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These companies are betting on it.
If you haven’t heard of it, the Great Resignation (aka the Big Quit) is a thing—and it’s the real deal. A whopping 1 in 4 people quit their jobs in 2021 (in fact, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs last November alone—yes, you read that right), and the same amount of people are projected to quit their jobs in 2022.
So, where are they going and why the shift? The blame can be placed squarely on the shift in cultural mindset left in the wake of (and the ongoing) pandemic, quite obviously, as health and well-being have been launched to the forefront of our minds, ubiquitously pervading every convo and choice—inspiring many of us to rethink how we want to spend this precious life… and how we want to spend our time and energy.
That naturally translates to rethinking the way we spend our time to make a living—resulting in many leaving corporate jobs to start their own businesses or picking up remote work that allows the flexibility and freedom to work from anywhere, at any time (whether from bed in PJs or from some exotic stay). And, according to experts, this has zero to do with money. It’s just about balance—
So, no doubt you’re thinking: life fulfillment, smart move… what’s the big deal? But the ripple effect is creating mass casualties on the business front. And, at least locally, small businesses already have to compete with big companies like Google and Apple coming to the area.
Now, the question for many employers is how to get people to stay in their jobs—or come back to the office as the “Great Return” looms (for many big companies like SAS, return dates are potentially slated for March 1).
The answer, according to Raleigh-based software company Pendo co-founder and CEO Todd Olson, is to create a positive work culture and environment that employees can enjoy day in and day out—compensation (read: money) is indeed the lowest bar, but employers need to do more in terms of differentiating themselves and setting their company apart. This means not only showing appreciation for employees, but looking at where and how we work. Think offering them a workspace that’s exciting—and inspiring—and makes us eager to come into the office. Think reconsidering the long-outdated 9-to-5 model we all still ascribe to (plus the 24/7 plug-in). And the three local companies we tap here have done just that. With their call to action and avant-garde vision, Pendo, Baldwin& and Barringer are setting the bar—and staging the future of the office.
For Raleigh’s Barringer Construction (deemed an essential business)—who never really even left the office—their focus is on evolving the standard work-from-office model while maintaining the necessary parts of the status quo. Like coming to work.
Originally housed in the Industrious coworking space Downtown, Barringer started the pandemic by doing A and B days, where only about six employees would come in at a time… until everyone got tired of working from home, and the A and B days started melding together, and soon everyone was back in the office full time.
Then, in February 2021, Barringer Construction moved into its new space on Dawson Street (after a three-month reno) which—spoiler alert—has a speakeasy-style lounge in the basement (!).
While Barringer was never tasked with the chore of enticing employees to return to the office, staying tuned in to the evolving needs of their people remained important—as did creating a really cool environment that exemplified Barringer’s fun, wild and crazy culture, says Barringer Leed AP Brian DiDiano.
For the construction company, this meant a lounge (which DiDiano calls the heartbeat of the building) with Ping-Pong tables, a basketball hoop, a shuffleboard table and a dart board, which employees are encouraged to play on during the day. “We call it oscillating,” says DiDiano. “In order to stop the burnout, they say that every 15 to 30 minutes, you should take a break and spend five minutes of oscillating—go to the water fountain; go get a drink; play a game of Ping-Pong. … People ask, ‘How do you even get work done?’ … Well, we just do.”
In addition to the lounge, the updated office building gets its spunk from Lego-filled holes in the wall (an idea brought to life by Barringer Assistant Project Manager Carlie Wallin), which translates to the Lego wall, where Legos representing Barringer’s superintendents are placed throughout a map of Raleigh and Durham wherever they’re on the job. Beyond the ever-apt childlike building blocks, the space inspires with movie-themed bathrooms and focus rooms, a mural depicting Barringer’s history and traditions (the brainchild of Barringer Marketing Manager Alexis Raterman), and a conference room lined with caricatures of all of the employees—or what DiDiano calls “our family members.”
“I think space is important, and I think what space works best is when you get the employees to buy in on the space—like Alexis and Carlie,” says DiDiano. “When they buy into what’s in the space and the design, they feel like they own a part of it, and your culture comes out that way.”
Barringer’s pride and joy, however, is perhaps its Knott Easy Lounge, named after Barringer Construction General Superintendent Lenny Knott. The speakeasy-inspired space features leather couches, a massage chair, a TV and a bar stocked with bourbon—so employees can have meetings in the mod den or just go underground (literally) for a change of scenery during the workday.
But DiDiano is adamant that a space—no matter how cool—only does so much; it’s having that right culture and mindset that really brings an office to life.
