The Team is in Town!

At the end of May, our San Jose headquarters were abuzz with various members from our worldwide team, including colleagues from our satellite office in Monterrey, the East Coast and England. The worldwide team gathered for a week of reflection, planning and team building -- a bi-annual tradition at Referential.

In between client meetings, cyber security training and catered lunches, the team partook in a variety of different activities, including a fruitful skills sharing session, celebrating the conclusion of our office wellness challenge, and developing curriculum for our online training courses.

During our skills share session, we discussed strategies for collaborating with sales teams and for making advocacy programs easily accessible to all internal departments. Our discussion also touched on how to foster meaningful customer relationships, deliver value at every touch point with a c-suite client and show appreciation and gratitude for advocates. The team drew on current and past experiences in the customer advocacy field to provide perspectives from a variety of different industries and types of advocacy programs, sharing an incredible breadth of insight and strategy with the group, which also is being leveraged to educate other customer advocacy practitioners through our training program.

We also celebrated the conclusion of our office wellness challenge by collectively reflecting on the initiative and holding a raffle for all who participated. We used Influitive's AdvocateHub to create an Experience comprised of a variety of health and wellness activities for our team to partake in. The entire group stepped up to the challenge, committing to weekly activities like trying out a new food plan, taking 10,000 steps everyday, volunteering for a charitable cause, and tackling home wellness projects such as updating fire safety equipment and donating items from a newly reorganized room.

"All-hands" weeks are invaluable to our worldwide team as they provide precious moments for our global workforce to gather in the same time zone to share account updates and best-practices, and connect with one another over lunch and coffee instead of video call or email. There are always new tactics and techniques to be shared with one another, as well as stories of triumph and learning.

We're looking forward to hosting worldwide team members at our San Jose headquarters again in November!

Giving Thanks

I recently read a blog post from Fast Company which you can see here.  It's titled "Five Ways to Make Your Office Happier".  Some of the statistics were eye opening.  There was reference to a 2012 survey by the John Templeton Foundation which found only 10% of employees report saying thanks to a colleague every day, an even smaller percent say thanks to management.  60% of respondents said they "either never express gratitude at work or do so perhaps once a year." Never! Once a year!  There are various studies that show expressing gratitude is both good for your health and good for business productivity.  The Fast Company article cites a study from Harvard Health and a quick Google search shows similar results from organizations as diverse as Shape Magazine, Forbes, Huffington Post, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information, to name just a few.

Our workplace is collaborative and we hear 'thank you' often.  If yours is not or you are in the large percent of people that rarely express gratitude at work you have homework!  Thank someone today.  Let them know specifically what you appreciate and how it helps you and/or your team.  The article has several tips that can help gratitude become a regular part of your work day. It’s easy, it costs nothing more than time, and it pays back big benefits both to you and the person you thank!

Pokémon Go has benefits for us

Pokeman Go
Pokeman Go

You’ve probably heard of it.  Pokémon Go is all the rage.  For those of you not familiar with it, the game allows players to interact with virtual Pokémon as if they are in the real environment. When you find one, the game opens up your phone's camera and you flick a Poké Ball toward the creature to capture it. The game has added billions, yes billions, of dollars to Nintendo’s valuation. It’s not without controversy.  Intent on the game, people have fallen or walked into things.  There has been criticism of the use of certain graveyards and memorials as part of the game, and even reports of crime as people were lured with the thought of Pokémon and then robbed.

For us it has been beneficial.  The game gets people up and walking and if you know Referential you know we value health and encourage exercise.  The part of our team that usually walks the least is now up and about at lunch and breaks.  Not only are they getting steps, they are having fun together.  And those of us who don’t play are enjoying it.  We’re learning the lingo and watching the friendly competition as folks move through the stages.  Who knew a game would have such impact on health and camaraderie!

Will you be able to escape?

We just had a fun afternoon of team building and trying to escape from a spy’s room!  Friday we spent the afternoon with Beat The Lock. Referential went as a team and started with some team building activities. The good old game of Two Truths and a Lie (can you tell which is the lie?) is more difficult when some of the team members are related and others have known each other for many years – not the usual work group. We had great fun and learned quite a lot – from who has won dance competitions to who can barely swim. We learned we have jump rope champions and those with scuba certifications.   Several had been keeping their music talent from us! It’s a fun way to learn a bit more about each other. 

The next activity split us into two groups and we had to come up with 5 things true for everyone in the group. Easy for one team but the other struggled. Surprisingly every one of us has at least one sister and has traveled in Europe! 

