21 Companies That Have Reinvented Work

From flexibility to family leave, transparency to trust, there is a seemingly endless number of ways for employers and employees to come together and improve how work is done for the mutual benefit of all.


Here are a few of the best solutions OpenWork Success Story firms have found for their particular challenges. The rewards they’ve gleaned prove that small changes can have big impact in the workplace.


Bora Architects Building Blocks
Bora Architects Building Blocks


1. Bora Architects

Challenge: Based on one of their employee’s challenges with impending new motherhood, Bora realized an employee leave policy might be in order.

Solution: Implement a plan that addressed the needs of as many employees as possible, whether they faced parenthood, illness, elder care or bereavement.

Process: Bora first crunched the numbers. By analyzing departures, recruitment and retention costs, the company determined a plan made financial sense and crafted a policy that offers paid leave at 20 percent of one’s salary up to the first year of employment, 40 percent for those employed between one and two years and 60 percent for those employed for more than two years at Bora.

Results: About 10 percent of the firm’s staff has used the program thus far, and Bora also discovered that offering the family leave offset the firm’s need for a disability insurance program that it had previously offered its shareholders.


2. Clif Bar

Challenge: Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary says, “Happy, healthy people create good food.” But how do you encourage employees to live their best lives outside of work, too?

Solution: Add a sabbatical program to Clif Bar’s already long roster of employee benefits.

Process: Clif Bar implemented an employee sabbatical program that offers six to eight paid weeks off every seven years as “an opportunity for personal growth and renewal.”

Result: More than 100 current employees have taken advantage of the sabbatical perk at least once.


3. Spotify

Challenge: While parental leave has skyrocketed, especially in the tech sector, few firms had a plan for what happens when new-parent employees go from complete disconnected to full-time employees.

Solution: Ease the transition to work with an understanding that the new baby still has significant needs even when leave ends.

Process: Music streaming platform Spotify introduced a flexible “Welcome Back” program to help ease the transition back to work with options including working from home, on a part-time basis, or with flexible hours for the month after their parental leave.



Reinvent Work
Employees at Workshop Digital


4. Tower Paddle Boards

Challenge: Tower Paddle Boards CEO Stephan Aarstol noticed that much of each employee’s workday was actually wasted by breaks and non-productive time.

Solution: Create a shorter, but more productive workday for all employees.

Process: Aarstol tried a three-month experiment first in which he challenged employees to complete all of the day’s work in five hours. When they were done, they were free to spend the rest of their days in any way they liked.

Result: Over a year later, the company never went back to their eight-hour days. Tower revenues are up, and so is employee engagement.


5. Workshop Digital

Challenge: Recruitment and retention in the tech industry can be challenging, especially in smaller metros.

Solution: Richmond’s Workshop Digital aimed to boost retention by driving engagement by encouraging employees to pursue goals and create their dream job.

Process: Every employee has a 90-day check-in with their manager in which they’re encouraged to suggest changes to their own job to make it fit their skills and interests.

Result: Engaged, happy employees and a 100 percent retention rate.



Reinvent work
A rousing table tennis match at BDO.


6. BDO

Challenge: In 2005, professional services firm BDO found that work-life balance was a major issue for employees.

Solution: Promote fun and flexibility even during the firm’s busiest time of year — tax time.

Process: BDO kicked off their flexibility program in 2008, allow employees flexibility in their schedule and allowing employees to work from home. But it wasn’t enough. So, the firm also added predictability to the process so that employees could count on specific time off on specific days. Lastly they promoted fun with the BDO Busy Season Breaks contest in which offices compete with one another by earning points for taking breaks.

Result: The contest marks a major change in the corporate culture of a company where taking a break was once looked down upon. In 2014, an internal company survey showed that 81 percent of workers felt their leaders supported them in using flexibility. In 2016, that number had climbed to an impressive 91 percent.


7. Boston Consulting Group

Challenge: Professional consulting is notoriously grueling and working long hours is expected, resulting in burnout and high turnover throughout the industry.

