Should you go to Work in Your Slippers?

How would it be if you could come and go at work just as you pleased?  If nobody checked your hours, if you didn’t have to attend meetings and if the only stick you were measured by was the results you achieved?

If you believe the articles the American retailer Best Buy has created that very culture.  Employees can:

  • Work from wherever they want, be that home, an office, a coffee bar or the beach (the last option isn’t recommended if you live in the UK)
  • Keep time as they please, avoid the rush hour, pick up the children, go to the gym
  • Attend meetings as they see fit, there are no three-line whips

Managers have stopped worrying about what hours their employees keep, instead they worry about getting the job done.

As the hype says, in a results only work environment or ROWE “work stops being a place you go to and starts being something you do.”

For and against

As with all things ROWE’s aren’t perfect, there are a number of pros and cons.

The pros (which you can measure):

  • Employee engagement shoots up
  • Undesirable attrition drops dramatically
  • Recruitment becomes less expensive (job hunters form an orderly queue)
  • Productivity increases (by up to 41% if you believe the stats)
  • Facility and building costs drop dramatically

The cons (which are harder to prove):

  • There is less accidental employee interaction in the workplace which may harm innovation
  • There is a lot of cultural resistance from middle managers

Middle manager angst

I proudly portray myself as a middle-aged middle manager, and the concept of “flexi time on speed” fills me with a whole host of fears, which fundamentally come down to one basic issue:

I don’t trust my staff, they are a bunch of slackers

But here is the thing.  I work from home 2 or 3 days a week.  Today I started at about 8:00 (in my slippers).  I eventually got dressed at about 4pm and then dashed to get the kids from after school club at 5:38pm (it closes at quarter to six and they sting me for cash big time if I am late).

In the intervening period I worked like a Trojan, no chatting by the proverbial water-cooler, no gossiping after meetings and my lunch break consisted of a bowl of cereal eaten at my desk.  (Cooking and work place hygiene are not strong points.)

Oh and I just checked my e-mails at 8:47pm.

So maybe slacking isn’t such a big issue.

How to deal with slackers

Most of us aren’t slackers, most of us want to do a good job and most of us deserve a little trust.

When our economy was based on the amount of cloth we knitted or steel we made it was important that we showed up for work, but now, post the information revolution, where we work is a little irrelevant.

Now, I would argue (and I am a bit blunt) that the way to deal with slackers is to:

But counting their hours is unlikely to improve the quality or quantity of their output.

As the ROWE crowd will say:

The question isn’t “where are the people” it’s “did the people get the work done”.

Maybe it is worth a try.  Click here to find out how to start.

Now, where is my dressing gown?

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Results only work environment

Image by Kevin Steinhardt


  1. Taking Best Buy’s example a little further, I think I will start my own electronics store. Here’s how I will do it:

    -Recruit 10 top-notch, techno-savvy, so-geeky-they-are-cool college kids
    -Allow each one to choose their own product line to stage inside the store
    -Treat it like a small business incubator, with each of them being a quasi-CEO (more of a product line mgr, but that’s not important)
    -Give each of them a cut of their success
    -Allow them to set their own hours, inventories, etc.
    -All I would handle is the overall image management and some rather loose policy-setting

    In other words, I would let their natural leanings fuel their work. With the right choice of individuals, and such a liberally “empowering” culture, we just might blow the lid off, as they say. I think this is what Best Buy and others have in mind — stop treating people like sheep and hold them accountable for results. If it’s where they want to be, doing what they want to do, they’ll find a way to succeed. Like you said, James, you just have to clear the trust hurdle first.

  2. James Lawther says:

    Mark, we have a store in the UK called Richer Sounds.

    To a great extent that is what it’s owner Julian Richer did

    He is also one of the richest men in the UK. Maybe you should give it a go Mark, you never know.

    If you need a little help he also wrote a book about it The Richer Way

    Let me know how you get on

    Thanks for the comment

  3. Hello James

    I know first hand of one organisation that gets most of its work done, and done just right, by an army of volunteers. The organisation sets the standards and then ‘recruits’ only the people that are up for the mission and the standards set by the organisation because they show up as standards that the volunteers are up for realising/meeting.

    And I noticed something interesting. Along with freedom (how to do the job) came absolute accountability for what was done and what (results/outcomes) that generated in the real world. If anyone was not living the values, living up to the standards, not generating the results then a straight conversation occurred immediately: between the person’s colleague and the person’s coach (aka manager that actually showed up as coach, not a manager).

    If what was lacking was know-how then that was provided unconditionally, If what was lacking was misunderstanding then the the coach/person generated that clarity. If what was lacking was a lack of fit between the volunteer and the organisation then they volunteered was thanked and asked to go out and find an organisation that spoke to him and his way of living/showing up in life.

    Put differently, this organisation created a context of freedom within a bigger context of accountability within an even bigger/more important context of mission. And that has worked well for a long time!


  4. Tom Glassman says:

    James as a quick not about today’s article (which I enjoy all of them). I am responsible for a group of software developers (amongst other groups that I manage) The developers were allowed to work from home two to three days a week.

    What I found was that they became disconnected from work and the customers. When on site they occasionally helped with customers and fixes, when working from home they just developed to the requirements. I understand that is what they were suppose to do, but when here they added features and other value added products to the software – they were more in tune!!!

    So now I have them all here in the building full time as part of the team!

    Better product, happier customers!

    Keep up the great Squawk Points!!!

    Tom Glassman

    • James Lawther says:

      Thanks for your comment Tom, I guess the real challenge is to work out how to have your cake and eat it too.


  5. Hi James,
    I think when it comes to implementing more flexible working arrangements it’s all about striking the right balance and there is not right or wrong solution only what works best for you and your particular organisation.

    However, when I think about your statement “I don’t trust my staff, they are a bunch of slackers”, do you think that is about your own organisational upbringing, education and experience? If so, we must recognise our own assumptions and biases when taking on the new.

    What do you think?


    • James Lawther says:

      Totally agree Adrian, I suspect most management issues are based upon our personal assumptions and biases.


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