But the main attraction was to participate in the room escape experience. We were in the spy room – we suspect our neighbor is a spy and enter his room to discover his identity and find we’re locked in! There is an hour to look for clues, solve puzzles, break codes, get various boxes unlocked, and finally diffuse a bomb and escape.   No worries, it’s all in fun and role play! When the phone range we answered and took the clues – each of the 3 times they were offered. We didn’t quite escape in the hour, but did within the additional 5 minute grace period.   It was tough! Not to give anything away but look carefully, consider everything, and enjoy the experience. If you are in the local area and looking for something fun to do with a work group or even family consider escaping! Give www.BeatTheLock.com a look.  

2016 - Off to a fast start!

VolunteeringHere’s a photo of our volunteer stint at Health Trust. As you can see from our attire it was a bit cold in their warehouse! Afterwards we had a team lunch and later a gift exchange.   Most of us worked all of December, a few took off a day or two.   It stayed surprisingly busy, as many of our clients were at their fiscal year end. Our advocacy work was critical to help our clients close more business, and close that business faster. 2015 already feels so far away. We are not far into 2016 but we’ve switched to a new finance application, reallocated team hours to match our new contracts, started work with a few new clients, and have one of the new clients visiting on site today. Next week we’re gearing up to host a local customer advocacy group meeting. The new offices give us plenty of meeting space for larger groups. We are off to a great start for what we know will be a great year for our company and the team.

More good news, in just 7 days we’ve already had more rain in northern California in January than the last 3 Januarys combined so we’re hoping we make a dent in the drought!

May 2016 be a wonderful year for you too, both personally and professionally.

Holiday Volunteering - Health Priority

Next week we will be celebrating the holidays as a team. As we did last year we will spend the afternoon volunteering. This year we’ll be sorting food with the FOODBasket Food Sorting team of The Health Trust. We will be sorting and then helping with storage and display of fresh produce which will be offered to their AIDS Services and Family Resource Center clients. We are in the heart of Silicon Valley, a place of great wealth, but also of great need, as this paragraph from The Health Trust website makes crystal clear: Silicon Valley is a place of innovation, opportunity and affluence. On average, it is one of the healthiest, wealthiest places in the world. But not all residents of Silicon Valley share in that wealth – or that health. More than 13 percent of children in Santa Clara County are living in poverty. More than half of the adults are overweight or obese. Nearly half of the county’s older adults are considered impoverished. More than 19,000 adults and youth are homeless.

Our time as a team is one way we can help contribute to their vision of a healthier Silicon Valley for everyone.  It's also aligned with our priority on health and wellness - from Fitbits for everyone to regular discussions about nutrition.  This volunteer opportunity is a good match for our company.

Disasters - are you ready?

September was National Preparedness Month and October has the Great American Shakeout, both of which makes companies like ours both in earthquake territory and with an El Nino winter on the way, think about disaster preparedness.   Unfortunately only a small percent of small businesses have a plan. Just a few of the things we have in place include: fire extinguishers in each room, first aid kits, and a trained emergency responder on staff. We do regular back ups and have off site access to the majority of the information we work with on a regular basis. The building itself is robust, having very recently gone through a series of inspections and improvements.   We also have various insurance policies, a generator at an off site alternate work location, and cell phones as back up to our in office phone system.

According to the Small Business Association ninety percent of companies fail within a year of a disaster unless they can resume operations within five days. While there is even more we can do to be prepared for disasters, we know we can be back in business very quickly no matter what comes our way.

Business Etiquitte Refresher

We’re embarking on an etiquette refresher for the team. We work in a small, informal office but our new location is quite near offices and homes of some of our clients. We expect more drop ins than at our old location. Also some of our new hires have been recent college graduates.  They bring tons of great skills but haven't spent a lot of time in an office environment.  They’ve not had the opportunity for business lunches or developed a sensitivity for the differences seen when working with clients in various countries. So for some this will not be as much a refresher as a learning it all for the first time. This is probably not seen as the most exciting of topics so to inject a bit of fun we put the topics in a hat and each pulled one. Over the next several weeks we’ll have brown bag lunches where we’ll each take a week to present our topic.   We’ll be fed, we’ll be learning, we get to take turns presenting – not so bad! We’ll share highlights with you as we go through the topics.

Food - quite the motivator!

We have a big new project that has a very short timeframe so we’re working extra hours this week. Providing lunch has helped.   Not only did we explore different types of food this week – good old American fast food, Hawaiian, Indian – eating while working minimized the extra hours we had to be at the office. Usually we take time at work to sit together and talk about whatever comes to mind. It’s a nice mental break and good for getting to know each other better.   This week we worked through lunch, helping add an extra hour to the day nearly painlessly. We got out for a quick walk around the block in the afternoon. Need to keep up those fitbit steps! Not quite a mile to go around the block and extend just a bit into the neighborhood.   We did find out it’s even shorter going to the nearby Walgreens, and they have quite a selection of ice cream, which made the perfect treat one afternoon!

