One thing we’ve learned over the last year is that a lot of work can be done remotely. Meetings can happen over Zoom. Spare rooms can be turned into offices. But now that the old physical workplaces are starting to reopen, what does work even look like? As an employee? As a business? In this episode of Rule Breaker Investing, Motley Fool Human Resources superstars Lee Burbage and Kara Chambers are here to help us make the best of what’s to come.
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This video was recorded on May 5, 2021.
David Gardner: The date was December 2nd, 2015, that was the first Rule Breaker Investing podcasts where I thought, what’s the heck? Let’s try it. Maybe people will enjoy not just stock tips on this podcast, but business tips as well. I had my friends Kara Chambers and Lee Burbage join me and we did 10 Traits Of A Great Company Culture. Now, we didn’t call it volume one, but sure enough that day tipped off an episodic series over the years focused on company culture. Such an important thing to me is a conscious capitalist. Something we do once or twice a year sharing our best ideas on this podcast about how to make your workplace more successful, more fun, more Foolish, and hoping, of course, to hear back from you, some further ways in which we might improve ours. Well, so many of us worked from home in 2020, and now so many of us may return to an office in 2021 or not. Phrases like the new normal are transitioning from some positions banded about to reality. Although if you’re like me, you’re still scratching your head about these hybrid offices. I asked our dynamic duo, Kara and Lee, to join me this week to talk about Company Culture Tips Volume 8, the new normal. Only on this week’s Real Breaker Investing.
Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing, thanks for joining us this weekend. It’s time for some company culture tips. This is a series, as I mentioned, that we started over five years ago and this is the eighth in that long-running series. I told my dynamic duo, my felicitous fools, the sultans of SWAT. I told Kara Chambers and Lee Burbage that we should do this one on returning to work for 2021. A big theme, of course, for many of us in the workplace and each of them decided to think from the point of view of either the employer or the employee. We have five tips for employees which a lot of us are. Returning back to work whatever that looks like this year, Kara will be featuring her five good thoughts for you as an employee, and Lee will be coming out as the employer. We have a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of small business people, and big business people listening to this podcast, and you might want to know what we’re doing at the Motley Fool as an employer.
I should also mention ahead of time that we’re intending a virtual first hybrid approach to work that would be very different from the first 27 years of the Motley Fool. I’ll be really interested to hear Lee’s points of view as we return to work in a slightly new form as a hybrid employer, that’ll be the focus of his list of five tips. Well, I’ve talked too long. I want to make sure now I welcome Kara Chambers and Lee Burbage. Kara and Lee, I called you earlier the dynamic duo, felicitous Fools, the sultans of SWAT and not baseball, of course. Welcome back to both of you.
LeeBurbage: Thanks for having us.
Kara Chambers: I’m going to update my business cards though.
Burbage: […] Business cards. [laughs]
Gardner: Oh, yes business cards, part of a hybrid workplace we’ll see. It’s funny, I was thinking about this series recently, Kara and Lee, and we did this December of 2015 the first time. Kara, you’d been at the Motley Fool 10 years down and Lee, you’ve been at The Motley Fool 17 years back then and now Kara and Lee, 15 and 22 years respectively at The Motley Fool, a combined 37 full years of service at The Motley Fool. I’m just so delighted that you both embraced what we try to get all of our employees to think, which is the last job you’re ever going to have. Kara and Lee, it’s just a delight to have you back, thank you for joining with me.
Chambers: Thank you.
Gardner: I wanted to do our greatest hits, we’re going to get to that at some point. Once you’ve done seven or eight or nine of these, it’s fair to do the 10th as the greatest hits. What were the 10 best tips for a company culture that we’ve had? I was expecting to do that last time or even this time but then COVID. Instead, to focus on extreme relevance, which is what I’m always shooting for, we had to talk last year about a Zoom-dominated work world and this year, yes, let’s talk about returning to work and the new normal. Kara, let me turn to you before we get started. It occurs to me, I think we had something like 375 employees at The Motley Fool when we closed down our offices, locked them, and didn’t let anybody come back and that was March 6th or 8th of 2020, as I recall and here we are now in May of 2021, nobody has set foot in Fool HQ in 14 months and I think we’ve hired about 200 people. I’m just curious, Kara, your perspective on that growth and on boarding, and how do you do what you do now?
Chambers: Yeah. In a way, this a great experiment we’ve all been forced into for sad reasons but I think it helped us really pivot and learn to grow quickly. Our recruiting team has been able to bring people in from different locations. We’ve been able to quickly get people on a call and solve some of those logistics without travel. I think everyone is eager to see those new faces. I will say that there is a slightly fun little perk. I know everyone’s name is at the bottom of the resume square. I have realized it has solved some of the awkwardness of forgetting people’s names [laughs] because they’re right in front of you. I learned that there has been a perk with new Fools every time and so we have really made an effort to just bring our new Fools in. My role at The Fool does a lot of our employee surveys and that’s something we very closely monitor and make sure our new Fools feel welcome and happy and part of our culture from day one. We’re proud of that I would say.
Gardner: You know how problematic it is when somebody hasn’t changed their spouse or partner’s name on Zoom and all of a sudden you call [laughs] by the wrong name. People, we all need to know how to rename ourselves on Zoom. If you don’t know that, dear listener, take an extra minute or two, look through the Zoom preferences and know how to change that name. Let me turn now to Lee. Lee, what’s life been like for you?
Burbage: Life’s been a bit of a transition, David. I would say when we started all this, I was someone who was more regularly going into the office, less likely to work from home. I’ve adjusted. I had a fairly new dog when we started the process. I have two sons that were suddenly working alongside me and my wife and so I had a different office experiment basically here at home. It was a little rough at first I’ll say but here we are a year later, a little over a year later and I feel like I got the rhythm down. I’m a lot more used to working from home and I’m finding the joys in it.
