IMD International

Creating the Workplace of the Future

ROWE: The Ultimate Flexible Work Arrangement

November 21, 2014

"The problem with uncertainty is that it increases levels of stress."

This was the framework around which Professor Ginka Toegel set her discussion on flexible work arrangements during her session at IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance program in Singapore.

Professor Toegel said, "Some companies try and reduce stress and manage complexity by installing additional bureaucratic processes. Research indicates that the best way to reduce uncertainty and stress is to give people within autonomy. This autonomy leads to more productive, healthier and satisfied staff."

Under this platform, Toegel introduced session attendees to ROWE: Results Only Work Environment. The simple concept of ROWE is that employees are 100% autonomous and 100% accountable – they are free to do whatever they want whenever they want as long as the work gets done.

Professor Toegel conceded that while ROWE is not appropriate for all professions and staff – nursing for example would not be possible under a ROWE system – nevertheless there are still many organizations that can benefit from the introduction of such a structure.

She said, "The constraints of 'presenteeism', that is, a misguided obsession with requiring employees to have a constant physical presence, is an outdated structure that can be replaced by alternatives that drive greater staff satisfaction and productivity."

Feedback from session attendees was that the introduction of a ROWE system requires a significant amount of trust in employees.

Professor Toegel said, "Trust is key to the success of a ROWE system being implemented. However, if you set your measurement metrics appropriately, you will be able to track staff productivity and address any issues with employees that fail to deliver."

Research in 2010 revealed that 60% of workers of all ages believe working full time from an office is unnecessary. In 2011 that had risen to 69%. Gen Y workers and those that have grown up surrounded by technology have differing expectations of working arrangements, with 3 in 5 believing they have a right to work remotely with a flexible schedule.

Professor Toegel said, "We no longer need to be bound to a time and place model of work. Organisations that consider and implement their own ROWE system will find themselves with a more engaged and productive workforce. Working remotely also presents greater opportunities to attract talent from a larger net. Companies need to consider the metrics to measure success, and seriously consider ways to implement a ROWE system in order to keep up with modern workforce expectations and succeed in attracting and retaining the best people."

IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance program runs every November in Singapore. For live insights from the program follow on Twitter at #OWP2014 or check out OWP pictures on IMD's flickr account.

IMD Professor Ginka Toegel is co-director of IMD's Mobilizing People program.

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