June 2, 2007

"The average full-time worker doesn’t even start doing real work until 11:00 a.m. and begins to wind down around 3:30 p.m."

You may think you're working, but you're not. Why not accept reality and appreciate the time you're afraid to see as wasted?
“The old thinking says ‘the longer it takes, the harder you’re working,” says Lynne Lancaster, a founder of BridgeWorks, a business consulting firm. “The new thinking is ‘if I know the job inside and out and I’m done faster than everyone else then why can’t I go home early?’ ”

A few companies are taking the concept of “watch what I produce, not how I produce it” even further. At the headquarters of Best Buy in Minneapolis, for instance, the hot policy of the moment is called ROWE, short for Results Only Work Environment.

There workers can come in at four or leave at noon, or head for the movies in the middle of the day, or not even show up at all. It’s the work that matters, not the method. And, not incidentally, both output and job satisfaction have jumped wherever ROWE is tried.

In other words, what looks like wasting time from where you sit, could be a whirl of creative thought from where I sit. .. [A]ll the energy that’s been poured into trying to force everyone to work at the same pace and in the same way — it seems that’s the real waste of time.
Sounds right to me. Don't you want to get the benefit of your ability to get things done fast? Don't you hate the employer who mainly wants to see that you're slogging away all the time? Don't you hate when you feel like that overseer is buried in your brain, criticizing you for every digression and inefficiency?

By the way, this expresses some of the reason why I'm glad I'm a law professor and not a lawyer in a law firm that operates on a system of billable hours.

21 comments:

SteveR said...

Not so long ago I worked for a company that had a really simple outlook on work schedules.

Be there by 8am, only take one hour for lunch, and don't leave until 5pm. Othet than that, very flexible.

jane said...

This kind of relaxed work structure is made more possible these days by the cell phone/ laptop/ Blackberry/ email and video conferencing virtual umbilical cords, keeping everyone in immediate contact with the mother company and "nourished" with info and discussion as needed. Except for those who go to afternoon movies and turn it all off-- they're the daring loners and had better be *really good* at their work--

P. Rich said...

ROWE feasibility depends on the nature of the work. If it is in any way repetitive, or service oriented, then hours worked will closely correlate to output.

Knowledge workers by definition do not do repetitive tasks. The problem here is that there has never been a good measure for this type of work (engineering design, for example), so one cannot easily claim dramatic improvement (unless one is uncaring about facts and claims are the whole point).

Periodically, some new trend in workplace behavior comes along and purports to be the best thing since the invention of dirt. It's usually an outgrowth of some PhD thesis or the business book du jour. A similar phenomenon regularly occurs in education. In neither case does the wonder solution ever achieve the lofty expectations it creates.

If a person is engaged in her "work," allowed a positive environment and managed wisely, available improvements are going to show marginal returns at best. Significant improvements are most likely to be correction of flaws in the original situation.

Dale B said...

I am a design engineer and, for the most part, no one knows or cares what I do day to day or even week to week. My projects take anywhere from six months to two years and the smallest time tracking increment is the week.

We've always had flex hours. We are supposed to be there before nine, not leave until after three, and work for eight hours. The particulars are up to each person to decide. Everyone mostly follows these rules but since no one keeps track we really don't know how many hours anyone works. No one cares either. The only thing that maters is delivering a design that works on time.

I like this sort of work environment.

Emy L. Nosti said...

When I did a marketing internship a few years ago, there were many mornings that involved a lot of unintentional staring blankly at the screen--more or less sleeping with my eyes open for minutes at a time. I just don't operate before 9:30am, much less 8.

Still, I frequently worked until 7, 7:30pm once I got going. If only the company were a bit more flexible, they wouldn't have had to pay for that overtime... How did early birds get the world to revolve around them? Guess they do get the worm!

PatCA said...

My present job is ROWE flexible, and I love it. It shrinks other job irritants to "bearable" when you own your own time.

My former job in a bureaucracy was rigid--it was ridiculous to see people arrive at 8 a.m. just for the sake of being on time, put on their make-up, get a breakfast plate from the cafeteria, read the paper, then get down to work when things started happening at 9 a.m. I guess only a boss that's willing to fire non-performers could tolerate a ROWE environment, and bureaucrats don't want any ripples on the sea of life.

Douglas said...

Be there by 8am, only take one hour for lunch, and don't leave until 5pm. Othet than that, very flexible.

SteveR. that is the general method for a lot of people, doesn't matter if you do a damn thing as long as you are present and can put up with an arbitrary ass chewing.

I believe that "event" or "production" based standards are best, like dale b mentioned, the drawback is that there are a lot of jobs (industrial)that are completely dependent on the actions of another person, so presence/attendance is very important, and those jobs just plane SUCK! no offense people with line jobs, but tell me you don't spend most of your time bored out of your mind or waiting for the bell to ring so you can hook up with your coworkers at the local industry bar.

I've never had a 100% line style job, though came very close, and I would always get irritated, because whoever wrote this article was being liberal. I would say in a standard 8 hour day the average worker puts in MAYBE 2 hours of actual work/effort, the rest is waiting.