Gardner: Lee, I hope you are going to come back to our office though. You haven’t locked down permanently, have you? I’d like to see you again.
Burbage: I don’t think so. I’m excited about the flexibility of having both, now I have two offices.
Gardner: [laughs] Well, thank you both for the little bit of taking the temperature since we only hear from you every six to nine months or so. It’s always great to check-in and a lot has changed. We’re going to talk about that this week, so let’s get it started. We’re going to present five tips for employees and five tips for employers. As we returned to work in the new normal, it is a threat bear phrase, by the way, but I’m using it this week because a lot of other people know what that means. It’s ambiguous enough that it’s hard to know what it really means. Let me turn to Kara, then Kara you’re going to be focused on employees, which is most of us trying to bring our new best selves to the new workplace. Let’s start with tip No. 1, Kara?
Chambers: Sure. I chose it as an opportunity, I’m a geek for reading books about how people work best and learning about that. I use it when I put on my coaching hub at The Fool. This was an opportunity to pull out some greatest hits of things I’ve learned over the past year that we can all use to make our workplace better. I’m going to start with one book I’ve read recently by an author named Cal Newport. He wrote this book called The End of E-mail. It turns out it’s not really about email at all, it’s about what he calls the hyperactive hive mind. His argument is that we work in such a way now that for the past 30 years, you can ask anyone to do work for you at your work by emailing them, and so hacking them. Then just in two minutes, give someone a half an hour of work and it just piles and piles and it’s constant. It was never designed like that. It evolved by accident.
He talks a lot about reducing that hyperactive hive mind where you all have to be on and shifting toward more asynchronous work. Things like working in a Google Doc together at different time lines. Thinking about being a big fan of Trello, and other options where you’re working but you are updating each other and then you can go in and look at that later without this constant stream of things on your phone. I’m working right now on a project because some people in Australia, until we’ve got a cello board, so I don’t constantly wake up to like a bunch of Slacks and emails. To me, I thought that was really helpful as we’re working into our time zones and I’m talking about how we all even work different hours. It really helps us learn to work without interrupting each other all the time. He says very few companies can set strict rules like no Slack after 3:00 PM on Fridays or something. Because we’re also flexible, but thinking about managing yourselves and getting your work done and creating your own boundaries and working with other people. I thought it was really helpful and I was starting with that one is a framing. Probably most of us that are knowledge workers are familiar with the hyperactive hive mind and thinking about designing your work in such a way that you can manage your own boundaries. That was one. Be aware of the hyperactive hive mind.
Gardner: You say a lot of people know that phrase, hyperactive hive mind. Kara, I have read a little bit of Cal Newport’s book because you pointed me to it, and yet I don’t think that’s a phrase that comes tripping really off the tongue. Although I think it’s a truism and an excellent reflection of his. I think the implication is in some ways that you couldn’t really turn work up as soon as the email was unleashed upon the world. This new E-beast was loosed from its cage and all of a sudden, all of us had always thought, “My email box is a permission for anybody in the world at any point to send me something that I have to deal with.” If I want to be responsive, or responsible, not everybody tries to be responsive and I respect that too. I’m somebody who has really reworked my entire life around knocking-off all of my emails throughout all seven days of the week for years and years now but I do see what you are saying that it creates a burden.
Chambers: That’s right. I think that that really helped me think about it. It is on us to learn to manage our own inflow. A lot of times we get employee suggestions like, can we tell people not to Slack after 6:00 PM and I think it really helps me frame as, let me teach you how to turn your phone off after 6:00 PM. Or maybe for you it’s 3:00 PM, but as long as you’ve got your new job done, it should be OK, and that really feels Foolish to how we work. We’re not going to tell you you’re not allowed to Slack at this hour, or whatever.
Gardner: It is on each of us and I think that’s really important. Kara, I already hear you foreshadowing another of your points about how some of us are on different clocks and others even in the same time zone. But we’re going to pack that for now and move our focus over to Lee Burbage. Lee, you are focused here on employers and The Motley Fool is one such and we are taking a new approach. I hope it works. If it doesn’t, I’m sure we can evolve or adapt further. But you’re going to be presenting more of a hybrid mindset. For some of our listeners, they’re returning to a work that’s like that. It will be a new form. Many others may not be, but might be curious what the new work looks or sounds like. With employer tip No. 1, Lee, start to inform us, what do you got?
Burbage: Yeah. Hopefully for each of these there’s a little something in there for everybody regardless of where you are or where you’re headed. That relates to my first bullet. I think what we’ve learned so far is Kara, and I went away and like, “Oh we’re going to figure this out and then we’ll come back and present it to everybody, the way that the office is going to work.” But what we realized fairly quickly as it’s going to be different for everybody. For humans, change is difficult. It takes a little time to process to get used to the idea. Kara and I meeting every day and talking about it, it was getting easier for us because we are working through those stages of accepting change and processing. We realized we weren’t involving the rest of the company and they needed to be on that journey with us. It started with me saying that in a company meeting. Though one thing that I can promise, everyone has changed. For every person, there’s going to be something different. Even if you’re the person who’s going back to the office and trying to do things the same way that you were, it’s highly likely the person that used to sit next to you is now on a different schedule or doing something different. We know change is going to be different for everybody, so we dedicated ourselves to communicating frequently about the things that we were learning, the things that we’re thinking about. Trying to tell people, “Here are the things we know are going to change. Here’s the things we’re unsure about, here are some questions we have.” My No. 1 recommendation for employers is don’t be in a backroom trying to figure out how things are going to change. Communicate more frequently so that all of your employees are on that ride with you. Again, because change is hard for people, it takes time to process and get used to things.
Gardner: Over communicate, or at least if you’re going to earn one side of the other, earn on the over.
Burbage: It may seem obvious when we say communication a lot to solve problems at work. That’s a common word. But for us at least we found this was a zone where we really needed to lean into and even more than what we normally did.
