Employees at Twin Cities marketing firm Haberman were out off the office by midday the Friday before Memorial Day to enjoy the holiday weekend, a special Friday perk during the summer. Those who work at Alarm.com’s contact center in Bloomington sometimes enjoy “prom day” when they dress up in their finest attire.
While they may not have the huge staff and offices of larger firms, small companies find creative ways to try to make work fun and flexible for their employees — and as a result improve retention rates. As the labor force tightens, companies need to create a welcoming culture so trained employees stay.
Alarm.com’s local offices don’t resemble the dark basement locations often associated with call centers. For its 100 or so Minnesota workers, it has the top floor of a Bloomington office building that features wide-open views through large windows, colorful furnishings and a full suite of office stress relievers including a small golf putting green, table tennis and foosball tables and the occasional dog for “puppy therapy.”
“It’s about helping people feel great about the time they are spending here,” said Jason DaCosta, vice president of customer operations at Alarm.com. “We do stuff like this so they like being around the people they work with.”
The office celebrates unusual occasions such as “prom day” and “Call About the Benjamins,” when workers are rewarded financially to be more productive for a spurt of a couple hours.
With its attention on worker morale, Alarm.com snagged the top spot on this year’s small businesses rankings on the Star Tribune’s Top Workplaces list.
As marketing agencies go, Minneapolis firm Haberman has a slightly different mission. The company wants to tell the stories primarily of “pioneers who are making a difference in the world.” Haberman’s clients include Stella & Chewy’s raw pet food, the Organic Valley co-op of independent organic farmers and medical marijuana provider LeafLine Labs.
Co-founder Fred Haberman — who won this year’s leadership award in the small business category (see page 26) — co-founded the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and aquaponic farm Urban Organics.
“We are looking to do things that are sustainable and have a business purpose but also contribute to the social good,” said Brian Wachtler, president and partner of Haberman.
The culture of sustainability and purpose is embodied with Haberman’s more than 50 employees, Wachtler said.
In the summer, employees work on the office organic garden named the Dude Ranch. Employees and their families plant and harvest the crops throughout the season.
“It’s great for our clients in that we originally got into it to better understand what our clients go through in their businesses and understanding on a deeper level of what it is like to plant and harvest food,” Wachtler said. “People really take advantage of that and like that as a perk and also feel pride in the fact that they grew it.”
In its first appearance on the list, Haberman clocked in at No. 8.
Viverant, which has physical therapy clinics across the Twin Cities, doesn’t have to post advertisements for therapist positions. Most of the time it is able to recruit talent through referrals and word-of-mouth, said Dennis Cernohous, Viverant co-founder. The company hopes to open its ninth clinic in August.
“We typically either build new clinics around them or bring them into the fold of an existing clinic,” he said. “For example, we knew a really great [physical therapist] who lived in the Duluth area so we opened up a clinic in Duluth.”
Therapists get to practice the type of physical therapy they want. They don’t have to worry about punching time cards, and the company wants everyone to feel like entrepreneurs, Cernohous said.
One worker said in comments about the company, “I have support of management, autonomy with patient care.”
Another employee said, “I have been able to explore the areas that I am passionate about in the field and apply it to do my job better!”
Small companies don’t always need quirky perks in order to compete with the big dogs. Sometimes something as simple as respect and letting people be themselves is a big factor in why people choose one company over another.
Law firm Chestnut Cambronne ranked seventh this year.
In comments, one employee said, “People work together here and brainstorm about cases and ideas.” Another said, “I work in a culture that is very supportive and embraces diversity, and I work in a place where I am very appreciated.”
“We’re small by large-firms standards being 28 lawyers, but we are 28 lawyers who, along with our staff, are highly collaborative and unique in personality — that is sort of just one big minestrone soup of a culture that works,” said Jeffrey Bores, managing partner at Chestnut Cambronne.
Bores described the firm as close-knit with people working together or “cross-pollinating.”
“People get to be who they are and I think often times in a larger setting those unique difference of personalities aren’t either respected or don’t get a chance,” he said.
The other companies that make up the top 10 on the small-businesses list include senior moving and relocation service Gentle Transitions, Serenity Couture Salon & Spa, construction firm Tradition Cos., the League of Minnesota Cities, digital media agency Clockwork and title company Capitol Lien.