“The focus on culture has been a big part of our story from day one,” says Pendo’s Olson. “We always know, in order to attract the best people, we have to have the best culture.”
In anticipation of outgrowing its space in the Wells Fargo building at the end of 2018, Pendo—known for its passion, energy and cutting-edge vision—announced it was moving into five floors of Raleigh Crossing’s 301 Hillsborough tower in early 2022, and with that, the software company put together an HQ branding and listening committee in 2021 to solicit feedback from its employees.
What Pendo heard, and what it acted on, was essentially its employees wanted a space that felt more residential, says Trish LaPaglia, Pendo director of culture and employee experience—something that would give them a variety of choices in terms of how they wanted to work (e.g. a workstation, comfy chair—or even one of Pendo’s new quiet rooms, which provide a space to work privately away from others).
But, to be fair, it could be a chicken or egg situation. For Pendo, these plans were in place before the pandemic, as LaPaglia acknowledges. “I don’t think that the pandemic changed [the plans] as much as we thought it would. I think these are things that people wanted,” she asserts. “The pandemic just accelerated the requests.”
Adds Olson, “You can’t think of your office as someplace you need to mandate people to come in to work. That obviously isn’t working. You need to shift your thinking to attract people.”
In addition to comfortable working spaces, Pendo’s new office will attract both current and future employees with rich amenities, including a coffee bar managed by 321 Coffee, a speakeasy, a kitchen and pizza oven (fun fact: Ashley Christensen consulted on the layout of the kitchen and helped spec the pizza oven), and a terrace with a fire pit that overlooks Downtown Raleigh. Clearly a pretty inviting setup.
“You need to rethink your office,” maintains Olson. “If your office is boring—like you have a bunch of cubes—rip ’em down. No one wants to sit in a cube farm; it’s much more comfortable to sit in your home. So think differently about how to create an office that’s actually inspiring and makes people want to go there.”
A beacon of the future, Pendo’s new office provides the majority of comforts that you would get while working from home while also offering the satisfaction of socializing, interacting and collaborating with fellow employees in-person that you would otherwise be missing—so, in essence, the best of both worlds, and ultimately what everyone wants out of their workplace. And while Pendo is making it optional for employees to return to its new office (“We’ve been open, and we’ve always been optional—flexibility is key,” says LaPaglia), why wouldn’t you want to go back to work when you have access to both a pizza oven and a private coffee shop?
In the case of Raleigh-based branding agency Baldwin&, while the offices are employee-driven (more on this below), the emphasis is on how we work—the time aspect of work/life balance we all crave. To wit, employees also get to choose whether or not they want to come back to the office as a result of its anonymous “How Should Work, Work?” survey.
“We’ve talked about mandating [coming into the office], but we decided not to,” says Baldwin& co-founder David Baldwin. “I have been disabused of the notion of an all-day workday, but I don’t see a need for it right now. We’re just going to be flexible about it.”
And while some may think this hybrid model doesn’t really work for a creative company that requires a lot of collaboration between its employees, “so far it’s been great,” says Baldwin. Employees are free to come and go as they please—each of them has a station with a desk in the open office environment—and there are also three phone booths (privacy rooms) for employees to take Zoom calls or sit by themselves and think in quiet, as well as meeting rooms with TVs, community spaces, a photography and video studio, and even a lactation room with a fridge.
It all stems from Baldwin&’s motto of “Give a Damn,” which is reflected not only on a colorful mural within the office itself, but within Baldwin&’s culture.
“A company’s not a building,” says Baldwin. “It’s a group of people. And we’re saying, ‘What do we want’? and ‘How do we work best?’” Essentially, he adds, “we’re asking, ‘What works for the organism?’ … And this is what’s working for the organism right now.”
… And it’s setting the stage for the future of how we work. “So, in five years, maybe the organism goes: ‘You know what, I miss seeing you every day. Let’s do it.’ But for now, we’re just listening to the people.”
Ultimately, Barringer’s DiDiano said it best: “Your employees need to feel like they are open to come and go as they please, that they’re valued being in there, and that they’re treated fairly,” he explains. “So, for us, we’re best when we work together as a team. And the most effective teams are able to collaborate together easily. And this space offers that.”
Then, summarizing the office of the now and the future in one breath, DiDiano adds: “And if you’re having fun all day at work, why would you ever want to leave? You want to get up the next day and come to work because it’s fun.”
Want more? Tune into our podcast, Office Talk w/ Raleigh Magazine.
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