Gardner: It feels like especially at a corporate level as an employer, Lee, while you can hope that an individual manager, Mike had the light bulb goes on over her head thinking, “Oh, yeah, I should communicate more.” But it sounds like you need to bake it into your processes or into how you do what you do. Not just expect or hope that individual employees will get it.
Gardner: Let’s move back to Kara, speaking to employees. Kara, what is tip No. 2 for employees in the new work world?
Chambers: Tip No. 2 is from a favorite friend of The Fool. Daniel Pink was an author. He wrote a book called When. The tip is about managing your peak hours and being aware of them. His research says that we all have natural times of the day where we’re at our best, and natural times we’re not. The joy of having a flexible work environment is that you can work your own hours. We were doing that at The Fool. But naturally you want to all be there at once. Again, as we’re shifting to working when you want, there’s more and more expectations. You can work early in the morning if that’s when you work best or late at night. There’s a term I’ve heard for a working parent called the split shifts, where you drop-off at three when the kids are getting done with school, and then all of a sudden we see them again around 8:30 or 9:00, and working for another hour or two then on their time. That’s not uncommon. His research says that we all have optimal times a day or more working best, and so if you have the ability to design your day, where I am going to get to toward the end of this podcast, learning about yourself and figuring out when you work best is really helpful.
If I have time, I will throw in one tip that I want to share with the world that I really loved from this book is this concept called the nappuccino, [laughs] which is, he has the science of taking a good nap in the afternoon. [laughs] I only do this one when I travel. But if you chuck a cup of coffee at around 2:00 PM and then take a nap for exactly 25 minutes, you’re going to wake up as soon as that caffeine kicks in, [laughs] and feel amazing. I have shared that tip with every sleep deprived first and I talked to, like a kid was up all night or something. I might try this, it works, and so I will share that with the world. It was one of my favorite tips from the book and it’s a life-changing tip. That’s all I got.
Gardner: Thank you. Yeah, Dan Pink has been on this podcast before talking about his book. One thing I remember from that book, another side tip, is that if you’re going to be scheduling surgery or something, let’s say a little bit more harmless but still not great like a colonoscopy, schedule it in the morning, not the afternoon. Now, if the whole world acts on this, then hospitals [laughs] are going to be overburdened in the mornings and have no work to do in the afternoons. They might have to change their own hours, and of course all of us are on different clocks, which I do believe is genetic for a lot of us in behavioral as well. But yeah, it turns out physicians make far fewer mistakes in the morning when they’ve had their nappuccino , but it was eight hours and coffee. In the afternoons it is not so good. They’re not taking the nappuccino at your local hospital, and so a tip for Fools everywhere to consider scheduling morning surgery. Headed back to employees; Lee, tip No. 2.
Burbage: This is David Gardner’s tip that I’m going to toss about some guidance that you gave Kara and I in a moment where we laughed pretty hard once we realized how right you are. When you’re working on projects like reinventing the world of work, and you’re thinking through all the issues and so forth. I think Kara and I found ourselves in a little bit of a dark place where we’re thinking of all the challenges that we’re going to come with. I came to you and it was like, ”David, I think there’s some serious change coming and here’s all the downsides.” I think your exact line to me with something like, ”Lee, that doesn’t sound like a very fun place to work.” I was like, Oh my gosh, you’re so right, and I realized in that moment, and then after Kara and I and our team talked it through. Every situation has pros and cons. You can choose where you want to focus and how you want to focus.
We really shifted our mind in that moment to all the incredible benefits that we’re going to come with the change that was coming for us. I know that it helped Kara and I’s mindset, and our team’s mindset. I’m excited about that for the company. Tip No. 2 is, don’t get mired in the negatives or the cons or the challenge that is going to come. Look at the incredible benefits for you, for your company, for the world even, in this new world of work. It could be things like no commuting or less commuting, more flexibility in the way that you work, less travel, more travel. It depends. But I promise that if you look at the new situation, there’s going to be some amazing things that you didn’t have before that you have now, and there’s some really good joyful energy that comes from focusing on the benefits of the new way that we’ll all be working.
Gardner: Yes, sometimes it helps to pause and say, ”What can go right?” I’m not sure I was that succinct in that conversation you’re referencing, Lee, but it’s not just appropriate for this conversation this week. But of course, a lot of times that’s the right question asked in life. I think we try to learn lessons from our failures, and I understand why we want to do that, and it definitely makes us feel better when we can say, well, I failed but here’s what I learned and I’m better for it today. That’s an important process but I also know everyone wants to get too mired in focusing on failures, trying to learn all our lessons from that. What can go right? What is going right? What can we build on? Lee, I realized I’ve said we’re moving into a hybrid workplace, etc. I have to admit though, even as our co-founder and co-chairman, I’m not exactly sure what you and Kara are cooking up.
Maybe just before we move onto the next point, you could just briefly describe how The Motley Fool will come back to work when it does somewhere around August 1st of this year. Yes, reentering our offices, we used to call it Fool HQ. I’m not even sure we’re going to call it HQ anymore because we have multiple offices in new places and I’m not sure we would say HQ. But Lee, could you give us a little bit of a reset? Could you give my listeners an understanding of how The Motley Fool is going back to work, and maybe a couple of points where it is different than before?
Burbage: Yeah. I think one of the real positives is, we’re going to further emphasize that you are in control of how you’d like to work and give you the flexibility to do that. We are still going to have office space that if we choose to, you can go into at some frequency, that’s really up to you. I think the big difference for us is twofold. One, you are probably going to go into the office because you have a reason to go into. Or I think, at least in our working world and pre-pandemic, you would stay home because you had a reason to. I think those two things will be flipped. Then the second piece is a big challenge. I’ll say, we don’t necessarily have all the answers yet, but we’re really focused on, is that no matter where you are working from, you can and will be successful. Our office culture was one previously, the company has been around 28 years now, I think, and was designed and built around a strong office culture. What we found was, it was difficult to be the one remote person working on Zoom and consent while everybody else was in the office.
