4 Open Office Benefits at FoolHQ

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Developing the perfect office space is one tough feat, but our People Team is constantly striving to fulfill 300+ Fools’ needs and wants. From adding new quiet spaces to knocking down walls, one Fool’s role is solely dedicated to our office’s cultural development. No matter if a Fool is shy or social, 4 benefits of our open office stand out:

1. Real (read: not electronic) Communication

At healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline, the absence of cubicles created more transparency among employees. After implementing an open office layout, overall email traffic declined by more than 50% and decision making accelerated by 25%. These productive shifts occurred because “workers were able to meet informally instead of volleying emails from offices and cubes.” In a casual, open environment, employees are more encouraged to engage in face-to-face conversation. Plus, you never know when a random brainstorm might lead to the next best idea.

Closed offices are a thing of the past, paving the way for more openness in both the physical and literal sense. One source explains, “Reasons for going open make for great agency rhetoric: communication, ideation, collaborative resonance, speed.” In an open office, there’s a sense of community that can’t be mirrored electronically.

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2. Approachable Company Leadership 

Maybe your organization’s executives are intimidating, even though we all know they shouldn’t be. Our open office definitely plays a part in connecting Foolish leaders with employees. Tom Gardner and David Gardner are just like normal Fools. Private offices aren’t requirements for them; in fact, you’ll often find Tom on a public treadmill desk and David among fellow investing Fools on his Supernova team. FoolHQ maintains a supportive environment for collaboration and creativity on all levels.

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3. Unique Workspaces

We encourage Fools to do whatever it takes for them to produce the best work. Think beyond a cubicle and imagine moving around to different spaces throughout the day. Couches, beanbags, and working tables fill our office to accommodate different personalities. Not feeling inspired? Sit beside a window or find a quiet space to concentrate. Conference rooms don’t have to disappear, but we’ve added more informal meeting spaces that don’t have to be reserved.

FoolHQ is in constant flux. Fools voice their opinions on office space through engagement surveys, coaching sessions, and casual conversations. If a request can be honored, Fools will go to great lengths to ensure others’ happiness.

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4. Convenient Collaboration

We keep Fools’ desks on wheels for a reason. If different teams need to work together, collaboration should be easy for them. With stationary desks, full office moves took too much time. Now that Fools’ workspaces are mobile, these moves can be finished in one (busy) morning.

Don’t isolate employees based on their departments. Some Fools are embedded onto different teams to boost collaboration and spread mastery of other skill sets. Shuffling Fools around to fit the needs of our business simply wouldn’t be as seamless without our open layout.

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Our Examples of “Enviable” Workplace Culture

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While a top-notch workplace culture is enviable, it also sets an example for what other organizations should strive to achieve. Tim Stevens wrote in his FastCompany article, “There is nothing worse than working in an organization that has a bad culture. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or how many weeks of vacation you are given; when you work in a toxic environment, you still come home tense and stressed at the end of each day.” Stevens is on point; I felt miserable on a daily basis during one of my first “real” job experiences (and no, it wasn’t at The Motley Fool).

Stevens goes on to list 12 traits that suggest your organization is among those with a fantastic culture. Here are a few that resonate with our organization:

1. Turnover is Low.

We want our employees to be Fools for life. Our turnover rate is less than 2%, which is remarkable by industry standards. We go to great lengths to ensure Fools’ happiness, whether it’s ordering gluten-free pizzas to celebrate monthly birthdays or building out more quiet spaces in our office. Foolish coaches also hold regular “Happiness Check-Ins” to chat with Fools about their work-life balance. Low employee turnover means you’re at least doing something right.

 

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2. Team Members are Energized by the Mission.

Fools are passionate about our mission – “To Help the World Invest – Better.” You can feel the energy here, as well as from Fools all over the world. We have full-time Fools based in Canada, Germany, Australia, and Singapore that are all working passionately toward the same goal. When Fools are excited about projects, productivity levels rise to new heights. Creativity can also inflate, adding more valuable ideas to the mix.

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3. It’s Not Just a Job.

Fools are not only excited to come to work, but they’re also enthusiastic about Foolish extracurriculars. Fools are friends too, so attending happy hours, concerts, plays, and other cultural events in the area aren’t foreign concepts. In fact, we actually enjoy spending time with our coworkers. We’re not running toward the door to exit right at 5PM (…we do have a flexible schedule), and it’s kind of refreshing from the corporate norm. A work environment is definitely more positive when it has this type of ambience.

