14 businesses go beyond the cubicle to reinvent the working world. (And better yet, they’re hiring!)
RAMP UP YOUR résumés, Seattle. We live in one of the world’s great working metropolises—home to groundbreakers like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Amazon. To find the latest crop of innovators, Seattle Met solicited nominations from more than 1,000 local executives and managers. We asked which Seattle businesses burn brightest when it comes to sweet perks, inspired work spaces, inclusive management style, family-friendly policies, and visionary bosses, and combined the responses with our own research. The result: 14 top companies where staffers actually (gasp!) enjoy spending their days. From local boutique agencies to mega tech firms, these are Seattle’s best places to work.
So draft your cover letter and send your best suit to the dry cleaners: You could be next in line to land a job at one of these cutting-edge businesses.
In a national survey, nine out of 10 office workers said they believe their work space directly affects productivity. That’s a good thing at these much-ogled offices—impeccably designed with the employee in mind.
At DDB Worldwide Communications—an international ad agency whose clients include Volkswagen and Anheuser-Busch—creativity is king. To keep their employees coming up with novel ways to present products, DDB has built a Seattle office that is at once comfortable (on weekends, Seahawks fans on staff stop by to relax over a beer from the office kegerator before heading to Qwest Field), and cutting-edge (commissioned graffiti artists have tagged the walls with puffy pandas and funny little monsters).
Around every corner, moving images flicker on flat-screen televisions, and inspiring quotes from Bill Bernbach, the “father of creative modern advertising,” and one of DDB’s founders, are etched on the glass walls of conference rooms. “Word of mouth is the best medium of all,” says one. “An idea can turn into the dust of magic depending on the talent that rubs against it,” reads another. Most of that magic is created in the War Room, where, amid massive bulletin boards, employees battle over ideas for their next campaigns during long, intense brainstorming sessions.
Contrasting with the in-your-face aesthetic and postmodern accoutrements, a balcony with sweeping views of Elliott Bay serves as a reminder that this is Second Avenue, downtown Seattle, and not Madison Avenue, midtown Manhattan.
Business DDB Seattle
What they do Make ads and do PR for clients like McDonald’s and Microsoft.
Job growth in one year Undisclosed
Currently hiring in Business, account management
Number of employees Undisclosed
Web site www.ddbseattle.com
Whenever friends drop by her office, SKB designer Emily Moses walks them down the hall, past the snow-white rounded wall that seems to slide off the ceiling, hovering above half a dozen intricately constructed project models and separating a studio from a row of comfy conference rooms. By the time they reach the sleek, silver-crested kitchen, guests always utter the same phrase: “I can’t believe you work here!”
“Here” is a stone shell of a former credit union in Belltown where SKB has resided since 2006. Reflecting the firm’s holistic design philosophy and emphasis on collaboration, architects sit alongside interior designers in the natural-light-filled studio.
Like her friends, Moses is still in awe of the space, especially the lofted library full of fabric and material samples, where orange and red swatches cascade off tables like autumn leaves on a breezy afternoon. And it still surprises her when a seasoned senior architect hollers casually across the open-air studio to solicit her input on a project. Architect Jim Brown says that working in a small office helps the staff avoid the stifling formalities of a corporate high-rise.
Staffers get along so well, in fact, they don’t want to go home. Company parties—when the glass doors that separate the conference room from the kitchen are thrown open to create an instant dance hall—often rock on until well past two in the morning.
Business SKB Architects
Industry Architecture and interior design
What they do Create avant-garde commercial spaces and residences.
Job growth in one year 14 percent
Currently hiring in Interior design, project management
Number of employees 22
Web site www.skbarchitects.com
If you want to know what it’s like to work at Google’s new Fremont office, do this: Take whatever problems you have with your job, and imagine your company has a built-in solution. Can’t stand your gum-smacking cubicle mate? Bring your laptop to one of the lounges. Always working through lunch? Head to a “microkitchen,” a station stocked with free snacks. Hate slogging through the midafternoon slump? Take a nap in the Quiet Room—a chamber of Zen complete with a vibrating massage chair.