Gardner: In Virginia, right?
Burbage: In Virginia, yes. We’re choosing not to accept that, and we’re saying no matter where you are, we want you to know that you can be highly successful, lead a team, take on big projects, get the promotions you want, do the things that you like to do. That’s a big challenge that we’re focused on for the new world of work. I think it’s going to be a lot of Zoom, a lot of changing, maybe the way that projects were, the way we communicate. But it’s going to be, we think, a much better situation for people to get ahead in the way that they want to, level the playing field, if you will.
Gardner: Thank you for sharing that, Lee. Let’s move back to employees. Kara, sounds like at least at The Motley Fool, there’s more autonomy than I ever had before as an employee No. 9, definitely conscious that not everybody works at an Internet company, at a digital workplace that can fairly easily, in some ways, transition to a hybrid model. I don’t think I want my barista, a hybrid digital person making the coffee in his or her house and driving it over to mine. I think there are a lot of workplaces that probably can’t do some of the things that we’re sharing. But Kara, you’re focused not on the employer, which is unique maybe for The Motley Fool, but on employees is something that we can all do better. What’s tip No. 3?
Chambers: Tip No. 3, I’ve stumbled upon this term for years. It’s called the “Pomodoro technique.” When I talk to people, sometimes working remotely can feel like, especially if you don’t have the energy of an office around you, when you’ve got a big task in front of you and it’s really hard to self motivate, you set autonomy. There’s a term that was invented by a management consultant called Francisco Ceriello, where “pomodoro” means “tomato” in Italian and he took a timer that was shaped like a tomato and set it up for 25 minutes. The idea is you set your timer for 25 minutes and you focus on just one thing, and then you go take a five-minute break. We’re […] four times. That knocks out about two hours worth of work without you diving into your hyperactive hive mind of slacks and emails or your house stray off so you’re like, ”I got at this project to do, but there’s laundry and the dog wants to go out or whatever.”
Most of us we’re living in this digital world where our brains are just really easily distracted. Some people have this talent and most of us don’t. This one helped me. This weekend I was working on my taxes. I’m like, I’m setting the timer. I’m going to do this for 25 minutes, and then I’m going to walk away for a minute. That little technique has been really popular out in the productivity circles. I like it, it’s got a cute name but I’ve seen both sides of that. Some days are wall-to-wall Zoom meetings, constant hyper active hive mind, someday you’ve got a couple of hours in front of you and you’re like, “How am I going to get through this big heavy project?” This tip is for people who are just having a day where they have something big to focus on. It is very hard if you’re in your own home working remotely to put your head down and work. That’s natural. Again, when I talk about four maybe it’s just not a great time for you or something but if you want to get something done, I’ve learned that forcing yourself into these little pockets of, I don’t know why 25 and five, it’s a little arbitrary. [laughs] But five is enough to get up and mock around. You only talk about breaks a lot today, but that one I thought was a fun little one that I think implies to all of us. Work for 25, take a five-minute break, and then all of a sudden you’ve cracked through two hours of work which you could not bring yourself to put your head down for two hours. I couldn’t. That’s my tip, the Pomodoro technique. Google it, my friends. It’s very popular.
Burbage: I’m noticing that Kara turns to focus on a 25-minute block. It sounds like she’s either doing a project for 25 minutes or taking a nap for 25 minutes after taking […] in the office. [laughs]
Chambers: I could [laughs] I’ve never done that during the day or at work, but yeah.
Chambers: Some science, you wouldn’t know.
Gardner: We’re here again. Maybe Cal Newport is going to sell some books this week; The End of E-mail being the book that you’re referencing, you’ve mentioned a couple of times but here again, Kara, I remember having read some of the book. He just talked about the alarming statistics when you hear them about how frequently we’re distracted. It’s like I’m making this number up, but it’s the equivalent of the average worker today looks in a 60 minute period, at their email, Slack, texts, or other social media, I’m making this up, 42 times in 60 minutes, whatever. It’s just unbelievable how if you’re distracted, at its worst, we are, at its best, how connected we are, how ready we are, and listening and learning, it’s not all bad, but it is quite remarkable. But since we’re all on some quest for self-awareness, it’s remarkable to think about admittedly how often I find myself distracted. I think I’m lightly ADD anyway but wow, 25 minutes of just focused time, I like that. If egg timers are like two minutes, it sounds like tomato timers are 25 minutes, and that works for me.
Chambers: Yeah. I can add a little brain science to that if it activates a reward system because any second of any day, something cool could come to you over Slack or email. It could be something amazing, or maybe it’s a nice note from somebody or good news but 99.9% of the time it’s something you have to do or just an update. Our brains are conditioned to this random rewards system of a slot machine that is your phone, or maybe someone liked your post or retweeted you, but maybe it’s just a boring update and so that’s why our brains are so addicted to those phones. There’s no getting rid of it.
Gardner: Well, the Pomodoro Technique’s certainly something I’ll be taking away from this week’s podcasts. Thanks. Lee, let’s go back to you. Tip No. 3 for employers.
Burbage: No. 3 is something that I think we realized pretty quickly on, but took us a minute to figure out the execution and that is to invest in the home office. We budgeted about $500 per person at our company to help people to outfit their home office. We don’t think that this is a long-term thing we’re going to necessarily have to do. I would like to think that the future world of homes will just involve nice home offices or at least a corner that you have set up, it’ll have to be there. But again, right now we’re transitioning and in that transition, what we found was more people than we realized just weren’t set up to work from home. They need a little help and that could be a lot to ask people to, “Hey, you need to get yourself a desk and a comfortable chair that you’re going to sit at for eight hours.” Your sound, Rick, can tell us about how important a good headset is and good volume and lighting, etc. It was a bit of a discussion internally first, but we find it’s been hugely helpful to spend a little bit of money to help people set up their home offices. They’re happy, they’re more productive, the meetings are better, communication is easier, etc., so don’t be afraid to spend a little bit.
