Business is global, or at least it is here at The Motley Fool. With the help of technology, we support full-time Fools in Australia, Germany, Canada, and beyond. While some remote Fools work from home, did you know that we have an office in London? And another in NYC? As the need for communicating outside the walls of FoolHQ becomes more important, we’re constantly in search of tools that will help us.
Fools rely heavily on email, Skype, Trello, and even the good ole’ telephone to get in touch. Our intranet is useful for company-wide announcements, plus Slack is another great tool for efficient communication. A few other takeaways for mending communication gaps:
1. Consider the time zone.
Scheduling can be confusing, especially if you’re working with many people in different places. Be considerate of others’ schedules by checking time comparisons and reaching out beforehand to ask what time of day is more convenient.
2. Face-to-face communication matters.
We want all Fools to have the same opportunities for collaboration, and live meetings through Skype or Google Hangouts can sometimes be more effective than email. Consider limiting these meetings to 2-3 people for maximum collaboration.
3. Get together in one place.
Full-time employees are encouraged to attend our annual Foolapalooza retreat for a chance to learn more about the business, bond with fellow Fools, and compete in the occasional Australian kangaroo boxing match. Time away from the office serves as a great opportunity to meet Fools – and in the same time zone, no less.
How does your organization work best with remote employees? Do you have any awesome global communication tips?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Marshall is on the The Motley Fool’s IT team, which helps Fools out with their hardware and software needs.
By Marshall Mabie
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.
Take a moment to consider an all-too-typical customer service experience. Perhaps you’ve been kept on hold with an automated recording, waiting for a representative that’s headquartered in a large – and very busy – call center. What’s worse is discovering that this electronic guide is actually your only contact, and no live human is even available. Whether it’s a cable company, credit card service, or your phone provider, I feel confident that you’ve been on the losing end of a frustrating customer service experience.
The Fool aims to make its customer service experience far, far better than what people have (sadly) gotten used to. Our hard-working Member Services team is comprised of approximately ten in-house employees, as well as a few contractors who work remotely via email. We are not recordings, but instead real, live voices that are willing and able to assist with any issue that’s presented. Our phones receive anywhere from 100 to 500 calls per day! We take pride in our ability to connect with Fool members on a personal level, while still handling the matters at hand both quickly and efficiently.
Available to help from 9AM-5PM ET Monday through Friday, our group isn’t always able to ride around the office on scooters, attend in-house speaker series, or join a local afternoon brewery tour. While our daily schedules are somewhat constricted, this department strives to enjoy its own Foolish culture. We take the company’s core value “Motley” and make it our own. During our busiest periods, we collaborate to implement strategies that keep our momentum high and stress levels low. We’ve organized pot luck lunches, as well as morning treats for the team – be it a box of donuts, the freshest loaf of pumpkin bread, or Starbucks coffee for all. Our wireless headphones allow for mobility to make one more plate of food or, on a more serious note, take a brief walk for stretching. And speaking of walks, the nearby game room is a nice distraction, as well as a place to spark healthy competition between coworkers on quieter days.
If you’re a Fool in need of some assistance, don’t hesitate to drop us a line at email@example.com! We’re happy to help make your Foolish experience the best it can be.
A group of Fools took a trip down the street to Port City Brewing Company, a maker of craft beer in Alexandria, VA. We toured the brewery, learned facts about their process (some of their glass bottles are made from the sand of Virginia beaches — how’s that for locally sourced?), and, of course, participated in a tasting. Studying other businesses can be a lot of fun, especially when those businesses are our neighbors. Cheers!
Recently I’ve noticed a few articles popping up claiming that cool offices and no vacation policy are somehow a myth, a scam, a sneaky way for The Man to keep you down. Here was the first line of one recent article: “Don’t be fooled by the perks at all those Silicon Valley (and Alley) offices — it’s all just part of a subtle plot to control employee behavior.” At The Motley Fool we have one of those cool offices and we chose not to enact a vacation policy 20 years ago, so my first reaction is to mail out some peanut butter to go with the author’s jealousy.
The focus of these negative articles is often on the game table, the casual dress, or the non-policy. Those are the outcome of what a cool office is actually about – trust and autonomy. None of the fun of a cool office can be provided without the right culture around it.
At The Fool we put a lot of time and energy in to recruiting the best employees. We are quite picky, we take our time with the hiring process, and we dislike increasing the employee headcount without good reason. When new hires arrive, we trust them to do what they were hired to do. We find that when we get out of the way, people choose their own path and create their own way of getting their work done. They tell us how they like to work and what they need. The fun toys, the desks on wheels, and the flexible hours are all what employees have asked us for. We aren’t scheming to invent ways to control employees, we’re giving them what they want to work effectively and be happy. If your study is finding that people at a company are taking fewer vacations or working longer hours, it isn’t because of the policy. The reason is you haven’t built a culture of trust.
I am reminded of a great line I once heard from Libby Sartain, former Southwest Culture guru, “Every Office has a culture. Every culture isn’t for everyone. Find the culture that fits you.”
At The Motley Fool, we know who we are, we work hard to find people that will add to our culture, and we look for every opportunity to support our team members. We do this because it works. It shows up in all our numbers no matter how you slice them. For instance, we have the highest employee engagement score by far that I’ve ever seen using the Gallup methodology.
We aren’t The Man plotting to keep our team down and take advantage of them. We are Fools working for our employees and doing everything we can to unleash them to do their best work how they’d like to do it.