Thats why I agree with glenn, and your assessment that people who can basicaly write their own hours actually end up doing more work, because you know when it's appropriate, you know when you have the answer, and you spend your offtime thinking about any issue that might need to be adressed.

The drawback is the attendance culture is far too common in the society, even when it comes to performance dependant professions.

Mortimer Brezny said...

This ia absolutely true. The real problem, however, is that we:

1. Don't have a 24-hour economy.
2. Make attendance a vital part of grades during elementary and secondary schooling.

In other words, there is one shift in which work can be produced and delivered and a mass of people who thinking showing up at a certain time actually matters. To change that, you'd have to promote economic growth and reform our public education system so that it focused on results and productivity rather than arbitrary deadlines and attendance. The problem, of course, is such reforms would be labeled misogynistic.

Bo Steed said...

I agree with you Professor Althouse. This makes me glad I became a Hummer salesman, rather than an attorney, although I still hold out hopes of passing the Bar some day.

GeorgeH said...

"I don't care when you come or go, just do the job."

They used to call that piece work.

Most employers feel that they are paying someone to produce all they can in a day or a week, not a set amount of product.

mcg said...

Most employers feel that they are paying someone to produce all they can in a day or a week, not a set amount of product.

I don't think the ROWE concept is in conflict with this. Rather, it challenges the notion that the only way to "produce all they can in... a week" involves planting oneself at one's desk 8-12 and 1-5, MTWTF.

Daryl said...

By the way, this expresses some of the reason why I'm glad I'm a law professor and not a lawyer in a law firm that operates on a system of billable hours.

Of course, if you opened an independent practice, you could set up a ROWE for yourself (while making your assistant sit at her desk from 9 to 5 every day)

Peter Palladas said...

I'd be happy if only my billable hours and my actual hours bore any reasonable resemblance one to the other.

Fletch said...

"The average full-time white-collar worker doesn’t even start doing real work until 11:00 a.m. and begins to wind down around 3:30 p.m."

Fixed that for you...

OTOH, the 'average' "blue-collar' worker(on a 7:00 AM to 3:30PM+) schedule works from about 7:30 AM to 11:00 AM (while 'stealing' another 1/2 hour "around" lunch)- then they 'fake it' until the bosses quit paying attention (2:00 PM or so...).

dmfoiemjsof said...

I work at a law firm with billable hours, and it is 100% ROWE.

Fen said...

The drawback is the attendance culture is far too common in the society, even when it comes to performance dependant professions.

Thats a point worth exploring further. How much of a city's carbon footprint is simply from workers slogging into the city from the suburbs? We need more satelite offices or work from home hours.

Adjoran said...

At one company, front line managers were recruited with ads that read, "Be your own boss." The truth was if you ran your territory efficiently, you could draw the same paycheck without even showing up - theoretically.

The reality was that almost all the lower-level managers worked long hours, making their compensation considerably less attractive. To the company's credit, though, when I was able to deliver results without working regular full-time hours, they appreciated the results and didn't whine about the time.

hdhouse said...

Being in advertising and running an agency and/or department, the "billable hour" issue - tying time on task to profitability and productivity - generally is a stretch of the imagination. Actually a great deal of time is spent just thinking through an issue - and that is thinking accomplished while tossing a ball against the wall or running flight simulator...

clients pay me and others like me to think something out for them...putting a "time frame" on that is a silly exercise and while my 12 hour day is perhaps half full with the "nuts and bolts"...the 11-330 syndrome you discuss, the "hugely billable minute" as we like to call "solution work" requires, actually, much more intensive feet on desk braindrain than the other.

I'm also reminded of Richard Feynman's process - the billable minute encapsulated.

A graduate student at Caltech burst into the Dean's office and said that he found some notes on problem solving written by Fenyman and wanted to write them up and publish them. Murray Gel Mann said "no. we don't use his method here and don't allow it". Stunned the student went on and on about Feynman being one of the great theoretic yet practical minds in the history of man..."No. We don't allow the Feynman method here"..So the student says ..ok..then I guess I don't understand the Feynman method. The reply was that while EVERYONE else labor for months Feynman's method was to read the problem through, make a fist, press the fist against his forehead for some indeterminate time, and then write out the answer. "We don't allow that here."

mrsizer said...

My job has pretty flexible hours - as long as they are early, which I hate being a night person.

However, we have Eastern European offices so we work early Mountain-time and they work late Moscow-time to get a half-day overlap.

My company would be thrilled to have me show up at 5:00am every day - and perfectly willing to let me leave at 1:00pm. I, on the other hand, would much prefer to arrive at 1:00pm and leave at 9:00pm.

I'm going to the Moscow office next week - and that's their schedule - so we'll see if theory and practice agree.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Strange that you posted this on a Saturday. I bet you'd get a lot more comments had it posted M-F from 8-5.

halojones-fan said...

My problem is that I work with so many different people that I need to be at work for that long; otherwise I'd never manage to interact with all the members of my team.

See, that's where the ROWE concept fails--if I'm the entire team all by myself, then sure, it works great! As soon as I need to face-to-face interact with other people, it isn't so good.

And yes, we do need to do it that way. There is no collaborative software in existence that is as flexible as a pencil and paper (setting aside the security concerns that are a large part of my particular job.)