Staffers refer to all things that are particular to the company as “googley.” Being googley means eating when you’re hungry, sleeping when you’re tired, and working when you’re inspired, but also maintaining a sense of ownership in the business. So when Google decided to expand its local presence, leadership asked employees to find a Seattle office: “We wandered around buildings trying to decide if they were googley or not,” says engineer Simon Kahan.
They ended up with three floors overlooking the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and immediately filled them with amenities: a cafeteria that serves complimentary gourmet meals, a game den for air-hockey matches and Xbox tournaments, and, throughout, floor-to-ceiling whiteboards to encourage casual collaboration. There’s even a doggy microkitchen with water dishes and treats, set up for the small pack of canines who accompany their owners to work every day. Barking is apparently not an issue: Employees say the dogs are all very googley.
What they do Make the Internet more useful and fun.
Job growth in one year 64 percent globally
Currently hiring in All departments
Number of employees 500 locally, 16,805 worldwide
Location Fremont and Kirkland
Web site www.google.com/jobs
Today’s companies are full of “hybrid parents”—bound only to their BlackBerries, they create their own schedules, and manage to make every soccer game as well as every conference call. Enterprising employers are helping them succeed.
Cyndee Settle’s daughter Tyler has juvenile diabetes, which means a lot of time and energy are devoted to the blood tests, diet monitoring, and insulin shots that keep her healthy. For many people, maintaining a full-time job on top of caring for a young diabetic would be untenable, but the customer-support manager simply takes off as much time as she needs, setting an example for other parents at the Kirkland-based company.
She didn’t stop there. A few years ago, Settle recalls, a lot of Allyis employees started to have kids. “We talked about buying a house and doing a co-op preschool and day care,” she says, “but then we found out it’s not really that simple. That’s when we came up with the child-care assistance program.” In addition to a full list of benefits, the program offers employees up to $525 a month toward the cost of day care and/or their child’s health-care premiums.
Last year the plan saved Settle and her husband Tom nearly $3,000 on child care alone, and Settle’s flexible schedule has enabled her to work from home whenever the situation calls for it—which can often mean being out of the office two or three days a week. “Last week my daughter’s school called and said, ‘Your daughter’s pump is out of insulin,’” says Settle, “and I just packed up my computer and was there.”
What they do Design Web sites and content management systems, then help keep them running.
Job growth in one year 15 percent
Currently hiring in Web project management, technical architecture, content management, business analysis
Number of employees 216
Web site www.allyis.com
When two weeks’ worth of snow and wind closed their day care last year, GordonDerr associate Tadas Kisielius and his wife Laura were stuck with two demanding full-time jobs and no one to look after their two young children. So Kisielius did something most attorneys would never dream of: He brought the boys to work with him.
Armed with briefcase in hand, a diaper bag over his shoulder, and a bundled-up child under each arm, Kisielius arrived at the firm’s corporate offices just north of Pike Place Market. “I was feeling kind of sheepish, but everybody was just wonderful,” he says, relaying how many of his coworkers took time to meet his kids and seemed genuinely happy to have them there.
In an industry notorious for considering children a liability, GordonDerr breaks the mold by encouraging employees to not only have families but actually spend time with them. This means setting a billable-hour requirement at a maximum of 1,600 hours per year—250 hours fewer than the average firm. Employees generally work five days a week, but are often able to get out for sports matches and plays, while their colleagues at other law offices work late into the night. Says managing partner Jay Derr: “We want to be a workplace that has very satisfying work but recognizes that you’ve got another life too.”
What they do Make sure documents are kosher and clients win in court.
Job growth in one year 7 percent
Currently hiring Entry-level associates
Number of employees 44
Web site www.gordonderr.com
Babylegs’ SoDo office—a squat, rust-colored building bordering the Duwamish—isn’t Seattle’s prettiest. But despite the gritty industrial setting, this may be the city’s most cheerful office space. That’s because Babylegs is full of babies: babies bouncing on employees’ knees, babies cooing as their moms and dads conference with colleagues in China and Japan, babies—and toddlers—in the playroom next to the reception desk gluing glitter onto construction paper.