Holiday Volunteering

Part of the team, still smiling after processing almost 5 tons of apples! Earlier this week we volunteered at Second Harvest Food Bank.  We wanted to do something as a group to give back and a volunteer activity was our first choice.  Lots of organizations do the same this time of year, in fact while we were there Cisco was also volunteering.

Apples.  Lots and lots of apples.  We sorted the good from the bad and moved apples from huge containers to manageable 25 pound boxes.  As a small group we sorted nearly 9000 pounds of apples in just 2 hours! It was rewarding to help but also exhausting!  Most of the local group was able to participate.  We were joined by one of our ex-employees who had just finished her first quarter of graduate school.  It was nice to have her join us, we miss her!

After volunteering we had our holiday lunch at a wonderful local restaurant.  It was a great morning of volunteering and team building, nice to be together outside of the office environment.  What will your group be doing this holiday season?

First Fall Holiday

It’s quite a day for celebrations here. Of course it’s Halloween.  For those of us in Northern California we are still celebrating the World Series win of the San Francisco Giants as the team returned to the Bay Area and a huge parade.  Plus we have rain, and we haven’t seen rain like this in far too long.  So on all counts it’s quite a day! We did have a client visit our offices today.   The vast majority of our clients are located far away.  It was quite a treat to discover one was local and rather than speak on the phone, would come in for our meeting.  We did warn him, we dress for Halloween!  He was able to meet with a cavewoman, the 49ers Super Fan, and one of the minions from Despicable Me.  More fun than the average meeting!

We were able to kick off the fall season with a holiday, a client meeting, and a bit of fun. Hopefully your company enjoys the holidays too and has much to celebrate in the coming months.

Year end activities begin!

We’re nearing the start of the 4th quarter already! We have many celebrations ahead.  As a team we have the majority of our work anniversaries and birthdays towards the end of the year.  We have a request for cake and potato chips for the next birthday celebration – not a combo we’ve had before but when it’s your birthday you get to choose!   In addition, with a group as diverse as ours is today we will observe a wide range of holidays. This year we’ll be making a point of actively learning about the traditions and holiday observations of everyone on the team. Not only is it a time to celebrate, from a work perspective it’s extremely busy. Many of our clients have fiscal year ends in December.  At quarter and year end there’s always a sales push and that means an increased demand for customer references.  Phones will be ringing off the hook!  The other large year end project is to update agreements with all of our clients for 2015.  They are growing and we expect increased demand for our services.

The quarter ahead will be very busy but also full of fun events, plus the outlook for 2015 is great! We hope the future looks as rosy for you.

Hello and Goodbye

We’re about to say goodbye to our team member from London. Her visit went so fast!  She’s headed to a conference next week and then back home.  We love having her visit.  We’ll miss having her here in person, but we’ll see her on Skype with our team meetings each week. While we are sad to say goodbye to Lynn, we are happy to say hello to Ankit.  We just hired a new staff reference manager.  He brings a great skill set and multiple languages – fluency in Punjabi and Hindi.  He’s joining just as we kick off work with a new client; it will be nice for him to be involved from the beginning.

To wish Lynn a safe trip home and to celebrate Ankit joining us, we have a fun afternoon planned on Friday.  Lunch and a bit of team building ahead.  We are all looking forward to a fun afternoon.   While we eat lunch as a group most days it will be nice to have some extended time together.

2,000,000 steps and counting!

FitbitWe’ve been wearing our Fitbits and counting our steps.  We created a company group and as a team we have exceeded 2,000,000 steps for the month.  The contribution to that total did vary somewhat.  Two people consistently exceed 10,000 steps per day – sometimes get closer to 20,000 steps.  And then there are those that don’t consistently wear their tracker or who’s exercise isn’t the type to add steps- like the heavy duty core workout favored by one.  Whether at the low end or the high end of our step total, we have seen everyone more active than they were before.  The Fitbits were a great investment in terms of getting people up and moving more, which is great for health, but also have been great for team building.  We’ve compared step totals, talked about fitness, collected just about every color of band, and there’s been some teasing now and again too!  Fun and healthy, what more could want from a team reward for a job well done!

World Cup Fever Hits

World Cup. An international workforce. A new projector. That is a wonderful combination right now. World Cup fever has definitely hit our office. A beautiful, huge display of the games we’re most interested in is so easy with our new projector. Everyone is good at multitasking through the few games we’ve watched or making up the time later. It seems more and more companies are making it easier for employees to watch games, there was a front page article in the San Jose Mercury News just today. We chose to display select games in the main office area, it may just make soccer fans of us all! Are you watching?

