Last month, the Kansas City staffing startup nexus IT group was counted among one of the 15 Best Young Companies to Work ForÂ -- a pretty Â hefty accolade considering no company could nominate themselves and the search took place nationwide. Co-judged by turnstone, an office furniture company, and Wharton management professor Peter Capelli,Â nexus IT exhibited all the right criteria: positive work culture, forward-thinking leadership, retention, innovation, outreach, and an "intentionally designed workspace."
I recently had the chance to connect with nexus IT's Customer Experience Executive, Travis Lindemoen, who has some interesting ideas about how to run an IT staffing business -- or any business, for that matter.Â One thing was clear above all else: involvement is key.
ST: You have a no-hierarchy structure. Describe what this looks like in a physical sense.
Travis: Great question -- our office environment is an open work space. The only rooms that we have walled off are the storage rooms, conference room, bathrooms, and mechanical room. Our workspace is designed so that our executive team sits next to our candidate experience reps (recruiters), or our customer experience reps (sales). Every desk is equipped with ergotron's double monitor standing desks so our employees have the option to stand or sit at any point within the day within a matter of a few seconds. Also, every employee is equipped with a wireless headset so we are able to walk around the entire office and outside on our private patio while we work. On top of that we have exercise balls around the office and a few buoy chairs that we love.
ST: What about titles and seniority? Do you all have defined and separate duties or are they flexible?
Travis: Due to our split desk structure we do have designated responsibilities that we are responsible for in order to keep business operations running smoothly. Each member at nexus IT group is given a monthly goal so there's responsibility around hitting those metrics. However, every member of our team sits in on our bi-monthly think tank sessions and is expected to bring new ideas to the table. It could be as simple as a recent article they read that could add value to the team, or as big as changing our recruiting process to make the team more efficient.
ST: How do you offer your employees flexibility in the workplace?
Travis:Â It's funny you ask that. We do allow flexibility in the workplace and if someone wants to work from home, then we allow that -- especially with our video conference options we have set up in the office. The funny thing is that we've only really had two people in the history of the organization that wanted to work from home. Fortunately, our business partners enjoy coming to the office every day and working collaboratively together. The foosball table, pop-a-shot, and golf mat help, too.
ST:Â I heard you host Think Tank Sessions where any staff member can suggest a change. Can you give me an example of an idea that a newbie brought up that you've now implemented?
Travis: One of our newest initiatives that was brought up in a recent Thank Tank Session by a newer individual with nexus IT group was building out an internal zip code finder to help with making the recruiting function more efficient for our team. This seems like a small task, but it has saved us a ton of time when aggregated over the course of a Â year.
ST: How do you hatch these ideas for culture and engagement? Was there something in particular that inspired you?
Travis: When thinking about how to create a world class culture the idea really stemmed from wanting to create a place where I would love coming to everyday. We've learned a lot about how people like to work and our culture isn't a fit for everyone. Hierarchies seem like a logical business structure, but we've found success in a flatter, more democratic organizational structure. Giving all nexus IT group's employees the power to make decisions has really helped drive efficiency and innovation. The culture that we've created at nexus IT group has allowed us to be more nimble, focus on innovation, and work toward one shared purpose.
ST: Are these cultural aspects beneficial for recruitment of (internal) employees?
Travis: Absolutely - We have experienced a healthy amount of applications due to word-of-mouth marketing about our culture at nexus IT group.
ST: What about the IT candidates you place â€“ do they experience any â€˜spillover effectâ€™ from your cultural offerings?
Travis: Our culture at nexus IT group absolutely has a spillover effect with the IT candidates that we place. The industry has evolved a lot over the past 12-15 years with the introduction of LinkedIn, social media, and other industry specific sites like GIT or Stack Overflow. These sites are great and are a real game changer for a new firm, but the one thing that has remained constant over the years is the need for recruiters to build real, authentic relationships with candidates. When you create a culture with the right people, purpose, and passion, then you have a huge pathway to success in a relationship-driven industry.
ST: What is the most important factor in having an awesome, innovative, and engaged workplace?
Travis: It all starts at the top and trickles throughout the organization. It's important to create a workspace for the culture you want. For us it was a collaborative workspace that includes several sitting options, no seniority in the workspace, music throughout the office, no walls, flexibility, health/wellness, fun, energizing, and much more.
ST: If a company wanted to start transforming their culture tomorrow, should they start with a foosball table? Or should they focus on the invisibles first?
Travis: Start with the WHY behind the change. What's the motive? Do you have executive support? What's the ultimate outcome, and how will the change impact your current and future employees? If a cultural transformation is what a company is looking at, then they should really take a good hard look at the WHY behind it and implement accordingly.