Gardner: Love that point, Lee. I want you to brag maybe just a little bit here, because it wasn’t just that we earmarked $500 per employee, I think some of our techies built an entire mini storefront for all of our Motley Fool workers everywhere. Where we could go in and shop for our stuff at the Fool store to make our home offices better. Is that right? I think I got that link.
Burbage: That is mostly right, David. The slight tweak I would make is it wasn’t necessarily our tech team that built it. It was two individuals, one with not a ton of tech background, but she was using Shopify, a Motley Fool recommendation to build out our store quite easily, so we just put in there all the recommended items that we thought people might like. A lot of people don’t have the time or the knowledge base to do the research on what the best headset might be, for instance.
Gardner: My gosh.
Burbage: Yeah. We just built a store where you go in and you shop in the company store to get the things you need. Of course in truthful fashion, we added a few fun items in there like you could purchase a plant for your office. Unfortunately, the office llama, while it is in our store, is currently unavailable for shipping.
Gardner: It’s funny thinking about just curating and saving people time, and I love that we did that using Shopify and that we simplified it. Because my golly, I tried to buy a friend, I knew this friend needed a new alarm clock, an actual one that you would put next year bed because this person likes to have an alarm clock, not just let’s say their Apple watch. Man, just clicking around Amazon, I found myself just overwhelmed by the amount of research I was doing to determine a good clock radio, and then having bought one, it wasn’t even that good. I missed the mark on the gift, which hurt me because I spent way too much time trying to decide what the best clock radio you can get these days is. I think all of us could use somebody else’s help who’s taken the time to curate things for us. Well, anyway, thank you for that. A little bit of brag though shortly on behalf of the team. I love it wasn’t even our tech team, it was at least one non-techie just putting together the Shopify shop for Fools. Kara?
Chambers: I would just add too, if we haven’t said it already, that also is a very Foolish theme of trust. We didn’t check to see how many desks you had at home, it was rolled out with this concept of if you really are going to buy three desks for some reason, there is a lot of that conversation, what could go wrong, what if someone buys three monitors for their kids or something. We were like, no, we trust you. I just really loved that part of the conversation, it felt so Foolish in there. It’s similar to a vacation ball, see we don’t track it. We trust you and it is part of our culture.
Gardner: Great example. Well, let’s move back to the employee side. Tip No. 4 for all of us, Kara, as employees?
Chambers: I’m realizing a lot of my tips are about the same thing which we hear a lot of is taking breaks, but doing so mindfully. We have partnered with a company called LifeLabs Learning that teaches some classes on better Zoom techniques and better working techniques. They threw this term out that I liked, micro meso, macro breaks. Micro break is what I said, that five-minute walk away from your computer, stretch, whatever, you do need that, and Lee is going to touch on that a little bit. The meso break in the middle of the day, blocking your time out for lunch, a walk with your dog, a jog, or something like figuring out those peak hours and walking away. We joke; in most companies, anyone can book a meeting with you anytime. Again, carving that out for yourself and figuring out those rituals are really important. They’re natural in the office. People are starting to drift to lunch or drift to coffee, but they won’t be as natural at home if you’re left to your own devices.
Again, you’ll be in that hyperactive behind the loop of addiction, but making sure you know how to walk away. I’ll also add a closing down ritual for yourself at the end of the day, making sure you know when to turn off your computer. I have a dog who demands at 5:00 PM that I immediately, she will physically shut the computer. [laughs] That is my shutdown routine. I’m not allowed to work after 6:00 PM. It’s our agreement, but for other people you might need something a little less responsibility. Your shutdown routine, making sure you go cook dinner at 6:00 PM, or whatever it is. Then the macro bake, like your full day, your long vacation, your ability to take off and unplug. Those are all good for you, and I think just making sure each person has the right mix of each. We’ve learned a lot about the importance of not hunched over your laptop staring at Zoom all day. We haven’t done this for a long time, but calling someone on the phone, it’s so much more natural, you can be outside, you can walk your dog, there’s a lot of dogs in the story. That’s more natural. We’ve been doing that for 100 years. You don’t have to do weird eye contact. Can you see me? Can you write? When you just have to catch up with somebody, your voice conversation also works. Figuring out where you need your mindful breaks is really just so important, so I like that terminology.
Gardner: That applies to whether it’s in your home or in your office if you have a work list. Again, a lot of people are going to. I am conscious that we’re having this conversation in May of 2021 where I think a lot of us are still probably doing more at home, but as things open up more in the summer and the fall, this might even start to feel a little dated because I think a lot of people are headed back to physical workplaces, and I would say a lot of them are looking forward to it. I can think of younger parents who really have appreciated having a degree of removal from constantly babysitting, let’s say, overseeing the kids. The kids were at home during school from home, but schools are going to happen again. I do think a lot of our minds are probably still locked down in some ways we can’t fully appreciate, but your tips, Kara, are working for us regardless of whether we are working at a Starbucks as a barista, or as a techie at The Motley Fool.
Burbage: I do think, David, that I really believe, regardless of where you are or what type of job you’re doing, there is going to be some change. I was at a restaurant recently and I was noticing how big their delivery and take-out section was. I was thinking there’s a whole new job or two jobs. They’re just managing the delivery and take-out window for a restaurant that didn’t normally do that. I think hours that people are open, outdoor seating, just the amount of delivery that’s happening to people’s homes. I just can’t help to think that there’s a lot of change for everybody regardless of where you work.
Gardner: Certainly one of my favorite gourmet delicatessens in Wilmington, North Carolina, literally rebuilt the whole place because they used to have in house seating, and you could try wine and just sit there and there were other people around and they reworked everything so that they’re basically a big kitchen making food for people and delivering it. That is a permanent change now, nothing is really forever, so they probably could flip it back, but they invested significant resources for their small business to change and that’s not going to be undone anytime soon if ever. There’s no question, Lee, the only constant is change and I hope we’re hitting both sides of the spectrum here with our conversation this week. Lee, well, speaking on behalf of the employer, what’s tip No. 4?
