Monday, February 18, 2008

Why aren’t you in the office?

Much has been made of Best Buy’s move to a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). It’s certainly a concept that appeals to all. Who wouldn’t want to work when they want, and only be measured by what they are delivering. It solves the challenge of managing child care, brings back a sense of balance, and allows you to pursue what matters to you, even if the timing isn’t convenient. I completely agree with this concept. I don’t think that individuals should be judged based on time spent working. They should be rewarded for what they accomplish.

However, I think that the ROWE concept has gotten convoluted to mean Remote Work Only, which is not the same thing. It is true that I am highly productive when I’m not in the office. But I am also productive in the office, for different reasons. If I’m going to be on the phone all day, I might as well work at home. I’ve got the same technology, and can get the same work done. But a large part of my job involves interacting with people, and in many cases there is no substitute for meeting in person. It’s hard to brainstorm on the phone. It’s also not easy to collaborate when only 1 person can drive the webconference.

Not only that, but working remotely is hard. It requires strong interaction skills to make your presence known. You miss out on the small talk that happens before and after meetings. Or the office drive-by on the way for coffee that brings up 3-4 really important issues. You need to work harder to get to know your team, and establish rapport. You have to leverage multiple types of technology, and invest time to build relationships. And even then, you will still feel differently when you meet your team members in person for the first time.

But my biggest gripe with ROWE turning into Remote Work is the lost opportunity it represents. When people stop coming to the office regularly, the connections between team members change, and so does the level of energy in the office. When coming to the office feels like going to Desolation Island, then no one wants to come in, and we’ve got a self-defeating strategy. Again, I’m not saying that everyone needs to be in the office 8-5 every day. But scheduling team meetings in person, or setting regular meet-ups helps the entire team feel connected, raises the energy, and increases the positive feelings people have about work.

So, while I’m all for ROWE, I’m also for dedicated office time – as it makes sense to you. And if you are always a Remote Worker, I strongly recommend dedicated trips to meet with your team. That isn’t to say you must always travel. But a scheduled trip every quarter, or every month can help reestablish connections and move projects forward – and maybe even help you achieve your results in a more effective way.

No comments: