There is an experiment at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to change how government works. The idea is to stop measuring how much time an employee spends at the office but rather to measure how productive the employee is. The employee sets their own working hours and negotiates with their supervisor on what they should be producing and how it will be measured. It is a revolutionary concept and has worked in private industry.
A great example of this is how IBM has reinvented itself to use a ROWE-like environment. As Robert Paterson explains, IBM employees can live where they want and work in virtual teams based on their own schedules. What holds the workforce together is the use of social networking tools and the occasional face-to-face meeting. As Paterson writes, “If IBM can do this with 200,000 people so can you.”
One aspect that he mentions is the use of chat tools in place of meetings. This is not revolutionary as places I have worked at have using instant messaging systems to hold impromptu meetings. You can quickly get to the point, bring in people as needed, and there is a record of the meeting when you are finished. And this was easily done with 2001 technology. I do not understand why more organizations don’t hold meetings this way instead of dragging everyone into the conference room for the weekly staff meeting.
Another great example from IBM is how well the virtual team works even though employees are in different countries and different time zones. Allowing people to work at their natural productive hours means you will have better work and happier people. An interesting point in the IBM experience is that face-to-face meetings are used to help workers build trust and tend to be about team-building rather than doing work. I wonder how much more effective government workers would be if agencies devoted substantial time to team-building?
ROWE solves a lot of problems from the time wasted to commuting to balancing work-life issues. I’m hoping the OPM experiment is a success. ROWE is clearly working in the private sector.