Innovation at work: Local companies come up with unique ways to attract workers

Jaime Velez, broker and operating partner, poses in the “Bull Pen,” an Internet lounge and workstation, at the Keller Williams Southern Nevada new offices Thursday, April 24, 2014. The lounge also provides computers with wired connections for brokers that don’t have a laptop. The office celebrated their grand opening Wednesday (April 30).

Melissa Biernacinski works out at the gym on Friday afternoons — on company time.

It’s one of the perks she enjoys as an employee at Imagine Communications, a Henderson-based marketing and communications company with 12 employees.

“First, it has been a consistent and fun way for us to bond as a team in a non-work environment,” said Biernacinski, the company’s director of media relations who has worked there for nine years. “We aren’t ‘just’ working out — we encourage one another, we laugh together and we’re improving our health together. While we have a great office environment, I think these workouts have brought us all closer.

“Second, there is the more straightforward and personal benefit of getting in shape, which is good for us and good for the company.

“(Trainers) Boris and Steve are the best. We wouldn’t find better training anywhere. And finally, Friday workouts are a great way to wrap up the week. Our industry can be stressful, and working out is a great way to deal with that stress.”

Potential employees look for a variety of benefits during the hiring process. Some focus on salary, some on medical benefits, while others perceive the chance to work a flexible schedule — sometimes even remotely — as a selling point.

Once an employee accepts a job and gets settled, it falls on the employer to keep staff intact. Companies in Southern Nevada are finding unique ways to foster creative and fun work environments, coming up with perks — such as a gym workout during the day — that differentiate them from other companies and help keep their workers from jumping ship to competitors.

Here is what a few local companies are doing for their employees:

Keller Williams Realty

Keller Williams Southern Nevada Offices

Jaime Velez, broker and operating partner, poses in the Launch slideshow »

Since most real estate agents are independent contractors, it may seem difficult to pass along perks and extra benefits to them.

Jaime Velez, a broker and operating partner of Keller Williams Southern Nevada, solved that — in a big way. He opened a 15,000-square-foot office in Henderson with cutting-edge technology, training and educational classrooms, and even plans for a video blogging room.

Velez’s staff of five and about 140 agents moved into the facility April 1. It boasts a 100-seat general purpose training room for presentations or to simply share ideas. It also has a 20-seat technology training room that is equipped with laptops, plus two prospecting rooms with 18 seats. Velez said a designated video blogging room is in the works that includes equipment for agents to record videos to advertise and market themselves on the Internet.

“What makes us special is we attract the real estate agent who wants to reach the next level,” Velez said. “We are providing something that’s more than just a place to hang your license or do a transaction. That really makes us different.”

Keller Williams also participates annually in R.E.D. Day. It’s a full day of volunteerism held on the second Thursday of May. R.E.D. stands for Renew, Energize and Donate.

“All market centers shut down that day to spend the day giving back to the community,” Velez said. “It has ranged from helping a family that has fallen on hard times, doing work at a nonprofit and working at a school that needs help.”

This year’s R.E.D. Day — May 8 — Velez and his team will spend at Shade Tree women’s shelter, assisting with renovations and painting in the dorm rooms and play rooms, helping women with career skills and resumes, and performing work at Noah’s Ark, the onsite animal shelter.

McCarthy Building Companies

The general contractor started the companywide wellness program “Build for Life,” which provides financial incentives for participants. It has proven popular, so much so that as of June 2013, 96.5 percent of workers were taking part. McCarthy has 60 local employees and about 1,600 nationally.

Build for Life is based on a points system and conducted like a competition, local project manager Nate Jacobs said. Employees earn points for participating in activities, going for checkups and maintaining wellness.

There are four levels — platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Employees who attain enough points to reach the gold level receive a $400 premium credit ($800 for an individual with a spouse or domestic partner) toward their payroll deduction for insurance premiums.

Last year, McCarthy also “gifted” those premiums in May, giving employees extra take-home pay that month, and is doing it again this month, said Lisa Sanders, director of corporate benefits.

“It’s just a way to say thank you to our employees,” she said. “Our health care plan is working and our employees are helping to keep those costs down. Being 100 percent employee-owned really gives us the flexibility and luxury that other companies don’t have.”

Additionally, after employees reach their five-year anniversary, McCarthy provides a week annually in a condo for the employee — and their family — at no cost. It has condos in Colorado, Utah, Florida and Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.

