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Results Only Work Environment vs. Company Culture

01.09.10 - 18 comments

Recently, I went on a vacation to a beautiful town, Molyvos, on the Lesvos Island in Greece. Travelling is one of my biggest passions not only because it broadens my horizons and opens up mind but also because it allows me to do enjoy many rewarding activities that I tend to put off while at home in Belgium.

On top of the list of my favorite travelling activities comes reading business, self-improvement, entrepreneurial and management books. This time, I brought along 6 books, which I read over a period of 7 days.

Lucky for me, all the books were enjoyable and some were excellent.  Interestingly, two books stood out as they seemed to contradict one another. One of them is called “Why work sucks and how to fix it”. It discusses a very revolutionary concept of replacing the 9-to-5 working system with “Results-Only Work Environment”. The other book, “Delivering happiness”, brags about the author’s success in creating a great 9-to-5 business powered by happy employees through focusing on the company culture.

Why work sucks and how to fix it

(Amazon link)

A quick summary of this book is quite simple: Traditional work sucks.


Because people (including myself) hate the 9-to-5 lifestyle with its unnecessary meetings, schedules, no freedom, you name it!

The book is based on the simple idea that the worldwide dominant 40-hours, Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 working system is outdated! The author believes that people go to work only to waste their time and their companies time in a system based on the wrong assumptions about how work should get done and how a working environment should look like.

This system allows employees to get promoted for putting in more hours but not necessarily because they deserve career advancement, not to mention overstaffed meetings, office politics…etc.

Proposed solution? ROWE

ROWE – Result-Only Work Environment – is a new human resource management strategy which gives employees full control of the working process.

In a ROWE, employees are free to decide when, where, and how long they work, as long as they meet their overall goals. The way employees spend their time is entirely up to them. There are no mandatory meetings or fixed schedules. “Leaving early” or “coming in late” doesn’t exist in this system since you are even allowed not to show up at all for as long as you wish if you manage to get your work done as expected. In other words, work is no longer attached to a “place” you go but to the “results” you achieve.

The beauty of ROWE is that if you managed to efficiently complete a month’s work in 3 weeks, your boss never needs to know that you’ll be spending the remaining week in Thailand! (Compare that to the 9-to-5 system which rewards you for finishing work faster by giving you more work!)

Studies have shown that people tend to have different peak performance times throughout the day which means that some people may be very unproductive during regular working hours for reasons completely out of their hands!

Delivering Happiness

(Amazon link)

This book discusses the management philosophy of Tony Hsieh, the founder of LinkExchange which he sold to Microsoft at 24 for $265 million, explaining how he got to become the CEO of Zappos through creating a business model based on “Happiness”.

This book contradicts the ROWE book but it still offers a revolutionary concept. The author is an advocate of motivating his employees to achieve optimal results by focusing on a company culture that nourishes and creates the most fun 9-to-5 workplace to be.

The conclusion

I am definitely on the ROWE side and I strongly believe it’s very doable when it comes to global internet businesses.

But how about location-based businesses? You might argue with me that even schools could adopt this system through e-learning but the same doesn’t apply to a barber shop for example. What I’m trying to say that the nature of some jobs require that the employees are present at their work location. Imagine what would happen if ROWE was applied in hospitals!

In addition, I do have some considerations about the ROWE / Zappos systems that I hope my readers can help me answer:

  • Wouldn’t it be a lot more work to manage the employees, since every month you have to determine/guess the value of your new tasks that need to get done?
  • I still think that even though there is a great company culture at Zappos and many of its employees love their job, Zappos’ employees will still be wasting their and their company’s time by playing the “presenters” game, while the ROWE employees would be saving their own time as they will be motivated to work efficiently and finish their work before the preset time.
  • The 9-to-5 jobs, with a great culture like Zappos’, seem to work nicely for individuals who lack self-discipline and are unable to independently determine how to meet their jobs objectives?

So, dear reader, I hope to gain your insights on these two ideas and feel free to address any questions or concerns you might have as well.

Either way, please make sure to comment! (*cough* People who comment are much cooler than those who don’t *cough*)

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18 Responses to “Results Only Work Environment vs. Company Culture”

  1. Ali Salih

    This is rather very interesting read and in my personal opinion I would go for ROWE if I run my own design studio, because I believe this where designers will have to WORK harder to complete all given briefs / tasks.

    Also in some case, this can help employee to save time and cost on traveling (extra hour sleep in the morning!) by simply to work from home, thus help to complete tasks quicker and have more fun afterward!!