Solution: Boston Consulting Group sought to alleviate employee stress and stem turnover.

Process: After review BCG, Harvard Business School professor and business ethnographer Leslie Perlow found it wasn’t the long hours alone that caused burnout, but the unpredictability of the work schedules. Perlow worked with BCG to create a predictable time off strategy in which team members openly communicate their individual scheduling expectations prior to each project’s onset and check in with each other regularly.

Results: Consultants that are part of the so-called PTO teams are between 75 and 85 percent more likely to stay at BCG for the long-term.


8. MIT Sloan School of Management

Challenge: Located near one of the country’s most brutal commutes, MIT Sloan’s Executive Education program faced challenges with employee recruitment and retention.

Solution: Formalize a flexibility program that addresses the commute while promoting great work and engagement.

Process: Associate Dean Peter Hirst involved the entire department in figuring out what kinds of flexibility were needed and how it would be implemented. The resulting program encourages employees to work remotely two or three times a week — asking that employees head to the office on Wednesdays, if possible — and implements the use of telerobots which simulate face-to-face communication.

Results: One-hundred percent of participating employees said they would recommend working remotely to other departments, and 62 report an improved feeling of trust and respect.


9. National Equity Fund

Challenge: Employee engagement had fallen at NEF; work wasn’t being completely as quickly and efficiently as management felt it could be; and the 176-person company was having some difficulty recruiting new employees.

Solution: Develop a plan to re-energize the workforce.

Process: After independent consultant Jim Ware spoke to NEF employees, he found that their biggest complaint was the often epic commutes to downtown Chicago, sometimes as much as an hour and a half each way. In response, NEF established policies a formalized work-from-home program and trained managers on how to supervise remote employees.

Result: Today, 78 out of 176 employees work from home — and ditch their commute — at least once a week, and NEF is saving $2.4 million a year based on downsizing their office space.


10. PlastiCert

Challenge: The manufacturing sector has been plagued by skills gaps and a shortage of workers.

Solution: PlastiCert, a custom plastic injection molding company, is mitigating employee shortages with a focus on creating a flexible workplace and pursuing dynamic recruitment tactics.

Process: With a devotion to cross-training and the lean cellular manufacturing model, PlastiCert ensure it’s operating as efficiently as possible to meet customer demand, with a pool of employees capable of doing each job. This allows the company to embrace a level of flexibility that is elusive in manufacturing.


11. Stanford University School of Medicine

Challenge: Despite family-friendly policies, Stanford University School of Medicine noticed it was losing top talent due to its reputation for long, grueling hours.

Solution: Normalize flexibility and promote the use of time-saving support services.

Process: Stanford’s Medical School implemented a “time banking” system whereby faculty receive a variety of services — housecleaning, babysitting, elder care, handyman services — by banking the time they spend doing the often-unappreciated work of mentoring, serving on committees and so on.


12. State Street

Challenge: Financial services firm State Street noticed that managers struggled to implement its longstanding flexibility programs leading to inconsistencies across teams.

Solution: Take a more strategic approach to flexibility.

Process: The company set up a dedicated staff for a new Flex Work Program that transformed a disparate collection of employee-initiated arrangements into a proactive, manager-initiated program supported by tools, technologies and resources.

Result: The turnover rate of employees on formal Flexible Work arrangements is 47 percent less than State Street employees overall, and the company has seen increased productivity across the board.



Reinvent work
Havas Village Paris


13. BMW

Challenge: BMW realized that roughly half of the 18,000 workers in one of its most productive plants will be over age 50 by 2020.

Solution: Retain older workers by creating systems catering to their needs.

Process: BMW invited workers and technical experts to brainstorm about how to redo the plant which led to 70 changes, including laying new floors that are softer on the knees, installing easier-to-read computer screens, letting laborers sit instead of stand, and piping in more daylight.


14. Deloitte

Challenge: Traditional, annual employee reviews have become a huge, time-consuming headache full of paperwork and tedious meetings, with little benefit for employees.

Solution: Reinvent reviews so that employee feedback is not only given, but is informative and actionable.