“I read an article in Mothering magazine,” says CEO Nicole Donnelly, who invented “babylegs”—brightly pattered, kid-size leg warmers, which have also become a trend among teens and adult women (they wear them on their arms). “At that magazine they let the employees’ kids come into the office. And I thought, If I ever have an office, that would be the coolest thing.” It’s certainly cool for the eight moms on staff, who know each others’ kids well and often commiserate over sleepless nights and breast-pump pain.
All employees work on a flexible schedule, and Donnelly, whose three-year-old Sara is a regular presence at the office, admits that the freedom has led to more than one employee “falling off the wagon,” but she doesn’t let the occasional failure distract her from her goal. “I’m trying to lead by example,” she says. “I live Babylegs, but I also really know my little girl. I want to change the way business is done.”
What they do Make, distribute, and promote kid-size leg warmers.
Job growth in one year 50 percent
Currently hiring in Customer service, marketing, accounting
Number of employees 23
Web site www.babylegs.net
More than half of Americans say they work for badly run companies. But you won’t find Dilbert cartoons on the cubicle walls of these businesses, where the managers are inclusive, organized, and open-minded.
Eighty percent of Ruth Bell comes to work at Cascadia; the other 20 percent belongs to her kids, Hanna and Carsten. Or rather, Ruth Bell officially and happily works four days a week for the company. The founding partners, Charlie Scott and Marc Daudon, place such a high value on work-life balance that the term appears in Cascadia’s mission statement. Every employee has the option to telecommute, and 25 percent work from home as part of their regular weekly schedule. Part-timers like Ruth Bell are common.
Making flexible schedules work requires efficient and meticulous management. All employees attend a mandatory staff meeting on Monday morning, and staff hours are closely monitored and available for everyone to see. Bell, who manages the business outreach program for Seattle Public Utilities and supervises Cascadia staff, will soon embark on a month-long personal trip to Tanzania, which Daudon supported so strongly, she says, he practically booted her out the door when she asked for the time off. “All I got was the most warm reception and total support,” Bell recalls, a slight look of amazement crossing her well-tanned face.
Business Cascadia Consulting
What they do Help businesses go green.
Job growth in one year 4 percent
Currently hiring in Engineering
Number of employees 32
Web site www.cascadiaconsulting.com
They’re not as traumatic as pink slips or company audits, but office moves can be downright dreadful. “Moving space is something that people take personally,” said Keith Morris, VP of project management at Adaptis. In 2006 the health-care provider moved from the Metropolitan Park West high rise, near Capitol Hill, to the Wells Fargo building downtown. It was only a matter of blocks, but changing offices meant adjustments for everyone at the company.
That’s when Adaptis’s change-management process kicked in. Months before the move all staffers received a survey to gauge individual concerns about how the change would affect them. A “name-the-move” contest was held (MoDo, for Move Downtown, won). As the office change approached, Morris offered lists of restaurants in the new hood and presentations by nearby health clubs, as well as tours of the new offices.
“They brought in people from Metro to talk to us,” recalls Pam Goold, who commutes on public transportation from Edmonds. “They brought in chair samples for us to test, and set up workstations to show us what they would be like. They really thought of everything.”
“Change can be very threatening to people, even if it’s good change,” says Jim Anderson, Adaptis’s president and CEO. “We’ve integrated change management into all of our projects and decided it should be part and parcel of all our activities.” The result, they say, is happy, informed employees who stay on the job longer.
Industry Health care
What they do Process complicated paperwork and complete administrative tasks for overwhelmed insurance companies.
Job growth in one year 10 percent
Currently hiring in Business analysis, sales, project management
Number of employees 187
Web site www.adaptisinc.com
Benefits don’t come cheap. At most companies, they account for about 44 percent of payroll. But smart employers know that to attract the best staff, they have to offer the whole package.
KPS Health Plans
When Carrie Wanner’s husband Mike was diagnosed with teratoma testicular cancer, she wasn’t fretting about insurance. When you get the cancer diagnosis the last thing you think about, or should have to think about, is how to pay for the premium, says the sales account manager at KPS Health Plans.
