Why the Best Vacation Policy is No Policy At All

A few days after a recent new hire started at TeamSnap, the two of us had this conversation:

EMPLOYEE: “I’m so sorry … I have to run out for a half hour to pick up a sick kid.”

ME: “Why are you telling me this?”

And then a few days later:

EMPLOYEE: “I need to leave a couple hours early today for a doctor’s appointment … I hope that’s not a problem.”

ME: “I don’t have any idea what hours you work, so I wouldn’t even know if you left early.”

And then after another week:

EMPLOYEE: “Would it be OK if I took Friday morning off to go to a park with my family? I’ll take my laptop and work as soon as I get there.”

ME: “No, it’s not OK. If you’re going to the park with your family you should spend time having fun.”

It usually takes a few more conversations like this until new employees truly believe what we say — TeamSnap really doesn’t have set hours or a vacation policy. We trust you to get your work done. And we’re dead serious about work-life balance.

Maybe it’s because I went to an alternative high school where students were treated like adults (open campus, no hall passes, calling teachers by their first names), but I have always had a visceral aversion to the idea that employees of a company should have to ask permission to live their lives. I remember in my very first job at an advertising agency, the company president suggested that we should restrict our extracurricular activities outside of the office so as not to tire ourselves for the work week. Needless to say, I didn’t last long there.

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Judging people on the work they produce and not on when their butt is in a specific chair at a specific time makes all kinds of sense. Our customers care about the features they see when they open the TeamSnap app; they care very little about whether the guy who designed those features was in the office at 3:20 p.m.

This kind of work flexibility is a big change for those who are used to playing corporate games or office politics. Being the first person at your desk and the last to leave means absolutely nothing at TeamSnap. Playing the “I worked on this all weekend” card is going to fall on deaf ears. We care only about the work you produce, not how you got there. Those who excel are rewarded — those who don’t quickly find themselves shown the door.

Flexible work hours make logical sense in a mostly distributed company like TeamSnap. Since we span every time zone in the USA (and some in Europe), the concept of “business hours” makes little sense. But even people at our HQ in Boulder play by the same rules. Some people come into the office every day. Some work from home half the time or drop in for the afternoon once in a while. And even the office manager sometimes works from home. We’re not tracking anyone’s hours and we don’t confuse being in the office (wherever that is) for “working.” Working is producing work. That’s the only thing that counts.

How and when you produce work at TeamSnap is entirely up to you. You can work mornings or nights or weekends. You can work from your home office or a coffee shop or a beach in Argentina. A few crazy people come into the Boulder office every day and maintain a strict 9-5 schedule. We don’t judge.

Of course this doesn’t mean you have unlimited license to disappear into a black hole. We’re split into teams and each team has regular (and irregular) meetings. We collaborate extensively via chat and email and Google Hangouts, and it’s not cool to vanish off the radar without being reachable if needed. With flexibility comes the responsibility to communicate and collaborate — be available when your team needs you and communicate clearly when you won’t be.

The TeamSnap Vacation Policy

For years, our vacation policy was basically “take whatever vacation you need.” In recent years, we’d refined that to suggesting “about three weeks per year” before opting for an unlimited vacation time policy. That basically means that if your workload allows, and you clear it with your team, you can take off as much time as you need. Nobody’s counting. As a manager, I’ve spent far more time badgering my employees to take time off than worrying about someone taking too much vacation.

Our flexible working model often blurs the line between vacation and working anyway. Employees will sometimes work part-time during a family vacation instead of checking out entirely. Would I rather have someone completely offline for three weeks or partly available for six weeks? Honestly, as long as they get their work done and coordinate with their team, I don’t care. The only thing I do care about is that people fully unplug occasionally. Everyone needs a break to recharge, and I will not hesitate to tell someone to take a real, non-working vacation.

By not having a formal vacation policy we get away from the time-wasting overhead of tracking, approving and reimbursing for vacation hours accrued, used and unspent. We do away with the ridiculous charade of calling in “sick” or taking personal days. We simply trust people to do what’s right.

But most importantly, when companies stop counting work hours and vacation days, employees stop counting those things too. So when the server suddenly blows up at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, everyone dives in to fix the problem instead of throwing up their hands and saying “I’m not at work.”