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4. People are Smiling. 

Fools are shiny, happy people (and some are music lovers, too). Our Office Ops team does a great job of keeping FoolHQ an upbeat environment. These creative Fools host activities to all scales, from smaller touches like pushing around snack carts to planning larger events including our annual Holiday Party and company retreat called Foolapalooza.

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5. Communication is Strong.

Though communication can always be enhanced, The Motley Fool strives to keep our conversations transparent. It’s important that your employees stay on the same page with what’s relevant, be it your company numbers or external conference opportunities. Fools are happier when information is provided instead of hidden, even if something is in the works. Simply stating “We’re working on it, but we wanted to let you know…” can make all the difference.

Interested in checking out the other qualities that make a workplace enviable and one of a kind? Click here to read more.

Coffee Brews Conversation

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I hear a lot of chatter about coffee at FoolHQ, but the buzz doesn’t always revolve around the need for caffeine. As an opportunity to connect, Fools are encouraged to request Starbucks gift cards sponsored by The Motley Fool. In return, Fools must treat a fellow coworker – ideally one they don’t know well – to a drink. Though there’s definitely a monthly card limit, some Fools don’t mind to fund Starbucks runs on their own dime every once in a while. You could say that coffee meetings are a popular part of our culture, to say the least.

Our CEO Tom Gardner envisions more to this benefit than just a free soy latte. Introducing the idea at a company-wide huddle last year, Tom encouraged using the cards as a chance to learn about others’ projects; identify best practices Fools use; and collaborate on challenges or ideas. Fool Amy Dykstra approximates that she hands out around 10 gift cards per month.

Jerry Seinfeld also recognizes room for great communication in a cup of coffee. In fact, it’s the focus of his successful Emmy-nominated web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Seinfeld explains, “…why it’s great to meet someone for a cup of coffee — the ease, the simplicity, the compactness. And that it also obviously gets people talking. You have coffee and for some reason it makes you talk a lot.” Whether or not you order coffee, tea, or a glass of water, it’s the conversation that counts.

While Jerry Seinfeld hosts his guests in cars, Tom and David Gardner hold a monthly event at FoolHQ called “New Fool Coffees.” Spending an hour together with our founders, recent hires are able to learn more about our company and ask tons of questions. Conversations can travel anywhere from Tom’s favorite drink to what inspired his team’s latest stock pick. Starbucks – or FoolHQ conference rooms – are hot spots for Fools, but the location shouldn’t stop you from incorporating this idea into your company’s culture. And it doesn’t even have to be about a coffee drink, either. Simply encourage employees to leave their desks, welcoming the idea that a fresh environment can inspire new and valuable thoughts.

Engaging others through stimulating conversation – caffeinated or not – is important. A quick sit down can allow for new concepts to brew and employees to mesh together, both of which will benefit your organization. Steven Johnson reinforces, “We take ideas from other people, from people we’ve learned from, from people we run into in the coffee shop, and we stitch them together into new forms and we create something new. That’s really where innovation happens.”

4 Tips to Improve Your Organization

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Where would The Motley Fool stand without the mentors that have shaped our company with their bright insights? The road to success hasn’t always been smooth, but we hope these 4 tips inspire you to take the wheel and change your organization – for the better.

1) Hire the Right People

Much like The Motley Fool’s investing strategy, we prefer to hire and hold onto employees for the long-term. Chief People Fool Lee Burbage explained, “When we are hiring for life, recruiting is the most important thing we do.” Our team strives to find the perfect candidate for every position because, in the end, the best hires will pay dividends. With every candidate, we consider whether or not they could potentially take our business to the next level. Throughout the hiring process, recruiter Jen Elliot focuses on applicants that are entrepreneurial, innovative, and unafraid to break the status quo. Burbage noted, “We want this to be the last job you ever have, and the long horizon makes things like job titles and hierarchy unimportant.”

No matter the job title, personality skill-tests are instrumental in maintaining employees’ happiness. If developed within your company, chances are high that employees will evolve and even develop their own job descriptions. Kara Chambers, VP of Talent Strategy at the Fool, notes that while cognitive diversity and collaboration is important in the workplace, communication issues can arise as a result. Assessments like Myers-Briggs and Kolbe allow managers to better acknowledge issues in advance and pair people in a more strategic way.