Burbage: This one could be a little uniquely Motley Fool, but it was an important shift for us, and so maybe there’s something that listeners can learn from it. We’re traditionally an anonymous survey company. I think as we’ve talked before on this podcast, we do an engagement survey at least a couple of times a year. We feel strongly about giving people anonymity to really speak their minds and tell us what they think. An important shift for us during this time period was to go the other way and to do non-anonymous surveying so that we could really understand what individuals were going through. I think we realized early on that there is no one answer for everybody. Everyone has been experiencing this pandemic and this change differently, and there are so many factors about where you live, how big your apartment or home is, how many people are living with you, who they are, what your job is, that we really needed to understand the individual. One thing that is certainly a topic in the world and we’ve seen it at The Motley Fool, just checking in on people’s well-being. Having a name next to that survey and understanding what you’re going through, how you’re processing these things, and how we can help, has been really important to us. Going non-anonymous to really understand the individual, that was a big shift for us this year and an important one.
Gardner: We do surveys frequently. Kara Chambers, you know that because that’s a big part of your focus and your work at The Fool. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in that because I don’t like to respond to surveys. Who does, really? I will often opt out and not do that unless I have confidence that what I’m sharing in my precious time with whoever is surveying me will be heard and acted upon. That’s something that I think we do really well at our company and I hope others do well at their companies. If you’re going to ask people then you need to show that you took in what they said, you heard, and you prioritized learning and turned them into improvements.
Burbage: So many easy wins on this one too, David. With non-anonymous and I have your name and all of a sudden I realize that the one thing that’s holding Rick back in life is having a better desk lamp, and I can get one delivered to him for $19 and it makes his today, there are some great places where companies can be a hero by doing just really small things that may come up in a survey.
Gardner: You have invoked the name Rick Engdahl a couple of times on this podcast. Rick, just to welcome you and briefly to the conversation, I didn’t know you needed a new desk lamp.
Rick Engdahl: I didn’t know I needed one either. Now that you’ve mentioned —
Gardner: You’re headed to The Fool’s store, apparently 1999.
Engdahl: Lee, I also need a new guitar and I don’t see that on The Fool’s store, can you take care of that for me?
Burbage: Yes. We have a huge selection of […] box guitars that I’ve made myself that you can choose from.
Gardner: Well, let’s move now to the final tip for both employees and employers. We’ll of course go back to Kara now. Kara, the ball is in your hands. Tip No. 5 for all of us as employees in the new work world?
Chambers: Yes. I’m going to go with No. 5 is a recent read I did called Make Time, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky from Google Ventures. The tip is, set your daily highlight. Basically, this is pretty common, but the idea is every day or maybe the night before, you just write down one thing that you’re going to do that you’re going to feel great that you accomplished by the end of the day. Whatever that highlight is. It could be work. It could be, I’m going to cook a nice meal for my family. I’m going to get that jogging. But setting one every day, and their advice suggests that at the end of the day, check if you did and then give yourself a little score of 1-10 on how you are doing with all the things you tried. Again, I’ve laid out a couple of little examples, most of them have to do with dogs or coffee, some of my favorite things [laughs] but if you said, I decided not to drink coffee today and I feel better, tracking those things.
All the little tips that are out there, try a Pomodoro timer, or a nap, or something. Did that work? Setting your daily highlight everyday was a really great tip from them. Again, when you’re working remotely, you have all this time and you’ve got your own schedule and make it and it can be overwhelming for people. Really being intentional about what has worked for you, or again down the road, I went to the office today. It was great. I built some social connections. I feel really energized by being around people at least once a week or something like that. That’s a good example of saying this really worked for me, or it was too distracting at the office, I’d rather be at home. I think helping everyone learn from all the things, we’re all a little different. So we all have to figure out when we work best. If you told me to do a spreadsheet at 9 o’clock at night, I’d say, “Absolutely not. I will see you at 6:00 AM.” That’s how everybody is a little different. Learning about yourself and how you work, seek and embrace this flexibility that’s out there has been really helpful. The book is called Make Time.
Gardner: Yeah, and I read it, enjoyed that one as well. Kara, it strikes me that you recommend books and I read them. So I’ve read a lot of the books that you’re talking about because you told me to read them and I enjoyed them, and I did as well. Another book we haven’t referenced, but how could I not mention James Clear, his book, Atomic Habits. James Clear appeared on this podcast last year in an hour long interview. I had a lot of fun with that. James says we should inventory our habits, like just for a given day, make it tomorrow, or make it today. Dear Fool, whoever you are, wherever you are, try to be observant of what habits you are exhibiting throughout the course of your day from the first thing you do when you wake up, is it a typical thing that you do and redo every morning, and shutdown at night, and everything in between. Becoming self conscious about that allows you to maybe pull one of those out and modularly stick something else in and try it, and maybe become a better you. Being aware of those habits as we make time and then tweaking it sometimes and seeing what we can learn is such a good habit to get into, so Atomic Habits, James Clear, certainly plugging as well.
It occurs to me that I’m going to have two challenging questions for you both to close the conversation, two things that keep coming to my mind when I think about young people, on the one hand, we’re going to talk about younger people. There is a difference between not having a physical office when you’re 22 versus when you’re 42. I want to talk about that. I also want to talk about asynchronous work, which sounds great. Yet maybe it’s not as efficient, so I’m going to want to share that and challenge you both in a sec. But let’s first go to Lee’s employer tip No. 5.