While the Wanners spent much of 2007 worrying through surgical procedures and chemotherapy sessions, they didn’t have to agonize about medical costs: KPS pays 100 percent of health care premiums for employees and their families.
For the Wanners, the peace of mind was a benefit they couldn’t put a price on. But they do know that without insurance, Mike’s out-of-pocket treatment costs would have exceeded $85,000.
Beyond generous health benefits, KPS offers pretax flexible-spending accounts, tuition assistance, online wellness programs, and a 401(k) matching plan, plus fun stuff like an annual bowling competition using frozen Cornish game hens.
Mike Wanner is back to mountain biking and snowboarding; and in a time when other companies are scaling back benefits, KPS is committed to keeping their employees and keeping them covered: “We’re a health-care industry,” says company communication specialist Lisa Holmer. “We believe in covering a community, so we need to begin at the start, and that’s internally.”
Business KPS Health Plans
Industry Health care
What they do Offer medical insurance plans to groups and individuals.
Job growth in one year 2 percent
Currently hiring in Health plan operations, patient care, medical
Number of employees 174
Web site www.kpshealthplans.com
It’s the middle of the workday, and inside a conference room in downtown Seattle, a group of men sits at attention, eyes glued on a figure standing in front of them. He scribbles on a dry-erase board, his audience reacting to each and every mark: crossing their arms, nodding their heads. It looks like a fiscal strategy session, but this is a meeting of Entellium’s Division Two men’s soccer team, and it’s almost game time.
Founded in 2000, Entellium helps clients build customer relationships but prides itself on the relationships it fosters with its own employees, called “partners,” and that’s not just corporate jargon: Every employee owns valued stock in the company. Operating on the principle that people who like their jobs will work hard to keep them, Entellium encourages partners to make work fun (thus the soccer powwow) and offers enticing incentives like a biannual award for a trip to Malaysia to visit company offices, followed by an all-expenses-paid vacation.
But perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of Entellium’s commitment to partner appreciation is in the way it doles out office real estate: prime views of the Puget Sound go to the cubicle dwellers, while most managers’ offices are found in the windowless center.
What they do Develop customer relationship management software.
Job growth in one year 100 percent
Currently hiring in Sales, marketing, product and technology, IT, customer experience, human resources
Number of employees 106 locally, 210 worldwide
Web site www.entellium.com
On any Friday afternoon, while most deskbound drones are organizing and reorganizing the pencils on their desks, anxiously watching the second hand tick by, F5-ers are already two beers deep in a heated game of Ping-Pong. That’s because, for the staff here, it’s Beer Friday.
Inside the crowded game room employees in jeans and T-shirts line up to fill cups from a keg of pilsner, while manager and engineer Dan Wright shows colleagues his photos from a recent Caribbean vacation, raising his voice to be heard over the “thwack” of pool balls crashing together. Such travels are pretty common among F5 employees, who receive up to 25 days of paid vacation a year, not including holidays. They also enjoy standard benefits—health coverage, a 401(k) matching plan—and unique perks like a $300 monthly parking stipend for alternative transportation, on-site massage, $3,000 in annual tuition assistance, and local gym discounts.
It seems taking care of your employees is good business: In 2006, F5 grew in staff by approximately 32 percent worldwide, with nearly half of its new hires coming from internal employee referrals. And here’s one stat you might want to share with your boss: Somewhere between last year’s keg bashes and Caribbean vacations, revenues at F5 rose 33 percent.
What they do Help keep professional Web sites and e-mail systems running.
Job growth in one year 23 percent
Currently hiring in Sales, development, marketing, customer support
Number of employees 593 locally, 1,625 worldwide
Location Lower Queen Anne
Web site www.f5.com
Where can you find today’s best bosses? They aren’t sitting in their corner offices dictating memos. These hip honchos know that, to turn their vision into reality, they need to be out on the floor with the employees, sleeves rolled up.
