By Oldham, Charlene
In communicating with consumers and employees of Care.com, CEO Sheila Lirio Marcelo practices transparency--literally and figuratively. "The whole office is surrounded in glass," she says. "And my office is very visible to everybody in the company: what I work on, who I'm meeting with, what I'm doing. To me the symbolism of transparency is really important, and I was proactive in designing the office that way."
The nurturing of employees as well as clients is a key to the success of Waltham, Mass.-based Care.com, which Marcelo launched with seven employees in 2006. The online service matches families with people who help them take care of nearly everything, from their children and aging parents to laundry when they are away from home.
Today, Care.com hosts more than I million registered care providers and averages 6 million website visits each month. Care.com recently acquired Besser Betreut GmbH, the largest online destination for care and service providers in Europe, and the company expanded its services to the United Kingdom and Canada. Payroll is more than 150 and growing. Although the privately held company does not disclose revenue, it recently closed a deal for $50 million in venture capital.
That growth has forced Marcelo to communicate creatively with her staff. In addition to regularly implementing surveys and holding companywide meetings that put issues in the open, the busy mother of two boys reaches out to individual employees through email, text, Skype or over a breakfast or lunch outside her transparent walls. "Sometimes I have lunch with people on the weekend, if it's a sensitive topic. It's about communicating in whatever medium works best for people."
That doesn't mean she expects employees LO be available 24/7. Rather, Marcelo views technology as a tool to help her staff find the balance that works best for them. For some employees, that might mean seeing their child's soccer game on Thursday afternoon and using remote-access computer equipment to catch up on a project during the weekend. Others might need to answer office calls after dinner dishes.
"I try to be respectful of their personal time. 1 don't assume that just because Fm the CEO, it's all about my schedule. I think it's really important to send that signal that it's about respecting each other."
One way Marcelo builds respect among all Care.com employees is through forums in which workers hear directly from colleagues (rather than from managers or human resources) about their challenges and solutions. Marcelo finds these forums are the best way to build staff trust and reinforce that everyone works hard to help each other and the company succeed, whether that means logging 40 hours in the office or responding to emails at night after a late-afternoon doctor's appointment.
"It's a good way for employees to hear from each other," she says, it fosters mutual respect and understanding because "one person's definition of flexibility isn't necessarily another person's. So when it comes to the workplace and someone is leaving at 4 p.m., there is no judgment of that."
Care.com's nonjudgmental atmosphere means others are quick to help when a colleague seems overworked, burned-out or stressed, as was the case when one Care.com staff member unexpectedly traveled to Israel to care for ailing parents, Marcelo says. Many Care.com employees, like company clients, must care for aging parents and young families at, the same time. Co-workers often offer colleagues the support that clients need.
"We let people know they should ask for help, or we offer help. …