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Peek into a new workplace in downtown Denver today, and you probably won’t find a sea of gray cubicles or closed-door offices. More likely, you’ll see groups huddled around laptops in lounge areas that are more comfortable than your own living room; individuals standing in front of raised desks and Skyping with clients; or colleagues (beers from the company kegerator in hand) brainstorming on a wall that transitions from a white board to a projection screen via an app. Whether you thank—or blame—technology or millennials or the evolving economy, there’s no denying 9-to-5 corner office life is a thing of the past. By 2020, it’s estimated that 50 percent of the American workforce will be freelance.
On the surface, that sounds great. Work from the ski lodge! Forget stodgy, awkward networking events! But this new world also brings a plethora of questions: How can companies design office spaces that encourage valuable face time for employees who could do their jobs remotely? How can gig workers turn chance meetings into paying work? How can company leadership manage and inspire the generational mixes in their ranks?
Denver is the perfect place to pose those queries: Forbes has named our fair city the best place for business and careers two years in a row; our residents are younger and more educated than the national average; and more than two million square feet of office space is planned for downtown Denver in the coming years. Read on to find out how to make the new workplace work for you.
Denver’s Got Talent
In the rapidly growing Mile High City, you can sit back and let the jobs come to you.
Grads who turned down offers elsewhere for Colorado’s sunshine and enviable lifestyle might not disappoint their parents after all. Businesses are now following the talent: 44 percent of the metro area’s population has a bachelor’s degree or higher (the national average is 33 percent), a stat that likely influenced the recent decisions of tech behemoths Google and Twitter to open offices on the Front Range. Here’s a look at why six more companies have moved—or soon will transition—their headquarters from other west-of-the-Mississippi locales (including Boulder!) to Denver.
Vertafore | Headquarters
Industry: Insurance technology
Moved from: Bothell, Washington
When: May 2017
“Denver has so many things going for it—an existing top-level talent pool, a burgeoning tech scene, and an overall environment conducive to helping us grow both our business and the business of our customers.” —Amy Zupon, CEO
Xero | U.S. headquarters
Moved from: San Francisco
When: November 2016
“When we started looking at places around the United States, we had to consider costs, time zones, compatibility. Denver kept coming back to the top. We looked at Denver and saw a city full of talent and potential.” —Andy Burner, vice president of people operations
DaVita | Global headquarters
Industry: Health care
Moved from: El Segundo, California
“The fact that there are so many forms of mass transit, the fact that there will be a huge variety of places where people can live conveniently, and the fact that there will be such easy access to restaurants, shopping, entertainment, all while being in a green environment, is sort of a rare combination.” —Kent Thiry, CEO
RLH Corporation | Headquarters
Moved from: Spokane, Washington
When: August 2017
“Denver’s direct flights to domestic and international cities provide better access for franchisees, vendors, and hotel partners.” —Greg Mount, CEO
Whole Foods Market | Rocky Mountain regional headquarters
Industry: Food services
Moved from: Boulder
When: Early 2017
“We polled the folks who worked in the office and asked what their top five or six criteria were for a new office space. Public transit was in the top two…to be able to hop on the train at Union Station and not worry about parking at the airport was really attractive to them.” —Heather Larrabee, company spokeswoman
BP Lower 48 | Headquarters
Industry: Oil and gas
Moved from: Houston
When: Early 2018
“With two-thirds of our operated oil and natural gas production and proved reserves in the Rockies, world-class universities nearby, and a wealth of industry expertise in the region, Denver is a logical—and strategic—place for us to be and a natural fit for our business.” —David Lawler, CEO
Comfortable and engaging workplaces mean happier employees who just might want to spend more time behind their (standing) desks.
Although open floor plans continue to dominate workplaces, companies—including Twitter, when it moved into a new Boulder office last fall—are also recognizing the need for closed-door areas. Phone booths, huddle nooks, and smaller conference rooms provide options for confidential meetings, quiet reprieves, or personal calls.
Sure, consistent branding is important, but it’s a good idea to also consider local values when developing designs. For instance, WeWork, which operates shared workspaces in 15 countries, added custom millwork to its year-old LoDo location for a ski-lodge feel.
The term “resimercial”—a combination of “residential” and “commercial”—describes homey furnishings (like the plant wall at RiNo’s Davis Partnerships Architects) brought in to help entice workers to come into the office instead of working remotely.