And when the Android app needs last minute QA and bug fixes on a Friday night, nobody cries that they’re putting in a 16-hour day. Flexible hours isn’t a perk we give to our employees; it’s a shared responsibility that benefits the people and the company equally.

Last week I had this conversation with that new employee:

EMPLOYEE: “Is it OK for me to take vacation the first week in October?”

ME: “Why in the world are you asking me? Coordinate with your team.”

And the beat goes on. Old corporate habits die hard. Luckily, by treating TeamSnap’s employees as responsible adults who are partners in building our company, my biggest worry as a manager is convincing people that they really have this kind of freedom to work their best way.

P.S. We’re hiring.

 

POV Swap: The Ideal Parent and the Ideal Coach

This is a collaborative article written by TeamSnap and MamaBear

Sometimes it can be hard to see things from the eyes of another. You might think you have it all figured out, but so does the other guy. But especially when it comes to dealing with someone involved with your children, like coaches or teachers, it’s important to keep their point of view in mind. And of course, they should try to do the same!

With that idea, TeamSnap and MamaBear decided to pull a “Freaky Friday” sort of swap, with MamaBear exploring what a parent’s idea of an ideal coach is and TeamSnap expounding on the coach’s idea of what the ideal sports parent is.

From the Parent’s Point of View: The Ideal Sports Coach

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Coaches are role models, mentor figures and advisors — sometimes for life, sometimes only for a season — but they sure do make an impression on our kids. Our active, on-the-go MamaBear families rely on their kids’ coaches to help shape the meaning of hard work, camaraderie and reliability. Here are our top three observations of an ideal sports coach.

  1. Inspire. The team talk at the end of every game doesn’t have to be a Jimmy V. tearjerker, but there’s nothing more motivating than a good ‘ol coach pep talk. Certain phrases from coaches will be carried on and used in our kids’ lives well beyond playing sports. The influence coaches have to inspire determination can be more meaningful than realized.
  1. Communicate on level. The instruction from a coach to “back up” could mean a couple of things to a 9 year old up to the plate in a baseball game. Step further back in the box toward the catcher? Take a step away from the plate? Rather than continue restating “back up” with no real response from the player, give more detail, realize they don’t understand what you’re instructing and try another approach. Every kid comprehends instruction differently.
  1. Have Fun. We’ve all seen the frustrated coach yelling, throwing his hat to the ground or storming off the field. The usual parent sentiment is, “Can’t they just have some fun?” Really. Lighten up. Instruction and constructive feedback will make the game more fun for everyone. Patience, self-awareness and a smile with a thumbs-up will go a long way.

It takes a village to raise kids — parents, extended family, friends, coaches and MamaBear, too. We save you time and get you in the know with notifications about your kids’ daily activity in social media and provide peace of mind with location updates, all in an effort to get you talking about responsibility, safety and independence.

From the Coach’s Point of View: The Ideal Sports Parent

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We all know what “bad” sports parents are like. The stereotype is portrayed on TV, in movies, and we all see our fair share of them in person, too. But what do “good” sports parents look like?

Ideal sports parents vary depending on the age group, the team and the coach, of course, but they all have a few characteristics in common. We took a look at our more than 7 million users here at TeamSnap, an online and mobile tool for managing sports teams, and came up with three of the best sports parents behavior:

  1. They offer to help. We all know it’s easier to criticize than to jump in and lend assistance. Ideal sports parents know this and not only offer their opinion but also their time, dedication and resources. Ideal sports parents volunteer to host the end-of-season BBQ. They volunteer for drink duty (or better yet, they volunteer to manage drink duty assignments using team management software). They offer their SUV for carpool runs. They understand that the coaches (often volunteers themselves) can’t do it all on their own, and they actively step up.
  1. They’re responsive. Every coach’s pet peeve is asking the same question a million times. Whether it’s checking to see who can make the game, asking parents to pay team dues or asking parents to update their contact information, coaches would rather be actually coaching than managing these administrative tasks. Luckily, sport team management software now exists to automate many of these tasks, but it doesn’t work if parents don’t respond! Ideal sports parents get their forms in on time, they update their kids’ availability status online or however it’s required, and they answer questions when asked … the first time!
  1. They control their emotions. Parenting is, by nature, an emotional experience. You want to guard your kids from anything that might hurt them and ensure they’re getting the best experiences they can from life. Keeping those emotions in check, especially in front of the kids, is an absolute must for the ideal sports parent though. Not only are confrontations between parents and coaches or parents and refs or even parents and other parents embarrassing for the child, they also undermine the authority of the ref or the coach, confusing kids about who they should listen to during a game or at practice. Surely, part of the reason you encouraged your child to join a team is to teach teamwork and responsibility, so exhibit those qualities yourself from the sidelines!

