Work When You Want, Where You Want?

It may sound too good to be true, but there are ways to make it work.

June 3, 2008 — -- Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson created a workplace culture called ROWE, which stands for Results-Only Work Environment. The premise behind ROWE is no schedules, no time clocks, not even a specific place where work must be done, as long as the work gets done.

After two years of pounding the pavement to get ROWE implemented in more workplaces -- it was launched at Best Buy's corporate headquarters in 2003 -- Ressler and Thompson have gotten only one other company to sign on. JA Counter, a Wisconsin investment and benefits management firm, now has its 15 staffers working in ROWE.

So these self-described workplace activists have written a new book, "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It," to make their program accessible to everyone.

Many work-life experts agree that this may very well be the future of work, especially with advances in technology and our individual desires for more control over our time, but when exactly that might happen is the subject of much debate by both employees and their bosses.

After spending several hours last month with Ressler and Thompson, and hearing the hesitations and criticisms among employees and employers alike, these are the ROWE elements that I believe are most applicable to any workplace.

Rethink Your Opinions About Time

Focus on results achieved, not hours worked.

Ban toxic talk known as "sludge."

Even though nearly 80 percent of employers allow at least some workers to change their arrival and departure times on occasion, it's certainly not applicable to everyone. So there's often resentment among those who work more traditional, rigid schedules.

We've all heard that resentment about time play out -- and, admit it, many of us have even participated in it. Comments like, "Oh, coming in at 11 again. Must be nice." or "Oh, leaving at 4 are you? Wish I had your schedule." Those thoughts focus on hours worked, not on results achieved.

Ressler and Thompson call that "sludge." They say it's the toxic talk about the way we work that cripples productivity and morale.

So starting today, agree on a no-sludge policy in your office or your department. Don't pass negative judgment on the way other people choose to spend their time. Focus on the results they achieve, not the amount of time you see their face.

Trust your Colleagues or Employees

Don't make excuses about where you're going.

As a work force, we're completely conditioned to show up and be present, so when there's something personal we want to do during business hours, we usually lie about where we're going. Most people could never imagine walking into the boss's office at 2 p.m. and saying, "I'm going to get my hair cut. I'm going to play golf. I'm going shopping." Even if we're about to head out for any of those things, we use a "good" excuse, an "acceptable" excuse like sick kids or a dentist appointment.

That drives Ressler and Thompson crazy. They say when you have mutual trust in the workplace -- trust that people know what it takes to get their work done -- none of us should fear complete honesty. We should be able to tell the truth about what we're going or we shouldn't feel obligated to tell anyone where we're going at all.

Start Small

Develop informal solutions.

Monitor the progress and keep track of any measurable results. Does work get done faster? Are people happier and more engaged? Are clients served better? Get together once a month for a candid assessment of what's working, what's not and why.

"Good Morning America" viewers may recall a segment where we went through this process to guide 16 people in the billing department of a medical center in Texas. The whole organization didn't adopt a new way of working, but this one department did and it's still working wonderfully for them.

Don't wait for the senior management of your company to take action and don't wait for formal policies to be implemented. Take matters into your own hands by polling just a small group of co-workers to see what they want and how you can work together to make it happen. It has to start somewhere, and that change can begin with you.

I'm confident in saying that Ressler, Thompson and I are rooting for your success.

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on ABC's Good Morning America and the CEO of Women for Hire. Connect with her directly at