Imagine Communications

Because of Imagine’s size, business partners Brian Rouff and Alex Raffi are able to provide some unique perks.

Biernacinski, along with a majority of the staff, heads out to the local gym for an hourlong workout each Friday afternoon on company time. The company also has a Keurig coffee and tea machine in its breakroom and employees can work a day a week at home if they choose.

“We manage without a lot of micromanaging,” said Rouff, the company’s managing partner. “We provide a good company culture, a good work environment and some guidance. All of these perks aren’t just because we’re nice guys. We’re in a very high-stress occupation with deadlines all the time — sometimes very tight ones.”

Rouff said some of the best and most creative ideas come after the Friday workouts at Colosseum Training Center.

The company also holds a movie day once a quarter at a screening room near the office. The movie selections always have a lesson, Rouff said.

“The last one was the movie ‘Yellow Submarine,’ ” he said. “We showed that one for three reasons: the graphic design was groundbreaking and perfect for our graphic artists, it had fun word play that was great for our writers and I wanted to expose the younger generation to the Beatles.”

And if that’s not enough, the company has a “Friday Free-day” policy. Rouff explained that if there’s a Friday an employee needs to take off, he or she can do so without using a vacation day. Use of that perk is unlimited, but Rouff said it doesn’t get abused.

Rouff put it simply: “We hire adults and we treat them like adults. It’s not abused. Projects still get done.”

“The movie days and the free-Friday policy have both been very well-received,” Biernacinski added. “Because we know that the company doesn’t have to provide these kinds of perks, we all take care to ensure we appreciate them and don’t take advantage. To me, by providing meaningful perks, Imagine shows — through actions — the value it places on its employees. As a result, all of us employees truly want to do the best we can for the company. It’s a win-win.”

EV&A Architects

Ed Vance and Associates

Ed Vance of Ed Vance and Associates, an architecture firm, is seen in his offices Friday, April 25, 2014. Launch slideshow »

As founder and CEO, Ed Vance has seen his business take some dramatic hits from the economy. Of course, that trickled down to his employees.

“For the first time in four years, it’s nice to say that things are good. Things are actually going bananas right now. I haven’t used words like growth, margins and profits in years.”

The architectural firm grew during the real estate boom to 30 employees in 2008. That number slipped to five as of late last year. Today, he’s back to roughly 20 employees — with several positions that he’s still working to fill.

“It’s been nice to hire back people who we had laid off,” he said. “When you bring these people back, you know you’re getting great individuals. They hit the ground running.”

The firm offers flexible schedules for its employees, allowing them to work remotely as needed.

“In our business, so much can be done online or on the phone,” said Vance, who opened his firm after spending 18 years at JMA. “For me, today’s workers aren’t necessarily looking for the hefty benefits packages as they used to. They want to control when and where they can work. That flexibility is priceless.”

And when his workers do come into the office, they can bring their dog, and an office Foosball table helps alleviate stress.

EV&A has been involved in local projects such as the World Market Center, Las Vegas Convention Center, the Lucky Dragon Casino project on Sahara Boulevard, a recycling center for Republic Services, the Shops at Summerlin and developing the new stadium for the Las Vegas 51s.

Bank of America

If philanthropy is in your blood, Bank of America may be the right place for you.

Each of its 2,000 or so local employees is able to perform two hours of volunteer work as part of the paid work week. And that’s every week of the year if they choose.

“As long as they schedule it with their manager, they can go work at a nonprofit, help out at their child’s school, coach a Little League team, whatever they enjoy doing,” said Steve McCracken, senior vice president of marketing and corporate affairs.

Last year, employees volunteered more than 14,600 hours in Southern Nevada.

“The employees love it,” McCracken said. “Many of them are also volunteering their time outside of bank hours as well. We just honored all of the employees who had 200 and 500 volunteer hours last year, and one person who logged a thousand hours as a volunteer. It’s just amazing.”

The bank also matches nonprofit donations by its employees, up to $5,000 in a calendar year.

“It’s all part of the more than $1 million, including grants, donated here locally,” he said.

B of A also offers employee network groups to its employees. These are monthly or quarterly meetings between employees and senior leaders. These groups get together and drive conversations and topics, McCracken said. Examples include groups for military support, a pride group for gay, lesbian and bisexual workers, women’s leadership and Hispanics.