How to Create a ROWE™ at Your Agency: Q&A with Michael Reynolds

By | October 13, 2014
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This post is part of the Insider Series, which is designed to feature professionals in our industry, offer business insight and discover new paths in the agency world.

Michael ReynoldsMichael Reynolds (@michaelreynolds) is president and CEO of SpinWeb, a digital agency in Indianapolis that specializes in website design, inbound marketing and app development.

In this Insider Series, he discusses the benefits of a Results-Only Work Environment™ (ROWE™), and his experiences implementing one at SpinWeb.

Q&A with Michael Reynolds

MAI: At a high-level, what is a ROWE™, and what are its benefits to agencies?

Michael: By definition, a Results-Only Work Environment™ or ROWE™ is a place where everyone can do whatever they want, whenever they want—as long as the work gets done. It is a pure, cultural shift that results in total freedom for team members to own their time. The business focuses on results, not presenteeism.

The benefit to agencies is that it unlocks the hidden potential in your team members. Everyone on the team starts to act like an owner, and you start to have a team of leaders. Another benefit is that productivity increases since team members are incentivized to be as efficient as possible. 

MAI: What were the biggest challenges you had transitioning your agency to a ROWE™, and how did you overcome them?

Michael: We utilized training materials from CultureRx (the training and certifying organization for ROWE™), so we had a pretty smooth transition. However, one challenge we had was getting our team members to believe it was real! It’s funny how programmed we all are to fit into the traditional 9-5 work environment. It’s tough to “de-program” some people, and we had some people that still had trouble letting go of the old norms. Over time, however, we were able to adjust well.

MAI: How do you know if you are over- or under-working your employees? How do you manage capacity?

Michael: That is a very common question and a good one. As unscientific as it sounds, a lot of it just comes down to good communication. We stay in touch very well, and our project manager keeps a close eye on how much work is being assigned to people so that we always have a handle on the “flow” of work going through our agency.

We also track time via Harvest so that we can look at trends and profitability on projects—but it’s strictly to track those metrics, not to micromanage people.

MAI: What processes and technologies do you use to manage client communications?

Michael: A lot of the time, we meet clients face to face in our office. However, we also use GoToMeeting a lot for client meetings. We also have a Chromebox in our office so that we can video-conference remote team members in for in-person meetings. Internally, we use Skype every day to stay in touch with those who are not always in the office.

We’ve gotten really good at taking location out of the equation. We focus on the work, not when or where someone is working.

MAI: What types of employees seem to thrive in a ROWE™? Which do not? 

Michael: In short, team members who can manage their time well thrive in a ROWE. Those who cannot don’t do very well.

We also look for people who want to grow professionally and who want to make a positive contribution to the company. It may sound harsh but it’s very hard to hide incompetence in a ROWE™. In a traditional work environment, it can be easier sometimes to think someone is “working hard” because they show up early and stay late. But the question is: are they producing?

Since a ROWE™ focuses on the result and outcomes with great intensity than other environments, it becomes easier to see how productive your team is.

MAI: What advice would you have for other agencies considering a ROWE™?

Do it! We’ve been ROWE™ since 2008 so to us it seems very normal. I have a hard time understanding why everyone is not doing it. In order to be successful, you need to be ready to trust your people and let go of the old constructs of time, work schedules, and seeing people in an office from 9 to 5. That stuff just doesn’t matter. You need to manage the work, not the people.

If you’re serious about going ROWE™, I recommend utilizing one of the training options available at www.gorowe.com. There are online and in-person training options. It can’t be done halfway. You’ve got to commit.

If you’re willing to go for it, you will end up leading a team of happy, empowered people, you’ll enjoy greater productivity, and you’ll never have a shortage of great talent.