The Eternal Butts in Seats Debate

What do you notice – and reward – in your staff? Time at desk? Effort? Results?

As you’ll soon discover, I’m pretty clearly in one camp.

Some places focus on hours. Were you there at 9 on the dot, did you take extra time at lunch, did you leave early?

And for some particular positions, that might make sense: retail (where you have posted store hours), customer service (where the phones/email accounts are supposed to be staffed certain hours), reception (where the desk is supposed to be staffed certain hours), shift work.

Raise your hand if you – or your staff – do one of those things.

Let’s face it: if you’re reading this blog, there’s a good a chance you’re what’s known these days as a “knowledge worker,” someone who is valued for the knowledge she brings to a particular field of expertise.

So since knowledge workers are valued for expertise, it makes sense to measure them by results, right?

This concept is captured well by ROWE – the Results Only Work Environment.

Unfortunately, too many of our organizations are mired in a 1950s-era mentality that we judge people based on whether or not they’re putting in their hours. And making the leap to evaluating based on outcomes can be scary.

The thing is – as with many issues in the modern office – it’s a management issue.

What would it take to stop evaluating people based on “was he in his seat from 9 to 5 every week day?”

  • Flexibility – obviously, this is not something that’s going to work in a rigid culture.
  • Trust – you’re not going to be able to watch your people every minute, since they’re going to work when, and where, it makes the most sense for them.
  • Clarity – I think this is the real rub for most offices. We measure people based on butts in seats, or effort alone, because we have no clear, measurable, concrete goals for them. “Did you work at least 40 hours (and the right 40 hours) this week?” has to stand in, because we have no idea what we actually need our staff members to accomplish day to day, week to week, and year to year.

But if you can manage to make the switch – and make no mistake, it does require a major cultural shift, at least for most offices – it can accrue tremendous benefits to your organization. ROWE has been proven to reduce stress, increase productivity, increase health and well-being, and reduce turnover. And that makes complete sense when you think about it: your staff members get to dump their commute entirely (or commute at off hours, or only some of the time), work when they’re at their most productive and in the environment that makes them most productive, and manage their personal lives in ways that make sense, which makes them happier, which in turn makes them more productive.

So what are you waiting for?

3 thoughts on “The Eternal Butts in Seats Debate”

  • What I also like about ROWE is that for it to work, we have to refocus on relationships and do the seemingly hard work of expressing what we need and want from each other in order to produce the results that are required. In a ROWE environment, you're not going to escape the fact that you might express a need for someone to be in the office more/differently and that individual will tell you “I don't think that will work for me.” Now we have to figure out a way to make our respective needs and preferences work.

    In my first association job we had four of us in the office and a huge vision driving our activity. The grand ambition and our limited resources required us to spend time every day talking about who was doing what who needed help, what our priorities were, and perhaps most importantly, who was going to cover the phones so people could go out for lunch.

  • It's funny you would bring up the four person office, because although many of the ROWE case studies are about big companies, I wonder if it's not more suited to small offices, where everyone has to talk to each other and work together on a regular basis anyway?

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