Employees today may want to stand when checking emails but sit while finishing a project (plus, there’s that recent study about how sitting all day is worse for you than smoking). At local office design company Workplace Elements’ Discovery Center showroom in Ballpark, designers can get ideas for incorporating adjustable furniture—lightweight or set on casters—that allows employees to easily reconfigure setups by, for example, breaking up a conference table into six separate stations.
Workers’ access to daylight has been connected to improved sleep, activity, and quality of life—things that can translate to better performance. When law firm Husch Blackwell moved its Denver outpost to the Union Station area in March, it built floor-to-ceiling interior glass walls to separate offices (all of which are the same size) and allow Colorado’s abundant sunshine to saturate the space.
Investing in employees’ well-being pays dividends for workers and bosses.
On-site workout equipment and nap nooks may sound like nothing more than millennial hiring bait, but increasingly, companies are discovering that helping their employees become healthier individuals actually makes them better professionals too. “These benefits and perks boost employee morale as well as support recruiting,” says Shannon Garcia-Lewis, senior vice president of human resources and staffing at Golden’s HomeAdvisor, which offers a bike-share program, a deli, and game rooms. Zen Planner, a fitness business software company in Highlands Ranch, hosts yoga classes in its 560-square-foot gym and has a beanbag-stocked Zen Den.
Another tactic: increasing capacity by compiling karma. GroundFloor Media’s innovative “get grounded” program allows employees up to four paid hours per month to spend volunteering. At the end of the year, the public relations firm donates $10 per volunteer hour completed to the various nonprofits. “We want people to feel good about working here,” GroundFloor president Ramonna Robinson says. “When people are fulfilled, they’re happier and more productive.”
Meet and Greet
How to turn any interaction into your next gig (or, at least, a lead on one).
As the axiom goes, finding work is all about who you know. In the digital age, it’s easy to “know” a lot of people, with sites like LinkedIn and Twitter connecting strangers with the click of a mouse. But turning online exchanges—or that chance meeting on a chairlift, or a conversation at a local event, such as this month’s Denver Startup Week (September 25 to 29)—into paying work requires some effort. Molly Wendell, an author and networking expert who gives speeches nationwide and calls Denver home, shares a five-step plan that’s sure to (literally) pay off.
Step 1: Be Intentional
Be open to prospects and aware that they can develop from anywhere. “Every time you meet a person you didn’t know previously, there’s an opportunity,” says Wendell, who has brought in 90 percent of her revenue from people she’s met on airplanes.
Step 2: Start Talking
Take the stress out of making the first move. After introducing herself, Wendell starts every conversation with the same seven questions: What do you do? Where do you work? How long have you been there? Where were you before that? How long were you there? Where were you before that? How long were you there? By the end, she has a solid idea of how large the person’s network is and where it potentially crosses paths with her own (or a friend’s) business goals. Having these questions set also means she doesn’t waste brain power thinking about what she’s going to say next when she should be listening.
Step 3: Make Them Like You
Keep asking questions. If you do so with finesse—maintaining an approachable tone and avoiding sounding like you’re reading from a script—you’ll end up with a lot of useful information. “Be interesting by being interested,” Wendell says. “The more they talk about themselves, the more they’re going to like me.”
Step 4: Provide Value
You have to give to get. “Value can come in the form of a lead, a contact, or an idea,” Wendell says. If you know someone who might be of service for a project the person is working on, mention it and offer to make an introduction.
Step 5: Plan Your Next Move
If you sense an opportunity, make sure you mention a low-key follow-up before you part. After a great interaction at happy hour, say, “This was really fun. We should grab coffee sometime. Can I have your card?” That way, the responsibility for continuing the conversation is in your hands. And make sure your next communication is brief and friendly. “A follow-up via email is for date and time scheduling,” Wendell says, “not re-justifying the reason for the meeting.”
Forget two-hour-long, gut-busting meetings in dimly lit steak houses. The new power lunch is laid-back, on-trend, and more health-conscious. Here, four of our preferred spots for midday deal-making.