Les McKeown influenced us to evaluate new projects and teamwork organization with his Visionary-Operator-Processor triangle in mind. His quick assessment digs into the psychology behind how an employee handles their work. Because Fools feel more empowered and aware of their strengths, teams that struggled before are now thriving. Les has given us the ability to view a project’s life cycle by better understanding where we’re deploying resources.

2) Focus on Your Highest Performers

Burbage believes that while job fit is important, employee performance must be taken into consideration, too. Imagine that your workforce was a portfolio and you primarily invested in underperforming employees as stocks. Over the holding time, you’d progressively see a negative return on this investment. Though the real profit lies behind investing in high performing employees, many companies continue to foster their low performers.

Enter Steve Kerr, a member of The Motley Fool’s Board of Directors, who encouraged us to focus more energy on top-tier employees. Cultivating high performers to the level of Steve’s vision begins with measuring employees’ performance through feedback and one-on-one meetings. While asking for feedback isn’t mandatory here, it’s something that we care about and encourage. Guidance and constructive criticism only boosts motivation.

Steve once said that the highest performers are your future leaders. Do you want to leave your company in the hands of those that could fail?

3. “See the world through the eyes of your customer.” – Steve Kerr

A great employee is one who understands your business and, two years ago, we implemented Steve Kerr’s smart advice in a company-wide initiative to invest. Most Fools learned the investing basics, which started with how to open a brokerage account. Once the account was open, $1,000 was deposited into each and every one. Investing became a topic no longer segregated to our writers and analysts, but instead a dynamic, accessible discussion for everyone.

Sam Cicotello, who heads up Member Experience at the Fool, reflected on the benefits that this challenge left with our Member Services team. Expanding on the shared emotional experience, Sam explained “If a new member is ready to start in the stock market, we understand it’s not just as easy as pushing a button. Like members, the team feels on top of the world when trades are up, and angry or anxious when the market takes a negative turn.” It’s true that we’re a better company because Fools are smarter about the nature of our work.

4. Be Transparent

Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store and a true Fool himself, shared that one of his company’s foundation principles is “Communication is Leadership.” We’ve adopted the value as our own (thanks, Kip!) because we believe in the power of being a transparent organization – and we’ve seen the benefits first-hand. Our goal of having “totally informed Fools” is achieved by giving everyone in our company access to pretty much any information they want. Head Communications Fool Adrienne Perryman adds, “Building a culture of open communication between every facet of the company is a high priority of The Motley Fool — it builds trust, engagement, alignment, and ultimately, happy, productive Fools.”

This is not to say that communicating is easy. We’ve found that benefits of being upfront and transparent, especially when the news isn’t the best, far outweighs the damage that could occur if we didn’t share. With an open, honest, and timely explanation, employees are able to react more quickly and, even during the toughest times, collaborate for a solution.

Open communication is used in a number of ways to keep Fools up-to-speed in our fast-paced culture. Our monthly Huddles, which are attended by the entire company and streamed for our remote Fools, offers a full hour of 100% transparency. Do we talk in-depth about our numbers? Yep. How about strategy and what’s coming next? Check. Role changes? Sure do. Is there time for open Q&A? Obviously. In between monthly Huddles, we keep Fools informed via our intranet, which features weekly videos and a news feed, our weekly email, and sessions with leadership around specific topics.

We make communicating a priority because it matters. In fact, it makes us a better company. Does your organization do the same?

Fools, Natitude, and Competition

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Marshall is on the The Motley Fool’s IT team, which helps Fools out with their hardware and software needs.

By Marshall Mabie

Non-spoiler alert:

Fools love to compete. And we love to learn.

A lot of us are big sports fans – I am born and raised in the DC Metro area, so I have a certain amount of passion for the local sports teams. When perusing the Washington Post recently, I came across this article by Barry Svrluga, describing the duties and mindset of the Washington Nationals’ support team. It really hit home.

Now, we don’t support million-dollar athletes, but we do support the best financial analysts in the business. And the best Customer Services team. And the best events and facilities staff. We don’t have any Prima Donnas, which is also nice. But our expectations of our service level is very similar to that of the Nat’s support crew – we always want to put our Fools in the best place for them to perform to their expectations.

