Can ROWE and 20% Time Help your Company Through the Recession?

This is not the time to freak out. It’s a time of reflection and introspection for companies as well as individuals. It’s a great time to ask, “why are we here?” Are we in the right market? Are our customers delighted with our products and services?  Are we in the right market? It’s a great time to do research and design and it’s a great time to start something new.

If your company is spending most of its efforts reducing costs it might not survive. Granted reducing costs and keeping them in line with income is a sound business practice. As long as you’re not creating a stressful workplace for what’s left of your employees. Cutting costs is a short term fix, it will help that quarter’s earnings, but in the long run, it’s not going to make or break the company.

So what kinds of things can a company do now to get through the recession? How about hiring some amazing folks? With so many people unemployed, there are talented folks looking for work, hire them and find something interesting for them to do. It seems counter intuitive to hire in a down market and it certainly won’t lower expenses in the short term, though it’s a hirer’s market and now is a great time to find new talent. Certainly you won’t end up in many bidding wars over candidates. Just as important as getting the right folks on the bus is getting the wrong ones off the bus. One great way to do this is to institute a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). Doing this will increase productivity and employee engagement, while dramatically reducing turn over, yes this works for sales organizations as well. One of the hallmarks of a ROWE is that it becomes readily apparent who the performers/non performers are. Everyone is measured by results.

Invest in R&D. Right now you should be positioning yourself for what happens when the market goes back up. INNOVATE! What better way to motivate those new hires than to roll out 20% time. Let your employees work on whatever they want 20% of the time as long as it’s not related to their normal jobs. At least consider 5% or 10% time. This is where the Post-It Note and Gmail came from. 

The importance of transparency cannot be overstated. Uncertainty about ones fate is horribly stressful. Let your employees know what’s going on with the company and encourage them to participate with challenges. Semco, a Brazilian company, let’s the workers they plan to layoff participate in the process. This increases employee loyalty and decreases stress around layoffs. According to Victor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, the thing that was most harmful to a concentration camp victim’s hope was not knowing when their captivity would end. It’s more stressful to show up to work every day wondering if this is the day I get the ax, than to know I have six weeks until my job ends. I went through the layoff saga 18 months ago and it was hell.

So stop spinning, take stock and make changes that help your company and your customers. Prepare for the next up cycle and don’t lose sight of how important your employees are. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have a captive audience so you don’t have make an effort. If you do, you might find your retention bottoms out when the economy recovers.