Public Workforce

Hennepin County's ROWE Results

Hennepin County, Minnesota's telework manager shares how she worked with employees, managers and unions to implement a results-based work environment.
by | February 10, 2010

Heather Kerrigan

Heather Kerrigan is a GOVERNING contributor. She pens the monthly Public Workforce column and contributes to the print magazine.

This month's Public Workforce newsletter further elaborates on Hennepin County, Minnesota's, Results-Only Work Environment. ROWE allows for employees to work from home or during less conventional hours, as long as they met their productivity goals. Last month, I asked Deb Truesdell, ROWE and telework manager for the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department, how this work culture is different from traditional work settings. About 1,400 of the department's 2,700 employees have or are in the process of completing ROWE training, with a goal of training all employees by mid-2011. This month, I share Truesdell's expectations and early results, as well as her answers to questions Public Workforce readers submitted in an edited transcript below.

What results have you seen with ROWE in Hennepin County?

What we expect to get as a county is an increase in productivity. We're already seeing it in a number of areas. We also believe that we'll be able to save money because we won't have to have so much leased or owned space. We'll have space where people can come in and we'll save on mileage and parking reimbursements. Prior to ROWE, a social worker would see a client, come back to the office at 3 p.m., work for an hour and a half and leave. Now, she can just go straight home and work from there.

We're excited that we're the first local government entity to establish ROWE and I have no doubt that we'll be successful. The proof is in the pudding. We need to show that we're producing better results. I truly believe we're going to be showing increased and better results, meaning we're serving our clients and doing better by the taxpayers. The county wins, the staff person wins, and it's a much better balance.

I can tell you personally: My husband passed away and he had been very sick, and I didn't feel comfortable leaving him home alone. Because of the flexibility of ROWE, I used very little leave balance. I got to spend quality time with him, I was still connected with my job and it kept me sane. I really love this job, but I could also take care of someone really important to me. ROWE is about how you feel. I felt like I was still being productive. I'm not the only person who has a similar story. One woman had a daughter who got H1N1. This woman could ROWE from home. Because it was an extreme situation, her team members were willing to cover her face-to-face meetings. She didn't have to worry about it. There was no anxiety.

What results has CultureRx [the group that helped Hennepin County establish ROWE] found in previous ROWE projects?

CultureRx has seen that the people who aren't doing any work rise to the surface very quickly. When people have these work standards, there is no way to disguise whom is not working. In the end, they have seen some involuntary turnover because people just aren't doing the work or can't do the work. It's not a reason we went into it. We went into it because times are tough. Budgets are slim. Any way we could increase productivity and give people back control over their life is a really huge benefit. Really that's what this is. ROWE gives people the power over their work life within a context. If you're a zookeeper, you can't feed the animals from a different location. But there's no reason you can't work with your coworkers to work out some flexibility. You can be more focused on your work, but you're also happier so you produce more. CultureRx has seen this happen in multiple places.

How do you manage collective bargaining and union-related issues, as well as time-capture and documentation-related issues?

In Human Services and Public Health, we have an excellent working relationship with the unions. They have been supportive of ROWE and are willing to bring up systemic issues that get in the way of moving ROWE forward. Although we are quite careful about what is clearly a union issue and what is not, we can work on things together before they reach a grievance level. We have met with our unions to discuss labor contract language, which could be viewed as inconsistent with ROWE. For instance, we clarified that labor contract provisions such as holiday premium, night/evening differential or pay for working weekend hours would not apply in situations where, pursuant to ROWE principles, the employee chose to work these hours as these hours (holiday, evening or weekends) best accommodated getting the desired results.

In an effort to further our working relationship, we are in the process of forming a workgroup to address union concerns related to ROWE. It is our hope that we can work on joint problem solving and avoid some pitfalls along the way.

Since we are a government agency, our staff must work their full complement of hours (either 40 per week or 80 per pay period, depending upon the classification). All staffers complete a time card.

Have you established some level of competitiveness within the environment, to create some level of self-correction and productivity monitoring to drive results?

Not yet. We are planning to post results as a way to drive increased productivity, but it is too early to do this at this point. We have a project team working on developing these strategies for us.

How are teams staying connected?

Units are meeting on an individual basis. For example, we might meet for lunch in the community.

How have employees adapted to mobile technology in order to work remotely?

We've always had great IT support, but they have also recognized the fact that we really need to take a look at how we will continue to support this mobile workforce. There's a new committee for that. People run the range of being really comfortable undocking to work remotely. Some, for the first time, are using their own home Internet. We're working out what we need to expand and support.

Are there security concerns with working remotely?

Thankfully, we had the security all in place. Our IT dept is unbelievably good. All our devices are secure and if someone stole it, it's trackable -- they can find it and turn it off remotely and instantly so no one can get client information.

How has the public responded to county employees working within ROWE?

I think anyone who works for the government hears that government workers are lazy. People don't have a good perception of government workers. We're lucky because we have the support of our county administrator, and from our board. They're smart, bright people and they want to see increased results. That's what matters to them. We know there's going to be some perception: "Well, gee whiz, these people can mow their grass during work hours." I think once [members of the public] understand that we're improving results, enhancing things and we could expand our service hours, they will change their attitudes. The reality is they're getting a lot of return for their tax dollars. We'll have to show them that we've increased results. We're always under that scrutiny.


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