Olympics Are Increasing Productivity

XBox as a sport?

XBox as a sport?Is the Olympics killing your business? Every two years, companies worry about the drop in productivity that might happen if employees focus too much on watching television and checking medal counts online. Even without the distraction of a major televised sporting event, lots of companies discourage time away from one’s desk. If you’ve been keeping up with this blog at all, you’ve probably already guessed that the Fool does things differently!

Obviously, companies want to get the most value out of each of their employees. But creating a culture of non-stop, nose-to-the-grindstone working isn’t going to accomplish that. Quite the opposite – a seemingly counterintuitive approach that allows for breaks will actually make your employees work harder and get more done. It’s science!

Study after study has proven that the best and most sustainable way to work is to take short breaks throughout the day. This system also works well when studying for a test – taking a breather after a burst of uninterrupted studying allows your brain to retain more information. And since sitting all day apparently will kill you, the occasional 10-minute stroll around the office park has even more benefits than helping clear your head.

Beyond just taking a break on your own, gathering around the water cooler with your colleagues goes far beyond looping you in on office gossip. It makes a company, overall, a happier place to work. And employees are still more productive than they would be without breaks!

At the Fool, we have televisions all over the office. Whether it’s the Olympics, March Madness, or presidential election coverage, Fools are welcome to take a break and watch some TV. It creates a more fun and trusting environment, and makes us all closer to each other!

So the next time your employees are gathered around the break room television cheering on Michael Phelps, you should join them. You’ll bond, you’ll relax, and you’ll return to your desk ready to tackle your work.

Keep Learning…Wherever You Go

BicycleSPACE

BicycleSPACEThe proverbial “they” say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. “They” also say that one should be constantly learning and growing. At The Motley Fool, we believe a bit of both. While we know we’re a great place to work, we also know that other businesses are doing incredible things when it comes to taking care of their employees and customers. Fortunately for us, most places are generous in sharing with us what makes them so special.

We’ve sent Fools out on what we call Expeditions in Learning to well-known companies like Zappos, REI, and Whole Foods. But some great places to check out might be right in your own backyard – or in my case, down the street. BicycleSPACE is a bike shop in my up-and-coming DC neighborhood that has quickly become a center for the city’s cycling community. The owner graciously spent time with me recently, and here’s what I learned:

  1. Hire the best people and take care of them: BicycleSPACE’s mechanics, combined, have decades of experience building and maintaining bikes. I’ve had my bike tuned up there, and have sent friends there when their own bikes needed repairs. After meeting the staff, I wouldn’t send my bike anywhere else. Usually winter is a slow time for bike shops, but to keep their staff working (and bringing home paychecks), BicycleSPACE offered a Groupon for tune-ups. They didn’t make much money off of the deal, but it kept the shop busy and morale high.
  2. Know your Business: The mechanics, as I mentioned, are extremely skilled. The buyer has been a self-proclaimed bike nerd since childhood. The owner works with the DC city council on bike advocacy issues. They don’t just sell bikes to whoever will pay for them – they know and stand behind the products they sell, they understand how city politics can affect their business, and they understand their competition. That said…
  3. Don’t sweat the competition: Do what you do best, and the business will come. In the case of cycling, competition is a good thing. The more bike shops there are, the more biking becomes a normal part of life in DC. This ultimately benefits BicycleSPACE in the long run.
  4. Be welcoming to everyone: In the U.S., most cycling is done for sport. Walking into a shop as a newbie can be intimidating – the gear, the $3000 road bikes…if you’re not a triathlete, you feel like you just crashed a party. BicycleSPACE aims to make everyone feel like they belong. If you tell them you’re buying your first bike since childhood, and you want it to be red and have a wicker basket on the front handlebars, they congratulate you and hook you up with a bike that fits your needs and budget. At The Fool, we know investing is an intimidating thing for people to do for the first time. If they think they missed the boat and started too late, we just congratulate them for joining us and help them get started!
  5. Build a community: BicycleSPACE offers informal rides, yoga classes, and other events that generate word-of-mouth publicity and create new customers. It’s also a great way to market toward women because women really value community. At The Fool, our community is a rich source of investing information, and a pool of people we often hire from.