  2. Philip Wallage

    The Zappos video really spoke to me. I enjoy being at work. I enjoy being around the people i work with. I think once you create an environment everybody enjoys, people wouldnt mind staying from 9-5. Ofcourse I believe that in our market, we have to work overtime and if you work over you should be able to stay in bed a little longer. Goooooowd, i wanna be in bed right now!

    Nice article davy!

  3. Smashing Share

    Love the article Davy. Great job.

  4. Rozan

    I think the principle behind the ROWE system is very appealing and I think would be very successful IF the right kind of employees are hired. I think the screening during the hiring process would have to be intensified and specialised so as to weed out ‘incompatible profiles’. I foresee a lot of people thinking they have the discipline to be able to handle such freedom, not to mention all of those who intend to take advantage of it…And as Philip mentions, you might like the idea of saving valuable time, but you’d miss working with colleagues.
    For those not suitable for the ROWE system, I think ZAPPOS could be a nice alternative.
    In any case, I think both should be possible future alternatives for our working society.
    Nice post D!

    • Davy Kestens

      Hi Rozan, thank you for your elaborate reply!

      Indeed, the screening of potential employees will have to be specialised, but still, this screening process will still be less intense as the screening process companies have to maintain, when they strive for great company culture. Zappos, for example, has a very long hiring process, and after that, they even pay the recruits thousands of dollars if they quit. (They call this, “The offer”)

      I did forgot to mention the fact that users in a ROWE might get a bit lonely, when they work from home all the time. However, people in a ROWE are also allowed to show up at the office from 9-to-5 if they feel good with that, or if they know they perform better that way. Also they should be smart enough to understand that, if they miss being around people, they are allowed to work from anywhere they’d like. (Shared office space, library, starbucks, community center or even the park)

  5. Shane

    Hey Davy,

    I suspect that the zappos employees are regurgitating an inforced mantra. I don’t wish to be cynical. I would love to have an organisation in which all employees are reading from the same script but I hope that this is not possible because it seems unnatural to me.

    I like the idea of encouraging social bonding and fun in the workplace.

    I don’t like the idea of shaping employees to fit into a single set of criteria and I think that using a strict profile when recruiting may create problems.

    Often the outliers in an organisation provide the major breakthrough because their disconnect allows them a separate view of the circumstances.

    Perhaps a workplace should be filled with skilled people from many political, geographical & socio-economic backgrounds for the duration of the work day.

    As people we are extremely diverse in nature & we often we achieve the same end by varying means and differing intentions.

    As an employee the ROWE system would suit me but it would not suit the organisation in which I work. I am an estimator and I would be more productive at home but in reality my communicative input (solicited or unsolicited) is necessary to normal business function.

    We unknowingly create & share new information each day through our many interactions at our desks.

    Often people wish to be seen in the office during and outside of office hours in order to demonstrate their commitment and reaffirm their value to the organisation (not me, I’m too lazy).

    You have all made excellent points and your opinions are valid but there may not be a correct answer here or at least I don’t know it.



  6. Sebastian

    Relying on a pure ROWE system would be basically having an office full of freelancers? I think that’s very hard to successfully implement in practice.

    Your example of spending a week in Thailand cause you hit your deadline soon and stall before delivering it so you can take a trip (without your boss knowing), I get your point but that’s not the best example. That would not fly anywhere.

    Not taking into account the practical side for a moment, I still do not think it’s really viable to purely rely on such culture.
    I think employees should be more involved in a company then just delivering work on time. There needs to be some kind of engagement beyond just doing your job. A company is not a group of individuals, it should be individuals that are a group.

    For sure the ROWE system is hitting some keystrokes that I like. I probably might see perfection in some kind of hybrid formula.
    Thinking out loud here but stuff like; you can work whenever you want but with certain limits, a set amount of time that you need to be available in the office? …

    • Davy Kestens

      Thank you for your comments Sebastian!
      A lot of the considerations you make about the ROWE system, are actually cited in the book. I really suggest that you read the book (Why work sucks…), because it will explain why the example I made about Thailand DOES fly at multiple corporations using the ROWE system. (At Best Buy for example)

  7. Ine

    It might be strange to say but I believe that people can be both.
    In general it is the environment that stimulates you to become one of both.
    Let’s say if you’d be working in an environment like the Belgian Post, I can imagine that after a while you fit in ‘the system’ and do less than you’d originally planned.
    Actually it happened to me as a starter: I worked in an office where the atmosphere was bad, and people encouraged each other not to do too much.
    The opposite happened when I started working in this totally awesome place where instead of my paid part-time I didn’t mind to do overtime. Because being at work was fun. Heck, our boss even made sure there was a cook to make us dinner at noon. We loved it.
    But it needs monitoring. After a while the boss was there less and less due to too much work, and workers needed to take responsibility. And when some of them were sick of some stuff, they turned the mood of the company.
    That’s when I realized what it means to ‘remove the rotten apples’. It has to be done. And you have to be careful to see it happening.

