You just can't tolerate a toxic work environment if you're running a company called Care.com.

Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the co-founder and CEO of Care.com, didn't come right out and say that during a session on the workforce of the future at the recent Dell Women Entrepreneurs Network event, held Monday and Tuesday in Cape Town. But it was clear that Marcelo, who is responsible for more than 500 employees and $139 million in revenues, believes culture is vitally important to the success of her business.

How does the CEO of Care.com, which matches caregivers with those who need to hire them, keep the company culture healthy? Here are the strategies she shared on Monday:

Be aware of the stated culture and the internal culture. Too often, said Marcelo, a company's stated culture -- how a company explains its culture to the world -- is at odds with what's actually going on inside of the company. Some of that is inevitable, because people's perceptions of a culture will differ, cultures change, and culture isn't easy to explain to outsiders. Still, leaders have to be aware of both versions of their culture, and check to make sure employees believe the two are reasonably in sync with each other. Otherwise, it becomes very difficult for employees to make a culture their own, and to make authentic contributions to it.

Start each meeting with a shout-out. On the most basic level, said Marcelo, Care.com is about taking care of people. So at the very beginning of meetings, she makes sure her employees do that in the simplest way possible - by thanking each other. Each meeting begins with employees calling out, and thanking, the colleagues who have supported and helped them with recent challenges.

Change up the work environment. Marcelo pointed out that it's hard for employees to care for each other if they don't even know each other. And at most companies, employees sit with their teams in the same spots, often for years. "Typically the tech team is in a dark room at the back," she said. So Marcelo instituted what has become known as the Sheila Shuffle -- each year, her employees get new desk assignments to ensure that they meet someone new and learn about other parts of the company.

Invest in your remote employees. In some cities, said Marcelo, there are employees who are working solo, without any other colleagues in their town. Marcelo makes it a point to get those employees to the main office in Waltham, Massachusetts on a regular basis, and while there, she doesn't really expect them to get much work done. "When they come to the office, it's to invest in relationship-building," she says. "That has to be done face-to-face." 

Embrace your cause. Marcelo said that in many ways, it was up to her company to be an advocate for caregivers. It makes sense, then, that employees who understand that role would be more excited about excelling in their work.

Although Marcelo said that paying for care is now the largest budget item for two-income families (yes, more than the mortgage), caregivers still get paid very little. On average, she said, they make $9 an hour, while the average golf caddie gets paid $17 an hour. "My business has to be there for our caregivers," she said. "That will drive job growth and female participation in the workforce."

Published on: Jun 29, 2016