Vacations to Star Fruit - Teamwork Matters

It’s summer.  School is out or nearly so.  Graduations are in full swing.  And vacation season is upon us.  As a small business we’re particularly careful when anyone is gone, be it for work events or vacation.  We have basically a ‘buddy system’.  While we may have a primary contact for a client, we always have a backup who is also familiar with the systems and processes and can step in whenever necessary.  It’s a little bit of overhead for us but ensures seamless service delivery. We all come in to the office nearly every day, rather infrequently are there ‘work at home’ days.  There are several reasons for that – the office is easy to get to, great location for lunch or walks, and we collaborate a lot.  So much faster to get your questions answered face to face.  That said we do have a team member in London and one working from Germany for most of June.  And even though someone is on vacation, occasionally they choose to work a day or two remotely.  Another aspect of being out of the office, besides having knowledgeable backups, is communication.  We make sure the status of projects is clear, we’re careful about who has responsibility for what, and when someone is out it is easy to stay in touch; be it by instant message, email, text, or good old phone calls.

ING-star-fruit_sql

When someone on the team is out they do miss some of the camaraderie.  For example, we have a tradition of going to Whole Foods for breakfast on Friday.  Today those that went came back with a star fruit to share.  Most of us had not tried one before.  They are delicious, and beautiful.  It was a nice treat and a small example which shows we’re a team that not only works well together but really enjoys each other’s company.

Snacks - they're good for business!

The Intuit Small Business blog had a recent post about the business benefits of providing nutritious snacks for your employees.  You don’t want unhealthy snacks leading to health issues. Here at Referential, Inc. we tend to each lunch together and it’s interesting to see what everyone brings.  Let’s just say a few of us take health and nutrition more seriously than others!  Yesterday we had a treat, someone brought a fresh smoothie she had just made from home.  Spinach, mango, almonds, and cranberry-raspberry juice.  While it was green it smelled and tasted of fruit.  Surprising that you didn’t even taste the spinach.

I have to say that was much healthier than the other snacks we shared earlier in the week.  Afternoon tea is often at our desks, unless there is birthday cake or treats!  A discussion of a European trip at lunch meant we had chocolate croissants one afternoon.  And just because they looked good it was blueberry scones another day.  At least we cut them into reasonable sized servings!

So while our snacks may not always be the healthiest, nothing beats the camaraderie as we share their deliciousness!

Have you done 10,000 steps today?

Yesterday Fitbits for the team arrived.  Many office workers, us included, have very sedentary jobs.  We try to get out and do a quick walk each day and thought Fitbits for all would be a good reward for a great quarter as well as an incentive to get moving.  Fitbits will track steps, distance, calories burned, how many minutes you’re truly active and even monitor your sleep.  They are motivational.  There’s quite a race among us to be the first to get to 10,000 steps today! There are many choices for wearable activity trackers and we did research to narrow down our choices.  In the end key factors were wristband size and phone support.  We have two folks with very large wrists, the device had to fit.  And we needed Android support.  Luckily we were also able to accommodate someone’s strong desire for a pretty color too!

There’s a huge range of normal activity levels between us.  We haven’t yet figured out how to best structure some sort of competition.  But we’re monitoring away and being more active than before.  While more activity is the goal, the fun we’re having as a team with this is a great side benefit.

13.1 miles later, still smiling!

Over 16,000 people lined up Sunday for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon.  One was our very own David Feber!  Congratulations David, it takes a lot of time and commitment to train for 13.1 miles.  It’s quite an accomplishment, we’re very proud.  With bands, local cheer teams, and tons of residents lining the course it was a morning full of energy and excitement.   David was cheered on by others from Referential, Inc.  and completed the race with his daughter.  The photo is from the finish line.Half Marathon finish, still smiling!  Maybe next year we’ll join him, could be quite the company team building quest!

Thank you Yogurtland!

Not too long ago we got a mailer from the local Yogurtland.   "Employee savings inside.  Post immediately."   They sent coupons for each employee to receive their first 3 ounces free.  If you've never been, and some of us hadn't, you choose frozen yogurt from a variety of flavors, filling your cup with as much or as little as you'd like.  Then it's off to the toppings and boy do they have a lot of toppings.  Everything from versions of candies to nuts to lots of different types of fruit.  On top of your yogurt you add your toppings, again as much or as little as you'd like. The coupons entitled us to the first 3 ounces of each person's free and, as a nice treat on a hot day, the company paid for the balance and we had a team meeting sitting in the sun!  It was interesting to see the choices everyone made.  Most of us sampled two flavors of yogurt and the toppings ranged from a tiny bit of candy for one to quite a few lychee for another.  It was all delicious.

Thank you Yogurtland!