    I guess we fit the ROWE lifestyle with our project. But admitted: it is nice in theory.
    Face the fact that ALL of us like to read blogposts, comment on it, twitter,.. And spend a whole lot of time doing everything but work.
    ROWE lifestyle needs you to be able to disconnect of all that stuff.
    I can admit we damn spend a lot of time behind the computer, even on that beach in Thailand I’m sitting now ;)
    It is just not always that easy. :)

    • Davy Kestens

      Hello Ine
      As I’m gunning for the lifestyle of a digital vagabond myself, it was a nice surprise to see you commenting on my blog!
      About the ROWE lifestyle working “in theory”: In the true ROWE lifestyle, it doesn’t even matter if you tweet/comment/read/game/… at any time of day. The whole ROWE system is based on 1 simple idea which is “do whatever you want, as long as you get it done”. So if you like to sip mai thais on the beach of Thailand, that’s great!

      Another positive element, unrelated to the ROWE system, is that when you’re a technology-geek, working with your laptop on the beach of thailand will still feel like vacation, because you love the work you are doing ;)

  8. Shane

    Hey Guys,

    Re: Zappos goal of having an enjoyable workplace: Tim Brown (Ceo of IDEO) gave an excellent talk on how to encourage creativity through fun in the work place.


  9. Tom Campbell

    I believe the ROWE system combined with the Zappos environment wold change worldwide work ethics for the positive


    Implementing it would be something quite different. :(

    Davey Great Site. Great thoughts


  10. Bert Wijnants

    Thanks for the great article.

    I used to work in an communication agency for 4 years as a 9-5 job. 6 months ago i decided to quit and continue working as a freelancer. But to be honest, the freelance life isn’t working that great for me. Business is going fine, but I’ve been starting to feel quite lonely, and it makes me feel nervous to make a lot of decisions on my own.

    Although the office atmosphere was a lot of fun, it was also very hard to concentrate on my work as a web developer. I can do the same amount of work in half a day as a freelancer that would take me a whole day in a busy office environment.

    After 6 months as a freelancer i learned a lot about myself. I do not have the discipline to work on my own. Working in a team is absolutely very important for me, and i believe a great office atmosphere where you are expected to be from 9-5 is necessary to achieve that.
    Working as a freelancer now, makes me feel as not being part of the family any more …

    • Davy Kestens

      Bert, thank you for your insights. Have you ever considered renting a shared-office space?
      Usually, these offices are rented by multiple freelancers just like yourself, who want all the benefits of freelancing, and who want to enjoy the “office”-feel and perks without having a true 9-to-5 job.

      • Bert Wijnants

        Hi Davy,

        I tried that during the past 3 months. 3 days a week i was also working at the office of one of my clients. It helps, but i still feel the vibe is gone. That thought of “we’re in this together” when you’re really working as a team.

        Being an entrepreneur really moves me, and sometimes makes me feel quite proud of myself, but i don’t like the fact that i am doing this on my own. So i will return to 9-to-5 now and one day – if i find the right partner(s) – i might start an own company.


  11. Navin Harish

    Another very good example is 37 Signals. They have a company with $17 Billion turnover, and a staff of just 16 people who are spread over the world. They have released a book on their work culture as well. It is called Rework and is a very interesting read

    • Davy Kestens

      Yes, that was one of the other books I read during my vacation… Great book!

  12. Vanessa

    Interesting concepts. As the manager of a department made up mostly of mothers of school children I have been grappling with these concepts for a while. We are a service based organization so there need to be hours when the individuals we serve know they can reach us. Given that these individuals have de elopmental disabilities, the consistency of finding us at our desks is reassuring. That being said, the demands of parenting often mean that we can get our best work done at 3 in the morning. Additionally, the interplay among my staff keeps us at the forefront of providing the best services possible. We have reached a happy medium of having a significant number of part timers, each of whom make their own schedule arrangements but are in the office set times each week.

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