Lloyd Frink remembers sitting around the office space he’d borrowed from his father on Union Street, talking with his partner Rich Barton. Both men had recently left top positions at Expedia (another Barton brainchild) and were shopping for houses. There has to be a better way to do this, they thought, almost simultaneously. What followed was what you might call the company’s defining moment. “If we could come up with a value for every house and put it on an aerial map,” Frink said, “how cool would that be?”
The answer, “very cool,” came with the February 2006 launch of Zillow.com, a contraction of “a zillion pillows.” From the start Zillow was a must-visit site where you could quickly get an estimated value for your house, your neighbor’s, your boss’s, your mailman’s. The company, which moved to the 46th floor of the Wells Fargo building before taking the site live, had 135 employees by the end of 2006 and hired 25 more last year.
At the Zillow workplace, Frink and Barton have created an atmosphere that is dynamic, fun, and loose. “Rich is more outgoing,” says David Gibbons, the head of community relations. “He makes face time for everyone. Lloyd is quieter and focuses on the product details. They make a point of being at happy hours and company outings. There’s no off-line politics with these guys.”
Gibbons, the company’s self-appointed blogmeister, spends his days trolling real estate sites, reading and responding to what people are saying about Zillow’s services, and using the feedback to help improve products. “At most corporations, a guy could get fired for writing blogs on company time,” says Gibbons. “Not at Zillow.”
Industry Real estate
What they do Provide online tools for home buyers and sellers.
Job growth in one year 19 percent
Currently hiring in Web design and development, database development
Number of employees 160
Web site www.zillow.com
When the Duwamish Tribe wanted to raise money to build a longhouse last year, and the Intiman Theatre badly needed funds, they both turned to Pyramid for help. The tribe was counseled on how to hold a successful art auction; the theater revitalized its board through a print campaign. “A lot of what we do is just listening,” says Pyramid founder John Hoyt. “We help them to tell their stories.”
Hoyt founded Pyramid to bring big public relations skills to worthy, often underfunded causes. Anne Tillery joined him that year, and together the two have put together a who’s who client list of causes, nonprofits, and foundations—from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to the Seattle Foundation to Seattle Public Schools.
Their passion for working for worthwhile clients attracts a dedicated staff with backgrounds in politics, journalism, the arts, and media. Dayna Hanson first met Hoyt in 2002, when she was a principal of the Seattle dance company 33 Fainting Spells. Hoyt helped orchestrate a successful run in New York and then sat on Fainting Spells’ board. Last year Hanson decided to come to work for him in business development. She says, “For a lot of people, it just feels good to spend their days knowing what they’re doing has a positive impact on so many clients.”
Business Pyramid Communications
Industry Public affairs
What they do Represent “worthy causes” in need of good PR.
Job growth in one year 12 percent
Currently hiring in Communications
Number of employees 52
Web site www.pyramidcommunications.com
Jacob Sayles and Susan Evans have no jobs available and no plans to add any, but for the more than 7 percent of Seattle workers who are self-employed, they can still offer a great place to work—not to mention a reason to get dressed in the morning. Last year they created Office Nomads, Seattle’s first coworking environment and a place where, for a $25 per day drop-in fee or $475 a month unlimited-use fee, freelancers come in out of the cold to work. They get a desk and chair in an open, friendly space, Wi-Fi, a coffeepot, a shower (great for bike commuters), and, perhaps best of all, camaraderie.
“Our target audience is going crazy working out of their homes,” says Sayles, an exuberant programmer when he’s not painting walls or building desks. “They have all the tools they need, but are isolated. The community part of an office is undervalued.”
The office meets for lunch on Wednesdays, has game nights on Mondays, and attends business seminars in one of Nomads’ three conference rooms. “We’ve created a solution for people to work in their own neighborhood,” says Evans. “They don’t have to drive, they can meet more people in their neighborhood and utilize local businesses.” The nomads include writers, marketing consultants, Web programmers, graphic designers, and an e-book publisher. They almost never wear their pajamas to work.
Business Office Nomads
What they do Provide office space (and work friends) to the self-employed.
Job growth in one year Not applicable
Currently hiring in Not applicable
Number of employees Two
Location Capitol Hill
Web site www.officenomads.com