Millennials and the modern workplace: Reno companies cultivate new era of employee culture through flexibility, perks
Northern Nevada Business View
RENO, Nev. — Walking into the fourth-floor brokerage office of ITS Logistics in downtown Reno, the energy is palpable.
Clusters of desks — some in the standing position — are scattered throughout the open floor plan, most inhabited by 20-something males working intently on dual screens.
A ping-pong table sits near the middle of the room and mounted TVs display a mix of SportsCenter and statistics on employees — the number of calls made, loads booked and their margins.
ITS is a third-party logistics company that moves product up and down the West Coast for customers like Walmart, Starbucks and Mercedes-Benz. The company was founded 18 years ago by three Reno natives and has grown to clear around $20 million in annual revenue.
“There are more than 18,000 registered freight brokers in the United States, and even though our brokerage department only peeled off about six years ago, we are already ranked 49th in the country,” said Patrick McFarland, director of marketing at ITS. “That’s a meteoric rise for that division.”
The brokerage office at ITS, at 50 West Liberty St., now employs around 80 people — most fresh out of college or from a first sales job. The department is growing rapidly and hires anywhere from four to nine employees every month.
Led by former Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings player Mike Crawford, president of freight brokerage, ITS has cultivated a company culture of hard work and reward.
“We put a lot of effort and emphasis on vetting people before they step in the door,” said McFarland. “We often target athletes — we have 22 D-1 athletes here — because (Mike) knows they have the right mentality. To succeed at that level, you have to be a hard worker, competitive and able to come together in a team environment.”
In addition to the opportunity to earn six figures, ITS motivates employees through other means.
“Mike promised the team if they met a certain goal, he would transform the outside deck,” said McFarland.
Sure enough, a modern garage door now opens to the fourth-floor deck overlooking the city, complete with tables and a built-in grilling area.
“At least once a week we have a barbecue out there,” added McFarland.
Other perks include free spin classes at Full Pedal, the studio owned by Crawford and his wife; gym memberships; and the occasional haircut.
“We bring in a barber and he will cut peoples’ hair right here,” said McFarland.
In Silicon Valley, these types of employee perks are expected — but startup culture is no longer limited to the Bay Area.
With millennials dominating the workplace — those born between 1981 and 1996 account for 35 percent of America’s workforce (Gen Xers make up 33 percent of employees, followed by Baby Boomers at 22 percent), according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data — some companies in Northern Nevada are cultivating cultures that appeal to the generation that values experiences and flexibility.
Talage, a Reno-based startup that provides a digital marketplace for small business insurance, just moved into its new renovated office space at 300 S. Wells Ave.
“We’re certainly pulling a decent amount out of the traditional Silicon Valley startup playbook, in terms of running a flat organization where opinions are heard from all employees and everybody feels a part of the team and like they can impact the way we go as a company,” said co-founder Matt Donovan, who has a background in Bay Area tech startups.
Talage currently has six employees, but has plans to triple the size of its team in the next year. The company offers unlimited paid time off, allows employees to bring their dogs, and has a TV set up to play video games.
“We want to build the expectation that you take care of your job, but in terms of how you get that done, we are certainly flexible,” said Donovan. “We need people who are excited about doing something new and willing to work hard to get it done, but if you want to take a 20-minute break to play video games at four in the afternoon and you’re going to come back and crank for two hours after that, so be it.” Greg Howard, CEO and co-founder of TrenLot, a software developer for the construction industry, agrees.
“A lot of employers complain about millennials and their work habits. I think that the best way to open that discussion is about quality versus quantity,” said Howard. “Some people work really well at night, some people work well at 3 a.m. The value and quality of the output from the knowledge worker is more important than what time they show up to work.”
Job flexibility ranks high for younger generations of employees.
While 91 percent of millennials say they are most attracted to a job by salary and benefits, 76 percent would be willing to take a salary cut of at least 3 percent to work for a company that offers flexible hours, according to 2017 research by survey software firm Qualtrics.
It’s why coworking spaces like the Reno Collective, at 1515 Plumas St., are cropping up across the region with a membership of entrepreneurs, freelancers and remote workers.
“You see a shift happening where people are going freelance and remote,” said Rachel Kingham, community manager at the collective. “We have a number of people here who are working for another company, but they want to live in a lifestyle that Reno offers.”
The coworking space has been open since 2009 and has between 100-110 members that can choose to work from private offices or common areas.
“It’s a professional space, but there is a community and casualness about it,” added Kingham.
Modern employers understand a happy employee is a productive employee.
Bombora, an aggregator of B2B intent data, opened its Reno office at 1 E. Liberty St., in 2015. The office employs 40 people, and strives to focus on health and wellness for its employees.
“We have a pool table, stand up desks, and a few treadmill desks,” said Susan Fenzl, vice president of people operations. “We focus on healthy organic snacks. We source local coffee from a small-batch, artisanal coffee roaster in Reno. We have kombucha on tap. We order acai bowls and bagels delivered by local vendors.”
The company recently completed a three-part series where employees learned about various topics to improve their days at work, like time management strategies and ergonomics and stretches to do at the office from a yoga instructor
“As one of our executives said, we want them to leave better than they came to us. We want to develop them as people, as well as professionals,” added Fenzl.
Patagonia has long been at the forefront of cultivating a company culture that puts employees first, and its 600-person distribution office along the Truckee River in West Reno is no exception.
“I do a lot of tours. A lot of companies come through our building and ask similar questions about our culture and how do we get that,” said Elizabeth Cassidy, human resources manager at the Reno office. “It’s about keeping your employees engaged and happy and well by offering great benefits and training your managers to be able to have great conversations with them to be able to engage and motivate.”
There are no individual offices in the building in order to facilitate an inclusive environment.
“Even at our headquarters, even if you’re a VP or Yvon Chouinard, you can still approach them and have open conversations,” said Cassidy.
Employees can also enjoy community-building perks like the company’s on-site subsidized daycare and meals from the organic café supplied with produce grown by Reno-based River School Farm.
“We also have field days where you can get paid to go ski or hike or surf and test our gear,” said Cassidy. “Last week we had over 100 employees spend the day floating down the Truckee River followed by a BBQ and music.”
Patagonia cultivates its culture of outdoorsmanship and environmentalism by offering paid volunteer days and programs like the Environmental Internship, which lets employees who’ve been with the company at least a year go work for two months at a nonprofit while still receiving their salary.
“These days employees are looking for more rather than just a paycheck, whether it’s workplace flexibility or a company mission they believe in,” said Cassidy. “I think they really like to be part of something bigger.”
Claire Cudahy is a special features writer for Sierra Nevada Media Group, a media company that includes the Tribune, the Nevada Appeal, Record-Courier, Northern Nevada Business View and other regional publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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