Competition and learning seem like they are probably pretty helpful in the professional sports arena. We use these principles too, though maybe in a slightly different way.

Competitive is a core value of the Fool, and we constantly challenge ourselves to take care of our Fools better. Much like players asking each other about how they are treated by their respective organizations, we want to make sure that if anyone asks a Fool how their staff is, they can reply that their needs are over-met. It helps us keep Fools, but also helps us attract new ones.

And you can’t be competitive if you don’t learn about not just others, but yourself. Internal surveys, feedback meetings, and honest self-assessment is as important to us as comparing the latest software suite versions.

When it comes down to it, the details really aren’t that important – it’s about attitude. Our job is preparing a highly-skilled performer to do the best they can do. We don’t move luggage, but we do fine-tune our Fools so that they can take care of our customers with the same care.

A Fool by Any Other Name…

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By Lee Burbage

Here at FoolHQ, change is in the air. We are in the process of implementing a new Human Resource Information System platform, and it’s an interesting time for everyone as we learn about our new tool, adjust to our new processes, and transfer all of our data. We have chosen to go with Namely as our new enterprise HR system. They are one of the newer kids on the block, and they resonated with us because their platform intuitively captures growth and allows us to seamlessly grow without dropping any data between the cracks. As we make the transition to our new HR system, one piece of data caught my eye.

One of the fields we needed to include in our new platform was job titles. Once these titles were uploaded, Fools could log in and select which one applies to them. For most companies, this simple step probably requires little thought.  I’m picturing a drop-down menu with a basic, humdrum list that includes “Analyst,” “Developer,” and “Accountant.” But there’s nothing basic and humdrum about us, is there? With north of 315 employees at the Fool, I’m thinking our drop down menu will include about 300 unique-as-a-snowflake titles. And we are totally OK with that.

At the Fool, we let our employees choose whatever job title they want. We care much more about the awesome work you’re producing than the title in your email signature. (We use the same reasoning for our casual dress code- is your work less awesome if you do it in flip flops?  I didn’t think so). I can’t help but laugh at how hung up people can get on titles- like all their hopes and dreams are tied into these few words.  What will be different about the role you play and the difference you make today vs. tomorrow if you had a different title?  I imagine not much would change. Our challenge to Fools is to create a Funktional title- something fun and funky that tells us a little about what you do.

So with the freedom to choose your own job title, the process to upload them into Namely took a little longer for us.  In the constant search for efficiency, we realize there are some things that are worth the extra time.  We created a Google Doc and asked all our Fools for their job title submissions.  We should have ordered popcorn as we watched the creative titles roll in.  “World Domination Operations Gladiator” was pretty epic.  “Foolish Beat Dropping Financial Planning Ninja” was a close second, but one of my favorite titles comes from our head of HR who requested that her title be “Resources for Humans.”  The more traditional title of “Human Resources” highlights how many companies view their employees as resources to be used by the company. “Resources for Humans” puts a spotlight on our servant leadership approach; we are here to serve our Fools.  How can we help you today?

The Most Important Skill Any Techie Should Have

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By Marshall Mabie

Not sure that it’s a secret, but it may come as a surprise to many folks that the most important skill in the tech industry isn’t tech skill – it’s prioritization. I’ve worked in tech for 15 years, so that’s the lens I see it through, but I wonder if maybe that is true throughout business skills of any kind.

My name is Marshall, and I’m a member of the Fool’s desktop support team – if any employees are having any technical issues, it my team’s job to fix it. And again, tech skill isn’t our first tool.

It is prioritization.

Our list of importance is simple:

  1. Customer
  2. Company
  3. Fools
  4. Fool

Customer: The first and most important issue we focus on is making sure the folks who pay us get their money’s worth – the site is at their beck and call, and they have the strongest customer service ready to help them with any issue, tech or not. Our amazing Member Services team takes care of most of that, but as they have the most direct conversations with our members, the tech team makes sure we take care of the Member Services team’s requests.

Company: Okay, we are taking care of the people who pay us for our services. Now we need to make sure the company is in good shape to continue to make good on those promises. We keep our data secure and give our analysts and writers the easiest way to analyze that data.

