesn't matter--the attitude of leadership does. It's true that a shop floor manager can't work from home. But maybe he can let his production crew choose their own shifts each week and trade between themselves without his approval. Maybe the administrative staff at a school can team up to pool the receptionist duties so that not everyone has to commute during rush hour.
"If you're in production, you can't do that outside of the office. Guess what? You need to be in the office," says Julie Cole, a cofounder of Mabel's Labels, an online seller of personalized labels for kid's gear. But, Cole added, if a print run is finished at 1 p.m., and the production shift is scheduled to end at 3 p.m., she doesn't want those production workers hanging around trying to look busy for two hours. "Go home," she says.
The firms that come to ROWE for help typically are looking for a way to differentiate themselves, sometimes in a way that won't involve a salary bidding war. That's what happened to the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, which provides school districts across rural Iowa with such services as special education and speech pathology. The Prairie Lakes region experienced a huge drop in public school enrollment over the last several years, which severely depleted the agency's resources. They needed to find a new way to operate.
"We were looking for something that would give us a competitive advantage," says Connie Johnson, marketing and communications director for the agency. "Someone close to us could hire an occupational therapist for $10,000 more than what we can offer. We have great people, and we don't want to lose them."