How to Be Successful by Not Checking Email and Working Out at Lunch
David Morken practically sparkles with energy, even over the phone. Morken is Co-founder and CEO of Bandwidth, a 15-year-old company that focuses on IP-based communication technology – and is proud of the fact that they’re “challenging the standards of old telecom” in everything they do. Their stated mission is to unlock remarkable value for our customers – and, as I discovered when I spoke to him, Morken is convinced that a big part of doing that involves ‘unlocking remarkable value’ for their employees: making Bandwidth a place that supports employees’ body, mind and spirit.
One Bandwidth policy supports all three: the company has (and enforces) a total embargo on email to and from the company during vacation. That is, when you’re on vacation, you may not communicate with the company and they may not communicate with you. And to make sure the policy is followed to the T: when someone goes on vacation, all the folks he or she would ordinarily communicate with (employees, partners, boss, etc.) get an email, saying “so-and-so is on vacation. If he or she contacts you for any reason, please let us know.”
While it may sound a little draconian, it means that folks generally only break the rule once: getting a phone call from the CEO reconfirming that you’re on vacation and shouldn’t be emailing anybody seems to convince everyone that the policy is real. And, according to Morken, while lots of people have told him it’s difficult at first, no one has ever told him they think it’s a bad idea.
But what about the fast-charging, micromanaging execs who just say, “OK, then, I’ll stop taking vacation so I can stay on top of everything?” No dice: another Bandwidth policy is that you have to take all your vacation days, and you have to take them in the year you get them (no rolling over to never-never year).
The results? Employees experience vacations as vacations: rejuvenation, reconnection and relaxation. And managers put more attention toward developing their folks – because their folks can’t call them when there’s an emergency during their absence; they have to be willing and able to handle it themselves. Finally, Morken says, it makes managers more thoughtful about preparing for vacation: if you really can’t give added instructions or sort things out while you’re gone, it’s essential to get as much clarity as possible beforehand about what’s supposed to happen when you’re not there. He’s convinced that this has impact outside of vacation time, as well: that the increased clarity and trust ‘leak’ out into employees’ interactions every day.
Then there are the 90-minute lunches.
This part is voluntary vs mandatory, but it’s still an important aspect of the culture. Any employee can take a (paid) one-and-a-half-hour lunch to pursue fitness. Not only will Bandwidth pay you for the time, they’ll pay your gym membership, shuttle you to the gym, provide access to a personal trainer, and offer you a comprehensive “know and go” assessment of your physical condition that gives you a foundation of information for getting in better shape.
It’s a big investment for a relatively small (400 employee) company – so what’s the payoff? Morken believes that because everyone has limited time outside of work to be a significant other, a parent, a friend, or to pursue other non-work passions, making time for fitness during work hours makes it more likely that employees will both get and stay fit, and have time to focus on the non-work parts of their lives – improving both morale and productivity.
These unusual policies seem to be paying off in terms of business results: Bandwidth is set to make $150M this year – up about 20% from last year – and they anticipate $200M in profitable revenues next year.
I love hearing about companies and executive teams that are willing to do more than just talk about creating a culture focused on supporting people to be their best: who are willing to put dollars into it and create policies that support it.