Burbage: Well, I’ve been a little jealous throughout this podcast, David, because Kara has gotten to talk about all the breaks and naps that she’s taking. [laughs] I thought that I could talk about a culture shift that I believe the three of us really masterminded and noodled to come up with. It is called the Foolish Five. The Foolish Five is, every meeting at The Motley Fool starts five minutes after the hour or half-hour. Now, it’s a strong statement to say every meeting, but that’s the cultural change that we’re looking for. What Kara and I find is, when we introduce new ideas into our culture, it can take about a year to really take hold. We try not to force people to do anything, but instead present an idea, talk about the benefits, people start to enjoy it, it catches on. That Foolish Five gives people a small micro break, to Kara’s earlier point, between meetings to take notes or process what you’ve decided from the previous meeting, for instance, which David, I know you like to do, or go get another cup of coffee or go to the restroom or just close your eyes for a second and take a break. In this world, at least in my life, and I know Kara’s as well, we’re often in Zoom after Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting for a very long day. Creating this little tiny gap has been super powerful for me and I know others at the company. Just start meetings five minutes after the hour or half-hour to give yourself that small window to get yourself together. This was an idea that I know was baked between the three of us, so I’d love to hear from you, David and Kara, what you think of the Foolish Five, and how you’ve implemented it in your life.
Gardner: Well, I think that you are over crediting me in this case, Lee. I think one thing I’ve said is that I like to have five minutes in a half hour to process. I think I have a Pomodoro technique timer going on in my life anyway. I do think it’s helpful to make every 30-minute meeting 25. I will admit though, I do prefer to start on time. There’s a little bit of a military background that is part of my life, even though I never served through any of our nation’s armed forces. I know people like this and it’s hard for me to adjust to this notion of being five minutes late because I’ve always heard stuff like, “There’s no such thing as on-time. You’re either early or you’re late.” I will just say [laughs] that the Fool Five is something I’m still navigating through a little bit myself, but I enjoy the spirit of it. I also love our spirit of invention and trying things and seeing how they do. That’s for my own part. Kara, is the Fool Five a natural for you?
Chambers: It is. It stems from some of the research I did especially for a lot of people. I know Lee and I have jobs like this where it’s constant context switching. Mentally you’re in one headspace, and then all of a sudden you’re in another. Being present for that person that you’re next going to talk to. Right after this podcast, if I had to go talk to an employee that was struggling, five minutes would probably help me be more present for them. To me, it’s about showing up for people. All the research I’ve done says that fast context switching is just bad for your brain, and so the more we can space it out, the better. I like it, I’m grateful.
Gardner: Speaking of context switching, I think it’s a great thing to do at close here, of these points, Kara and Lee. I admittedly have been bouncing back and forth every point, and so I was asking our listeners to switch context constantly. I think it would be helpful for you each to summarize succinctly the five points that you presented, and we’ll just keep it to each of you individually. Kara, I’d like to turn to you first. Would you summarize, for those who like short lists, the five points that you just gave us for employees?
Chambers: Sure, and I would say there’s a common theme here of, I’ll link back to Lee’s point of, there are wonderful benefits and embrace those wonderful benefits of having the flexibility of working remotely. With that autonomy and freedom, you can embrace that. Our five tips are for the remote or hybrid or even office worker. No. 1, be mindful of that hyperactive high of mind to create your own boundaries there. No. 2, figure out your peak hours, understand how you and the time of day you are working best. No. 3, the Pomodoro technique, which is intentional focus time and intentional breaks. No. 4 is a tie into No. 3, micro, meso, macro breaks, how often are you stepping away from the constant stream of screens coming at you. Then finally, No. 5 is identifying your daily highlight, figuring out what is the one thing you want to accomplish that day. All five of mine are about managing that inflow of work coming at you, and being intentional about that in a way when you have a lot of freedom and autonomy, and help you work at your best.
Gardner: Thank you for that, Kara. I appreciate how these points really do work for anybody, whether they are in a physical office world or a virtual office world or something that combines both. Lee, let’s now summarize your five tips for employers.
Burbage: Thanks, David. Yes, so No. 1 was more frequent communication to support the process of change that everybody is going through. No. 2, focusing on the benefits, the pros, the amazing things that are coming out of this new world of work. No. 3, don’t be afraid to invest in your employees’ home offices. Even a small amount of money can help to improve their working situation. No. 4, non-anonymous survey. Non-anonymous really allows you to dig in and understand individual needs and address them and be a hero. Last but not least, No. 5, our Foolish Five. That’s creating small spaces in your culture. Our case of a five-minute window for people to process, to shift and get ready for the next thing.
Gardner: Thank you. I know a lot of our employees love the fool five and very understandably because of context switching, one of our themes here toward the end. Well, speaking of the end, we’re not quite there yet because I have two challenging questions. I’m going to be a push back guy here. Two challenging questions. I really would love to hear both of your viewpoints on these. Let’s just open it up for a group conversation.
Question No. 1 is going to be from someone who’s 22. This person is not 42. They’ve not been at their office for 10 or more years, and know everybody. Even though they had to go virtual, they had lots of good times to remember where they were face-to-face. This is somebody who just graduated a year or two ago. This might be their first job. Especially for this person, I could imagine they really would appreciate a physical office environment. If your company is trying to go virtual first, this person could be hurt by that because, well, two reasons. First of all, they have no real social capital or trust that they’ve built up with anybody this far. How do they get started with that? Are they disadvantaged versus a 27 year old who may be less capable, but worked at that office for five years, and so has built up social capital to make them very competitive and a very effective employee?
Also, a second component, I’m certainly aware that some people eventually meet their spouse, partner, life-mate, through their workplace. That certainly has happened at The Motley Fool before. I think it might be a lot easier to bump into somebody at an actual water cooler at work than a virtual one. What about the 22-year-old?
