Jessica Rovello swivels around and plucks one of the dozen or so sticky notes off the bookshelf behind her. It clings to her index finger, and she lets it hang there for a few minutes while we're talking. It's just a little note from one of the game designers who work for her at Arkadium, saying nothing much, but emblazoned with her company's logo, the Roman Colosseum, and "Thank You."
There's another pad of sticky notes that all employees receive. Each note reads, "Lil' Wins," inviting staff to jot down the tiny accomplishments that happen every hour, or at least every day, at Arkadium. But they're not for marking your colleagues' achievements. These you keep for yourself. They're for commemorating the things you have made happen--no matter how small.
The Lil' Wins stickies make an appearance every Monday morning at a half-hour staff meeting in Arkadium's sun-soaked office loft a few blocks from New York City's Flatiron Building. When precisely two minutes are left in the meeting, a timer begins counting down the seconds, and then the shouting, cheering, and laughing begin. "We finished a new game demo!" "My husband and I bought our first house!" "I hosted a Monday meeting!"
Everyone is encouraged to chime in every week, and plenty of Arkadium's 30 New York City employees do. They are shouting out the phrases they've jotted on their stickies over the previous seven days.
Lil' Wins is the brainchild of Rovello, who co-founded Arkadium with her husband, Kenny Rosenblatt, in 2001. The company makes standalone digital games for playing online and on screens of various sizes; it created the solitaire game that's preinstalled on Windows computers. But its biggest business today is creating interactive portals--which include games such as sudoku or mahjong--for more than 400 media sites, such as USAToday.com.
Corny as inspirational sticky pads might sound, they helped Arkadium (2015 revenue: about $10 million) achieve a higher score on feedback systems than any other company on our 50 Best list. They also contribute to a spirit of unusual cohesion, preserving a culture across eight time zones.
In the early days of the company, Rovello and Rosenblatt worked with a few contract programmers in Ukraine and eventually hired them full time. The Americans soon fell in love with the rich talent pool in the region and opened an office in the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. They bought a house there, and spent summers working alongside the overseas team. Then in early 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. By the end of the year, U.S. sanctions on American companies operating in Crimea halted the 100 Arkadians there from doing any work. "I think most companies would have just shut down at that point," Rovello says. "We didn't--and I think that's thanks to 10 years of deposits that we'd made in the relationship bank."
What she means is that the company has always treated its Crimean employees the same as its staff in New York. They have company T-shirts and lots of meetings with the founders, and sticky notes, too. They also have a "Joy Team" that organizes company gatherings, large and small. After an informal poll of the staff, Rovello decided to move the company's foreign office to the nearest major city within Russia proper, Krasnodar.
Fifty employees made the move to the Russian city, which is roughly the size of Nashville and more than a seven-hour drive from Crimea. "They didn't move to a place where they had family or roots. They just had each other," Rovello says. "And they had the company." Rovello flew in, and met the team when they arrived with their moving vans. She showed them their beautiful new office, with sweeping views of a river harbor and island.
When Rovello returned to the United States after helping her Crimean employees settle in Russia, she had a lot to settle at home. Arkadium was scrambling to fill in for the Crimean employees who didn't make the move and trying to recover from a couple of big bets on new games that had vastly underperformed. The mood was glum. "We knew the joyful company we were was still there," she says. "It was like a ship that was battered at sea, and we needed to rebuild some things." She moved the New York team into the Flatiron district office, gleaming new and full of fun décor and high-tech gear to ease communications with Russia. She knocked down a wall in the company café to create an open space with a long table, where lots of staffers eat lunch together daily. She reintroduced an old company staple, game night. And there are annual company trips to the beach and to Great Adventure, organized by the Joy Team. "I think the joy is back in the company," Rovello says.
Employees and casual observers would agree. Sami Aviles, Arkadium's newest associate manager of partner development, often Snapchats her boyfriend from the office. "It's usually playing games with colleagues or some competition we are in," she says. "He asks all the time whether I get any work done." Well, she's got proof that she does. It's on sticky notes. She saves every single one.