Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Can a Bus Driver Work in a ROWE? What about a Cleaning Person?

Reading Dan Pink's new book, Drive. For the most part, it's a great read, and has a lot of excellent insights on worker motivation.

However, one aspect of his analysis that bothers me is the same thing I see in many urban planning books - the tendency to focus on jobs and activities done by people with advanced educations and money. In particular, he talks up the benefits of a ROWE, or Results Oriented Worker Environment, where workers just need to get their tasks done, but show up whenever they want. He uses a lot of examples from the software and high-tech industries, where ROWEs are common, and does a good job analyzing the productivity gains from ROWEs.

However, the whole discussion reminds me of the 2007 Onion article "Manny Ramirez Asks Red Sox If He Can Work From Home". Most people have to be at work to do their work. The software developers in the offices Dan describes might be able to show up whenever they want, but I doubt the people cleaning their offices can. Nor can the road maintenance crews taking care of the streets that get these ROWE workers to their offices, or the security guards watching the building when the ROWE workers aren't there, and are out enjoying their autonomy.

This ROWE discussion reminded me of all the urban planning books that fawn over the 100,000 rider-a-day Portland light rail system, but never mention the 1,000,000 rider-a-day Los Angeles bus system. Moreover, the fastest growing professions in this country, from nursing to athletic training to skin care specialists (#8 according to the Dept of Labor) are defined by the now scarce resource of face-to-face contact.

So the cleaning people, bus drivers, and retail workers can't work in a ROWE, and there's more people doing these jobs than there are working at Silicon Valley software companies. Would be nice to see people writing urban planning, economic development, and business books spending a little less time covering the work "cool" people do, and focusing instead on the work most people do.

1 comment:

  1. Can planners work in this ROWE? I know it will better motivate me.