Burbage: Well, again, I think I’ve emphasized change. Things are going to be different. I’m actually pretty hopeful about our younger employees because they’ve grown up in a digital world. When I look at my teenage boys, they are meeting people, [laughs] not necessarily on Zoom, but they’re texting, they’re on Instagram, Snapchat, what have you. I think people are out there in the world meeting each other digitally all the time. My advice to employees in the zone might be, you have to be a little more proactive in a digital world. That’s what I see. Whether in our office or a slack culture, joining some slack channels you might not normally join. Get involved in some of the online activities, maybe you wouldn’t. You could bump into each other at the water cooler I think more randomly than maybe you would in the digital world. I think my feedback would be the opportunities are there, but you may have to be a little more proactive and putting yourself into those situations.
Chambers: That was a great answer. I think I would say being intentional about connecting with others for some people if your job is to program software. You could have a job or you just put your head down and never spoke to any humans. That’s bad for you in life. Knowing that however how integrated you are, like building human connection online through your colleagues, creating that boundary. It’s important.
Gardner: Well said. Let me move to push back question No. 2. This one is about asynchronous work and efficiency. I’m going to use a rowboat analogy. I like rowboat analogies. Anybody who’s heard me rock the Jack Bogle rowboat syndrome before knows that I like rowboat analogies. I’m going to repurpose robots once again in the new context this time. Sometimes I worry/wonder whether asynchronous is going to be as promising and effective. Remember, capitalism in its best sense is competitive. Whether asynchronous is going to win the competition out there when you’re competing with other companies trying to do the same thing that you are.
Here’s my worry in my rowboat analogy. I feel sometimes we’re thinking that we’re on a rowboat together. We’re paddling toward our corporate purpose and we’re trying to get there as fast as we can, and there might be others racing us toward that purpose. We’re racing. Sometimes I wonder, are we saying now, by the way, you can be in the boat or not in the boat at any point, and wherever you are in the boat, if you don’t want to paddle, you don’t have to. You do need to paddle, but you can paddle on your own time. Based on my observations of crew shelves over the course of time, I went to spend one summer camp rowing and I really didn’t like it, I find it exhausting. But I still admired. The fastest-moving shelves are ones where everybody’s in the boat together, rowing at the same time and they move fast. I feel is that sometimes you are saying that doesn’t matter anymore. You can actually just row whenever you like. I row during the nighttime, you row during the daytime. Sure we’re going to get to that island faster than anybody else or maybe even faster than ever before. I’m wondering a lot, Kara and Lee, whether this works.
Burbage: Well, I think you need to maybe think about what sport that you are playing. Rowing is very intentional. We’re all here at the same time doing the same thing in the same way. I think if you’re playing that sport, there could be some opportunity for some automation, for some of those rowers, something technical there. But maybe you’re playing basketball and you’ve got all different people with all different skills that are doing different things. I think I’ve heard coach cases say before that he has a different team every year and so he has to actually adjust the way that he coaches, depending on who likes to come off the bench, who wants to start, who is tall, short, shooter, that sort of thing. Thinking about what sport you want to play and then relating back to your previous question. My wife is a Peloton, but I’m aware that there is also a Peloton-like device, I believe, for rowing, where you can log in when you want to. Sometimes you’re part of a live class, you are all doing it at the same time. Sometimes you’re watching or recording, and maybe you are still recording out your starts. Maybe there’s some new version of rowing that we’re all going to be doing that takes advantage of this digital world and allows us to do it sometimes at home and sometimes out on the water. I don’t know. Just thinking aloud. What do you think, Kara?
Chambers: I was going with a relay race. In my mind, just hand off. There is a really important social connection no matter where. We are in a pandemic where we can actually sit [laughs] over. But I think we are trying to think down the road of this flexibility, but there’s always some social connection that you need. You do have to invest more time in building rapport with people that you don’t know. I was thinking of something. Building humanity, I will give a bonus to Pierre. We did this the other day on our team. Every single person who joins the call, they greet the next person by name when they appear. When Rick joins the call, I’d say, ”Hi, Rick.” When Lee joins the call, I’d say, ”Hi, Lee,” over and over, because I’m just building a group of 20 people, those little bits of humanity I think have […] meetings and just in Slack and no connection. I feel you’re right. That wouldn’t work or it will be building in more opportunities for social connection, whether it’s virtual, which we’re in right now, but in person. I don’t think any company has ever done fully remote asynchronous without any social connection. I think that’s important.
Gardner: Well said, and I love, I mean, admittedly, pick a sport and you can invent your analogy. Rowing may not even be what work is. Maybe it never was. Certainly, a sport of rowing is rowing and I think that is how to win, but is that business? That’s a really great question. Maybe it’s much more like basketball or more automated. Well, I want to thank you, Kara and Lee, once again for being with me here for Company Culture Tips Vol. 8, The New Normal. I think you both should come back in about six months and we’re going to do the greatest hits culture tips finally because I think we deserve that. But I really do feel we had to speak to a Zoom-driven world last year, and I surely feel we need to talk about returning to work this year and I wouldn’t want to do that with any two other people. Kara and Lee, thank you.
Burbage: So much fun. Thanks for having us.
Burbage: I feel we’re giving some Zoom tips along the way this week. Yes, do you know how to rename yourself on Zoom? I will mention the best practice that I’ve seen work pretty well at hand here. That is, as you end meetings, I learned this from my friend Rand Stagen, and who I know through conscious capitalism circles, the founder of Stagen Corporation. But Rand says at the end of every meeting, not just going by and awkwardly clicking off of Zoom, but doing one of two things. Either everybody at the same time at the end says goodbye to three or four people, like bye Rick, bye Kara, bye Lee. Or you just have everybody cheer. But the one thing you don’t do is have this quiet, awkward, ”I don’t know when to hit leave meeting. I need to do it just before that person, it’s going to feel awkward.” You just have some rituals and things that’s positive and become habitual. There’s another Zoom best-practice idea. While the winds of May continue to blow over this month and change is coming, I will have a special podcast next week. In the meantime, let me thank Kara and Lee again for a special podcast this week. Have a great week, Fools.
This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.