The last two are intertwined: “The strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf”

Fools/Customers/Users: Different companies use different terms for the in-house fellow employees they fix issues for. At the Fool, unsurprisingly, we call them Fools. Whatever their designation, in the words of Monsieur Spock, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Our aim is to always address the issues that affect the highest number of Fools. For example, if email is down, that’s a huge issue. Information is not being shared as well as it could be, thereby affecting the business’ ability to serve our customers’ needs. So, yeah, that’s an all-hands-on-deck issue. Importantly, even if we are not directly involved in the solving of the issue, it is very important that we are visible and approachable – we are there to let you customers know what is being done, and to address any concerns.

It is our job to provide concise, accurate information for our internal users – if something is down, given the facts, they can re-arrange their time to continue to be effective. And no baloney! Admit mistakes, explain them, and educate as to what will be done to provide not just continuous service, but what will be improved upon. Admitting a mistake isn’t always easy, but coming clean creates a much stronger sense of trust with your constituents. They know that you aren’t hiding anything. That creates more confidence than any duck-and-cover strategy.

Finally, the individual user. They make the company run. Mostly, they have small problems, like broken mice, software licensing, etc. Sometimes they have big issues – and prioritization again takes over here. It’s easy as a techie to get too deep into how to fix a problem. It’s Sherlockian, the thrill of the hunt. It’s also pointless, because it is not our job to hunt down the obscure issue. Our job is to make sure our user/customer is able to do their job – we examine any issue through the Return On Investment filter – how much work is it going to take us to get this user back to the place they want to be? If that’s too high, get them a new machine and research the issue when you have some spare cycles. Just make sure your user is on their feet and doing what they are paid to be doing.

Ultimately, our job is judging the tech blockers of the company, and continuously considering the needs of our customers. And prioritizing is one of the best weapons in our arsenal.

  • Take care of who pays your company, because they are the company’s lifeblood. Treat them well.
  • Make sure the company can take care of those expectations. Think long-term.
  • Take care of the people who make up your company, and make sure the individuals in your company have no blockers to do what they are charged to do.

It can be hard to keep this in mind in the midst of the day-to-day, and keeping an eye on the big picture while responding to the immediate can be tough. Focusing on prioritization can be a useful tool in your process.

Contributing to Amazon’s Most Well-Read City

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Malcolm Gladwell, one of the many authors to visit Fool HQ, spoke at a recent member event.

By Laurie Street

Whether it’s a biography or the latest best-seller, I’ve always loved to read. My constant desire for a good book in hand explains why Bookie Monster is one of my favorite employee benefits here. Though I’ve already praised this program on this blog, my curiosity was recently sparked when I learned that Amazon rated Fool HQ’s home of Alexandria, Virginia, #1 on their list of most well-read cities — for the third year in a row!

Our company prides itself in helping Fools expand their knowledge. We cover order requests through Amazon and, in just three months, we’ve purchased nearly 300 books at a tab close to $4000. These statistics apply to both work-related materials and personal requests.

Free books are wonderful to any employee who enjoys professional or leisurely reading, but I love that Bookie Monster also celebrates our core value of Collaboration. Washington Business Journal lists Amazon’s top three sellers at the time this data was published, and I know of several Fools reading at least two — Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Both of these novels have sparked conversations that I’ve been a part of, as well as a few that I’ve overheard around the office.

Speaking of in-depth discussions, all Fools have the opportunity to attend monthly Book Club meetings that are supported by Bookie Monster. We recently finished John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and a small group of Fools attended a showing of the newly-released film. Bookie Monster is also important to our Speaker Series, which we’ve hosted since 2008. This series has allowed Fools to interact with amazing entrepreneurs and businesspeople, many of whom are writers. Fools can order the author’s work and read it before their visit. Bookie Monster encourages Fools to explore new subjects and discussions.

While Alexandria is certainly an large area with lots of voracious readers, I can’t help but think the Fool contributed at least a little to its acclaimed title. As The Motley Fool grows, this program continues to be successful; in fact, 119 new Fool employees have ordered at least one book so far.

Would you become more of a reader if your company offered this benefit?

CEO Tom Gardner Talks Conscious Capitalism

Tom Gardner was interviewed by Professor R. Edward Freeman of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business as part of a Coursera class called “New Models of Business in Society.” Watch him talk about how The Fool aims to be different from Wall Street and disrupt financial advice, unique ways we increase employee engagement, how we created our company values and live by them, and more!