Is This The Future of Staff Productivity?

Mabel's Labels has made the bold move of letting employees determine when, where and how they achieve their goals. Is it a crazy experiment or a game-changer?

Written by Julie Cole

Mabel’s Labels has made a bold move. We’ve started treating our employees like grown-ups.

What does that mean? It means everyone on our team manages their own time, they’re in charge of deciding when and how they get their work done and they’re responsible for successfully achieving their goals on time.

Two months ago we flew in Jody Thompson, co-founder of Minneapolis-based CultureRx and co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), to train our team on what ROWE looks like and how it will function for our company.

When you operate a ROWE, it really doesn’t matter if your employers are at their desks. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the office or at home. It doesn’t matter if they log four hours a week, or 60. They can take as many vacation days as they want. The most important thing to us is whether or not they’re meeting their goals. If they are, and they’re happy, we’re happy.

There’s more flexibility; the focus shifts from putting in time to ensuring excellent service.

How does it work? Each employee, together with their manager, develops clear and measurable job expectations. Employees are given full autonomy to achieve outcomes in the most productive way possible; each person has control over how they spend their time in order to effectively get the job done. There’s more flexibility; the focus shifts from putting in time to ensuring excellent service.

Read: How to Manage Your Remote Team

Now four months into it, transitioning to ROWE has been interesting here at Mabel’s HQ. We are getting the hang of it, but old habits die hard. Some people are finding it more difficult than others. So, where do we stand?

What’s working:

  • There’s no more “sludge”. Sludge is the toxic, passive-aggressive behaviour that wastes energy and erodes morale. Think of someone arriving to work ten minutes late and getting a snarky “Oh, how nice of you to join us today” from a co-worker. That attitude doesn’t exist any more; our office is now officially a sludge-free zone. And office gossip is down significantly.
  • People are more organized, and more focused on goals. They seem happy to be taking responsibility for their work lives.
  • From an HR point of view, offering a ROWE puts us in an excellent position when trying to win over great talent—particularly within the IT world. We know that many IT folks can do what they need to do remotely; yet many organizations require them to sit in a cubicle, hour after hour, for the sake of appearances. Letting them do their own thing makes us an employer of choice

What needs improvement:

  • We’re still figuring out ways every department can benefit from a ROWE. Some departments need more technical support to allow people to work remotely or on altered schedules. When those tech tools aren’t budgeted for, it can be hard to accommodate everyone.
  • “Drive-by” visits continue to be a challenge. In a ROWE, interrupting a fellow staff member is frowned upon, as doing so can greatly affect productivity. Instead, we encourage staff to send messages or set up meetings to talk to their peers. This has proven very difficult for some of our staffers—especially those who were fond of spontaneous face-to-face meetings—to get used to.
  • The ball has been dropped a few times. For example, we’ve had employees leave the office for the day early, which is fine, but without arranging for someone to cover for them, which is not. Getting used to this way of doing business takes some practice, and we’re setting up some coaching to address it.

The question we’re asked the most is if ROWE isn’t working for a few people, will we take it away for everyone? Quite simply, no. We won’t. ROWE is now central to the way we do business. If an employee can’t adjust to it, they aren’t a great fit with the company. In those cases, we’ll part ways.

ROWE is a culture that we’ve committed to. As time passes, we’re certain we’ll experience more challenges. But it’s a way of working that we believe in, and we’re willing to work to fully reap the benefits.

Read: The 3 Things Today’s Employees Want

I look forward to sharing the Mabel’s Labels ROWE journey on PROFITguide.com in the months ahead.

Julie Cole is the co-founding vice-president of award-winning children’s label manufacturer Mabel’s Labels. She has helped her company bring their product to a worldwide market, gain media recognition and win countless entrepreneur awards. Cole is a regular contributor to HLN’s Raising America, an influential and syndicated blogger and a mother of six.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com