For avoiding awkward silences with a new prospect
Pair your get-together with a side of fun at this “kaiten”-style (conveyor-belt) sushi restaurant in RiNo. Between the various seafood options rolling by—grab the spicy yellowtail before it’s out of reach—a beverage cart serving cocktails, and chromatic sushi pop art, conversation starters abound, making this an easy choice for an initial meeting.
For catching up with a client
During the Seersucker Martini Lunch (available weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) at this five-month-old restaurant near Union Station, your meal—like a pear salad or pork grilled cheese—is accompanied by up to three 75-cent vodka or gin martinis or Cosmopolitans. Because drinking responsibly—that is, staying on budget—is important to you and your client.
For when you need to hunker down and have a long brainstorming session
Lunch is a quieter affair at Uptown’s Coperta, making it ideal for meetings that require focus. The midday menu suits any level of hunger with panini (layered on crusty focaccia from Marczyk Fine Foods), salads, and antipasti. Note: You can’t snag a seat at this neighborhood eatery until noon.
For getting in front of that co-worker who “doesn’t have time for a meeting”
Troy Guard’s fast-casual eatery, now with two downtown locations, is ideal for casual chats outside of the office or as a grab-and-go option when you and a colleague need to multitask. We love the Northern California bowl’s mix of blueberries, granola, corn, black barley, and dates.
Ask The Expert
Becca Zukowski, a career coach at General Assembly Denver, fields a couple of common contemporary work questions.
Q: How do I bring up the idea of working remotely?
A: The first step is having an awareness of whether or not you’re doing well in the organization. If the answer is “yes,” talk to your manager. If this is not a companywide standard, clear with her that it would be OK on a trial basis. Say something like, “I’m proposing that for three months, I’d like to work remotely one day a week.” Commit to a certain set of communication goals during that time so your manager knows you’re online and can see your activity. Ask for constant feedback, and set a time to reassess with your manager how things are going.
Q: Before I apply for this job I really want, I’d like to connect with someone at the company. How do I ask a stranger to coffee?
A: Act like those people are human beings and put yourself in their shoes: What would I want to hear if someone were going to ask me for an hour out of my day? Add them on LinkedIn. Shoot them a short, tailored message that you’d like to take them out to coffee. Add something that interested you—they spoke at a panel recently or wrote a thought-provoking blog—and tell them you want to learn more about their company’s culture. If they accept your LinkedIn request, take the initiative and email them. Do that with as many relevant people as it takes for you to get a connection at the company.
What to do when generations collide.
In his previous career, Bryan Leach was a partner at a law firm where, at 35 years old, he was one of the youngest people in the office. Today, the founder and CEO of Denver-based global shopping app Ibotta has reversed roles. The average age of his more than 400 employees is 28, and Leach is about to become one of just a handful of 40- and 50-year-olds at the company. It’s a multigenerational mix that’s increasingly becoming the norm—and spawning a plethora of blog posts, books, and seminars on what, exactly, the growing digital native cohort wants and needs to thrive professionally. We asked Leach for his advice about managing the much-maligned but seemingly self-assured generation taking over the workplace: millennials.
When it comes to… The Mission
Millennials want to… Feel their work has moral value
So managers should… Find a way to tie the company’s work to a greater social good, and repeat it often: We help people by…. “If their work doesn’t matter—if it’s just a paycheck and options—it’s not interesting to younger employees in ways that my parents couldn’t understand: I’m providing for my family. That’s sufficient. No. It’s got to have moral relevance,” Leach says. “That is the expectation of a generation of people who’ve grown up being told that if you connect to the purpose of your work, you never work a day in your life.”
When it comes to… Communication
Millennials want to… Be in the know about the company’s status and future
So managers should… Strive for transparency. Ibotta, whose employees are shareholders, hosts quarterly town hall meetings during which the senior team shares financial performance and strategy and asks for input on areas in which the company could improve.
When it comes to… Workplace Culture
Millennials want to… Know that things won’t change as the company grows
So managers should… Set up a culture club or volunteer committee designed to preserve the most popular elements of your company’s culture (at Ibotta, these include trivia nights and outings to daytime Rockies games). “Point to these guardians as evidence that you’re not going to lose your way as you grow, which is a big fear for younger employees,” Leach says.