Next time you’re asked to do something by the coach or attending your child’s game, ask yourself, am I doing all I can to be the “ideal sports parent”? And check out the TeamSnap youth sports blog and podcast for more on the sports parent experience.

 

TeamSnap Wins Best in Show at Under Armour Challenge

At TeamSnap, we don’t only help your team compete, our players are competitive themselves. So when we were invited to participate in the Under Armour Future Show 2014 Innovation Challenge, a show hundreds of companies apply to compete in, we were excited to demonstrate what we could do. We were one of only six companies invited to present to the Under Armour executive team.

Although we didn’t win it all, we were excited to be named Best in Show by Under Armour employees.

The Future Show 2014 Innovation Challenge, held at Under Armour’s headquarters in Baltimore, took place the week of Oct. 6 with a goal of promoting connectivity between wearable sports technologies and Under Armour’s MapMyFitness software platform. Three members of TeamSnap’s senior management team attended to not only demonstrate what we’re currently up to but to also give a glimpse into the future of TeamSnap and what we’re capable of.

The show had two components, a two-stage panel judging and an open expo to Under Armour employees. The theme of TeamSnap’s panel judging was “Unlocking Potential,” which showed that by partnering with MapMyFitness and Under Armour, TeamSnap can create coaching tools that compare and contrast individual performance and other measures against other players on the team, in the club or league, in the sport or at a specific position. These metrics give valuable insight into individual and team performance and progress, measuring not only physical fitness, but also intangibles like teamwork, leadership, effort and chemistry. We also demonstrated how TeamSnap can identify individual players that are at risk for injury based on plyometric conditioning, hydration and player movement during games.

On the expo floor, our TeamSnappers talked to Under Armour employees not only about the presentation but also about what TeamSnap has accomplished so far and what’s on the horizon. TeamSnap took home Best in Show for the Exposition, something we’re very proud of and that provides further affirmation in our belief that TeamSnap is moving forward in the right direction, including with initiatives like our new TeamSnap Live!

A special shout out goes to Dave DuPont, TeamSnap’s CEO and main presenter at Future Show, Wade Minter, TeamSnap CTO and presentation coach, Ken McDonald, TeamSnap chief growth officer and exhibit floor pitchman, and to Drew Meacham and Whitney Althouse, members of the TeamSnap design team who put together exciting demos and concepts of how we could tie to the MapMyFitness platform, as well as the presentation seen below and the following screenshot that shows how the experience can foster healthy competition among teammates.

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Stephanie Myers is the Content Manager for TeamSnap, managing such content as this blog, the TeamSnap newsletter and much more. When she’s not being the boss of content, you can find Stephanie playing in a competitive skee-ball league in Austin, Texas.

 

How Can a Coach Help a Money-Strapped Team?

All over the United States, coaches are looking for ways to fund their operating costs. Facing budgetary cuts, how can they keep supporting their players? How can they ensure the sports they love have a future? How can they serve the community?

One way to get something is to give something. In British Columbia, the Burnaby Lake Rugby Club asks its player to volunteer as coaches for high school rugby teams. In turn, the club players  get a rebate on club dues. Imagine if the club donated all that money to a financially strapped local high school team instead. Such a program would not only help the children learn from an elite rugby player, but the team would also receive needed financial assistance.

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Running a program with such a format has a number of benefits. The young players (high school or primary school) have the opportunity to interact with advanced players — to identify with them and to see how their athletic careers can take them beyond their high school years. The volunteers from the local clubs have the opportunity to promote the sport they love to the next generation at an interpersonal level.