I learned all of that in one hour! If you have the time, I encourage all of you to take your own Expedition in Learning. Interview the owner of a local business, or check out a company headquartered in your hometown. You never know what you can learn or what idea the visit may spark.

Washington Post On Fool Health

Ben Sterling and Billy Blanks

The Fool got some great love from Vicky Hallett at the Washington Post today: 

The Motley Fool might be the healthiest workplace in Washington

Don’t pity the Motley Fool. And certainly don’t pity Ben Sterling, a 29-year-old who’s been with the financial services company in Alexandria since 2007. When he decided to quit his software-testing job to follow his dream of becoming a personal trainer, his bosses asked him to stay on as the trainer for the office’s 200 employees. His title for the past year: the Wellness Fool.

As the first person to fill the position, he’s been responsible for managing all of the company’s wellness initiatives, which include health fairs, subsidized visits from a masseuse (it’s $5 for 20 minutes, $10 for 40), exercise activities and a vending machine overhaul.

“We’re trying to get people on the right path,” says Sterling, who knows what it’s like to stray. It was his personal experience of losing 50 pounds in college that inspired him to pursue fitness professionally.

Back when he arrived at the Fool, Sterling learned that the company encourages the creation of clubs. There’s one for knitting, another for wine. Sterling formed the fitness club and began leading boot-camp-style classes. With his new job, that’s evolved into Foolish Fitness, hour-long exercise sessions he holds five times a week in a conference room.

“There are tons of amazing benefits here, but this is by far the best one,” says 35-year-old Liz Cherry, who works in marketing. (Those other benefits include unlimited paid vacation, by the way.) She hasn’t had much time to get to the gym since having a baby, but she can always make it to a class down the hall at 4 p.m. And she feels even better knowing there’s encouragement from the top. “The CEO gave us permission,” Cherry says. “If he’s hired Ben, he wants us to do it.”

It’s easy to see why. Forty-year-old Vivek Karandikar, a database administrator, credits Sterling’s classes for motivating him to accomplish things he never would have done on his own. Committing to the exercise program has allowed him to get off of several medications.

For co-workers who’d prefer free one-on-one training, Sterling does that, too, at the office or at nearby Jungle’s Gym (where the company reserves the basketball courts on certain mornings). He can’t feasibly meet with everyone weekly but instead focuses the sessions on developing fitness plans. He checks back every four to six weeks and adjusts exercises accordingly.

Between the classes and individual training sessions, he’s worked with more than half of the employees in the office.

Stocking up

Everyone on staff has tasted the fruits of another of his labors: the healthy fridges. There used to be crackers, chips, candy and cookies for the taking scattered all over the office, but now twice a week Sterling stocks two fridges full of an assortment of goodies from Whole Foods Market: wraps, Greek yogurt, bowls of fruit, string cheese, hummus and veggies. “It’s all free,” he says. “They can take food whenever they want to. We just ask people not to abuse it.”

Still hungry? The vending machines also look different these days. Although you can still find some naughty stuff, it’s no longer subsidized by the company. Candy used to cost a quarter, Sterling says. Now, it’s a buck. That money has gone to help lower the cost of better choices. One machine is entirely stocked with discounted smarter snacks, including bags ofPirate’s Booty for 50 cents and Clif Bars for 75 cents.

The next step

The Fool also has some competing, less healthy traditions (pizza day and cake day, for example), but overall Sterling has found that the biggest barrier to progress is that his co-workers are mostly active, happy people already. A nurse who came to the most recent health fair to perform screenings told Sterling that it was the healthiest company she’d ever seen.

So though it’s been easy to connect with most employees, Sterling’s goal for 2012 is to reach out to every single one of them. He recently started a meditation program, and attendance has grown from month to month. He’s considering targeting specific teams with fitness classes. And he hopes to lure in stragglers with monthly challenges.

The first one, in February, was called “Stand and Deliver.” “Any time the phone rings, you make a call, send an e-mail or get an e-mail, you stand up,” Sterling explains. If you manage to stick to the challenge for a whole day, you tell him and get entered for a chance to win gift cards at the end of the month. The more days you do it, the better your odds of winning.

Of course, if you work at the Motley Fool, it sounds as if you’ll already feel like a winner.