When it comes to… Idea Generation
Millennials want to… Feel like their opinions matter
So managers should… Emphasize that a good idea can come from anywhere. “If somebody feels, I’m young, I shouldn’t speak up; I’m not valued, my contributions aren’t valued—then we lose. We lose their contributions,” Leach says. As for older workers, he says, “They could benefit from being reminded of the benefits of out-of-the-box thinking.”
When it comes to… Company Pride
Millennials want to… Show off their place of work
So managers should… Invest in branded swag like T-shirts and backpacks. “It seems low ROI, and I resisted it forever,” Leach says. “But it’s key to retention and morale. It matters. Wear your colors proud.”
Work to Live
Meet the new iteration of ski bum: the business owner.
The lore of the ski bum looms large in Colorado. For many of us, however, the fantasy of residing in the mountains and skiing or snowboarding whenever we desire is cut short by, well, reality: Living paycheck to paycheck or working three part-time jobs to afford the high country’s lofty price tag takes away a bit of the glamour. But perhaps it’s time to revisit the daydream. The entrepreneurial energy sweeping the country has also reached the next generation of ski bums who are starting their own businesses in the places they want to live—and ski and hike and bike.
Sara Cox moved to Breckenridge after graduating from Colorado State University nine years ago. She thought she’d spend one season in the historic mining town while figuring out what she really wanted to do with her life. She’s still there. Over the years, she’s held various positions with Vail Resorts and the Summit Daily newspaper, but they were never quite the right fit. The 31-year-old was regularly in and out of coffeeshops as she commuted between meetings as an advertising rep—and a light bulb went off. Why not open her own? So Cox and her husband, whom she met her first winter in town, bought the Crown on Breck’s charming Main Street in May 2014. “My husband and I had decided we really loved it up here, we wanted to stay, and we were going to do anything we could,” she says. “We thought owning our own business was one of the few ways—if you can be successful at it—that you can plant roots and afford to live up here, or at least have the lifestyle that we want.”
Cox isn’t alone. Mike Waesche, 31, settled in Breck in 2010 and was a fireman; he’d work for two days and then spend his next four days off making turns and indulging his hobby of building skis. Today, Waesche is the founder of RMU, an employee-owned outdoor equipment company that manufactures skis and apparel. “If you’re truly passionate about it, you figure out a way,” he says. “That’s been our story.”
Tales like these are becoming more common in Colorado’s most outdoorsy communities as the cost of living continues to increase—and as ski bums grow up and realize they want careers that are more reliable and rewarding. These mountain-preneurs may have more responsibility than they did as employees bouncing between jobs, but the perks of being in charge of their own schedules can be sweeter. Exhibit A: Cox and her husband take a month off in both the fall and the spring, the slow seasons for tourism. Last year, they hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, and for this autumn, they’ve planned a road trip to visit all the national parks in the Northwest. Not too bad for a couple of ski bums.
Steal This Idea
Plants aren’t just a decorative tool; they also lower stress and eliminate air pollutants, making the office a healthier place to be. Which is why Denver mobile design and development company Tack Mobile provides every new employee with a desk plant of his or her choosing.
The Shoeless Office
Hopefully you’re not wearing holey socks: The first thing all staff and guests do when they walk into Gusto’s downtown Denver office is take off their shoes. Why? Josh Reeves, co-founder and CEO of the online payroll, benefits, and HR services company, told the New York Times, “In some ways, people feel more like themselves when their shoes are off.”
Paid Paid Vacation
No, that’s not a typo. FullContact, a Denver-based content management platform, gives each employee $7,500 (before taxes) to put toward a vacation every year—on top of their PTO. The only requirements: Employees must disconnect from work entirely, and they only get the money if they take the break.
By the Numbers
Denver is ranked 2nd among the best cities in the United States for job seekers in 2017
There are 664 tech startups in downtown Denver
The median age of the metro Denver workforce is 37
Out Of Office
Not everyone “gets” the work-from-anywhere concept. Here’s what to say the next time your friend/mom/teammate asks, “Are you actually working?”
- “Midday yoga is just the reset I need before heading into a tough meeting.”
- “Sorry, can’t hear you. It’s loud in this brewery. I’ll call you later.”
- “I find mountain biking in the morning—after waking up in my camper van outfitted with Wi-Fi—clears my head and makes me more focused the rest of the day.”
- “You don’t meet new clients in a conference room.”
- “You take a lunch break. I take a ski run break.”