Let’s take this line of thinking a little further and a lot bolder. Sports are big business. Together, the MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL generate approximately $23 billion a year in revenue. The sporting equipment industry makes about $44 billion in retail sales each year. Although difficult to estimate because of its complexity, market research specialists put the total sports market in the United States at an estimate $485 billion yearly. The world market is estimated to be $1.5 trillion (how crazy is that?!) In this context, how can there be a lack of funds to nurture the next generation of amateur and professional athletes?

From a purely economic standpoint – and setting aside all the benefits we derive from sports that have nothing to do with money – it is in the interests of those who profit (enormously!) from the industry to invest in it at all levels.

This is the logical approach, though it isn’t necessarily put into practice given companies love big profits (duh!).

Where should coaches look for the money they need to keep their players equipped, safe and nurtured? One of the first stops is professional players. Professional athletes have much to be thankful for, and they understand that they have a responsibility to give back to the sports community that has created the conditions for them to succeed. If coaches can convince a local professional athlete to support the team by participating in practices or special events, he or she could draw the attention of the local public to support fundraising drives.

Think bigger! Coaches might also approach professional franchises to contribute funds for operating costs.

In 2011, the average revenue of MLB teams was $212 million. It would not be unreasonable to ask such a team to invest in the next generation of athletes, some of whom will surely find their way into their ranks. Sports equipment enterprises, media organizations profiting from broadcasting rights, sports video games manufacturers, all represent sources of revenue that can be tapped.

This strategy could easily be married to any of the fundraising drives commonly in use: sales of merchandise, scratch cards and donations. Professional athletes or franchises can help generate attention for any event or fundraising campaign a local team may be running.

As you mull over the possibilities, consider that you will not be imposing on those who profit from sports: you’ll be offering them the opportunity to promote their brand as well as the sport. It’s a win-win!

Marc Alcindor is president of Fundraising.com, which helps tens of thousands of non-profit groups raise millions of dollars each year for their good causes.

 

 

 

3 Pieces of Technology that Make a Coach’s Life Easier

With the release of Brad Pitt’s Hollywood blockbuster “Moneyball” back in 2011, technology and analytics finally hit the mainstream. With more than 44 percent of the U.S. population having a tablet in their household, chances are you have one lying around. It’s time to pick it up to make your coaching life easier.

Even on a tight budget, there are affordable apps out there that can help you achieve some amazing things. Here are the three types of technology that are essential to every coach:

  1. Digital coaching clipboard – Gone are the days of a messy whiteboard.
  2. Video breakdown – Stop spending hours on your old VCR machine.
  3. Data analysis – Numbers don’t lie. You improve what you measure.

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Digital coaching clipboard

It’s amazing how captivating it is when players see their photo and their name animating on a tablet or a projector screen. After all, youth are accustomed to video games, so it feels familiar to them. Gone are the days of Coach drawing messy indecipherable diagrams on a clipboard and yelling out instructions. In the heat of the game, a clear animated play can mean the difference between a win or a loss.

You can also get rid of your binders full of drills and plays with apps like Coachbase. They’ll all be readily available on your tablet and with apps that can sync through the cloud, you can share them with players, parents and assistance coaches, building an organized library of content for future use.

Video breakdown

All the pro teams use video breakdown, and just because you don’t have a million-dollar budget doesn’t mean you can’t! Now there are lots of apps (again, Krossover is a great option here) available that either break down your game film for you or make it extremely easy to do so. Players think they are doing the right thing until the actually see it on film.

Data analysis

Data doesn’t tell you everything, but data doesn’t lie. If you’re a parent coach, you’re probably using lots of data in digital-clipboard-from-above_webyour business or job in some form. Why not use it for coaching? There are apps out there like Krossover that allow you to get rid of your paper stat sheets. Over time, you can identify trends and areas for improvement that can prove to be invaluable for both you and your players.

If you have a tablet lying around somewhere in your house, pick it up and give these apps a try. They’re affordable, sometimes even free, and you might be pleasantly surprised by the results and your players will love you for it.

Keith Rumjahn is CEO of Coachbase, a mobile apps company that develops an animated multi-sport digital playbook for iOS, Android and the web to help coaches stay organized, save time and win more games.