Small companies would seem to have a disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining employees. They may not have the cachet of a big brand or have as many benefits for employees as a larger company.

But as one employee said in the WorkplaceDynamics survey done at Clockwork Active Media, ranked No. 1 among small companies: “I am treated like an adult. As the company grows and changes, I feel like I am part of the conversation.”

Several leaders at companies on the list said that kind of connection is exactly what they are trying to foster.

“I think the founders of Clockwork really wanted to create the kind of company that they wanted to come work at every day,” said Meghan Wilker, Clockwork’s chief operating officer.

The variety on this year’s list proves the type of industry doesn’t dictate a good workplace culture. Also in the top five: senior moving and relocation management service Gentle Transitions;, which develops software for home automation and security; law firm Chestnut Cambronne; and Mortgages Unlimited Inc.

Clockwork leads the Top Workplaces list for the second year in a row and has placed on the list for five straight years — despite fast growth.

Clockwork is growing. Revenue this year has grown 15 percent over last year, Wilker said. The company was busting out of the seams in its 10,000-square-foot building in northeast Minneapolis, so it rehabbed another 12,000-square-foot building on the same block to give the company more room to grow.

The digital media agency helps clients with digital strategy, data analytics, website design, mobile applications and other services. Clockwork has worked as the digital agency of record for Polaroid and created a project management visualization tool for 3M.

Clockwork, which was founded in 2002, has been profiled for its unconventional office culture that includes no set hours. This year, the office added subsidized chair massages to its offered benefits. Every other week a massage therapist comes in to give 15-minute massages to staff. Employees pay a small fee and Clockwork covers the rest of the cost.

Wilker said senior management wanted to create a culture of “accountability so people understand what’s expected of them at work and they are accountable for doing that but how they actually do that and when they do that, they can have a fair amount of flexibility around that.”

Clockwork staff lauded their employer in the survey, saying they felt trusted and valued.

There were 70 Minnesota companies and nonprofits that made the list of top small companies, which included Bonfe Plumbing, Heating & Air Service, the League of Minnesota Cities, software companies and several marketing agencies such as Nina Hale.

Tradition Companies, ranked No. 6, is based in Lake­ville and has several divisions from homebuilding and land development to mortgage lending.

The company was founded four generations ago by the great-grandfather of current Tradition CEO Jake Enebak. The company’s first projects were completed with horse-drawn equipment.

Erik Hendrikson, president of Tradition’s mortgage division, said he thought the company’s roots contributed to its family-like culture.

“We really feel all of our employees are part of a greater family,” he said. “Beyond always wanting to provide great service to our customers, we as the ownership group feel it’s really important to create an atmosphere that is rewarding to the employees.”

In addition to Tradition’s benefits, the more than 100 workers get free use of the company’s Lakeville community center that was built for use by the housing community residents. A refurbished barn houses a 24-hour fitness center, recreation area and kitchen. During the summer, there is an outdoor pool and basketball and sand volleyball courts. Employees also can claim a spot in the company’s community garden.

This year was the first time that Maple Grove-based Mortgages Unlimited made the Top Workplaces list, ranking No. 5.

“I think that what we try to do from an ownership standpoint is really try to foster an environment in which you really want to come to work,” said company President Steven Gatti.

The office of more than 60 people offers flexibility to workers and tries to create an enjoyable atmosphere, said Gatti, who added that the positive culture has trickled down to customers.

Employees in the survey mentioned flexible policies, strong management and the fact that the company makes them feel valued.

In February, the company created an event called the MUI Office Olympics, complete with lobby elevator relay races and bosu ball sprints. The event would be “difficult” to pull off at a larger company, Gatti said.

“We’ve always felt that we don’t want to lose that closeness that we have,” he said. “I think a big thing is you always feel like you aren’t just a number. ... I think for us [it’s about] really having the ability for the employees to feel that they are part of what’s going on.”


Twitter: @nicolenorfleet