Process: Using frequent, short, informal check-ins — which employees schedule when they want them — plus a system of monthly snapshots, Deloitte keeps an open dialogue between employees and their managers. Feedback happens in real-time, rather than in huge end-of-the-year batches, spurring engagement.

Result: Deloitte employees were spending 1.8 million hours per year on performance management prior to the switch which has resulted in significant reduction in hours wasted on ineffective reviews.


15. Havas

Challenge: With 20,000 employees in 100 countries, Havas feared their people and resources were becoming too spread out and siloed, even within the same building.

Solution: Create an environment more conducive to collaboration and communication among project teams.

Process: The company began by redesigning a few Havas offices, renamed villages, where employees from different Havas agencies sit together, integrating their work across boundaries. Instead of using the same team for every project, managers build teams specifically for individual clients, gathering the “villagers” with the most pertinent skillsets.

Result: Senior Program Manager Sara Belcastro says the No. 1 benefit of the Villages is camaraderie. “Working in such an open, collaborative environment gives you the opportunity to build relationships with people that you may never have met or interacted with before,” she says.


16. Plum Organics

Challenge: Baby food innovators Plum Organics had a culture they liked, but how could they be sure it would stay that way after a corporate acquisition and major growth?

Solution: Create a scalable culture that benefits employer and employees now and into the future.

Process: In 2015, the company launched the “Plum Organics Workplace of Our Future” project to identify the elements that make Plum Organics a great workplace in the first place. Based on the project’s extensive research, the company has generated a number of initiatives to protect culture, including making their mission to nourish little ones central to everything they do and promoting employee autonomy with workplace flexibility.


17. TargetProcess

Challenge: Employees at project management software company TargetProcess had a simple problem: They were bored. And this boredom was leading to a noticeable lack of innovation.

Solution: Encourage employees to step away from their monotonous work to devote time to learning and innovating.

Process: The company initiated “Orange Fridays” during which employees were free to work on any project that sparked their interest for four hours on Friday afternoons. Later, Orange Fridays became Orange Time, upping the “play time” to 20 percent of the workweek. Today, employees at TargetProcess are given incredible freedom: They have no managers and the culture allows for anyone to step away from normal work to read, learn and innovate, no questions asked.

Result: Orange Time does appear to work: TargetProcess investment opportunities have increased since the implementation of this program, and the company has grown from 15 people in 2008 to 110 in 2016.


18. Vynamic

Challenge: Vynamic CEO Dan Calista sought a way to avoid corporate “telepressure” to be constantly working, always available and unable to unplug.

Solution: Implement company-wide practices that stem the often grueling work expectations prevalent in management consulting.

Process: For Calista, it started with implementing Vynamic’s zzzMail policy which suggests that nobody send work-related email between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. or on weekends. On his way to create “the healthiest company in the world,” Calista also experimented with removing the email app from his phone and the firm embraces a number of employee-centric policies.

Result: Vynamic’s attrition rate has remained consistently low — around 10 percent — in an industry famous for burnout and turnover.


19. W.S. Badger

Challenge: Organic skin-care company W.S. Badger believes in supporting the lifecycle of their employees. So, what did they do when a new mom asked if she could bring her baby to work?

Solution: The innovative company developed a formalized babies-at-work program that has now ushered 15 employee infants through the company’s doors.

Process: Badger worked with the Parenting in the Workplace Institute to develop the program to suit the needs of their employees. The program reduces work hours and commensurate salary for the parents bringing babies to work so they don’t feel pressure to do more than they can, and each parent works with a co-worker support person tasked with caring for baby if the parent has to step into a meeting.

Result: Badger has seen reduced turnover, increased employee engagement and fewer new parents leaving the workplace since implementing the program.



Reinvent work
Zingerman’s reuben sandwich.


20. Zappos

Challenge: Shoe giant Zappos was growing at an unprecedented rate, and feared the more they grew, the less innovative they risked becoming as managers move further from the front lines of work and frontline employees moved further from leaders.

Solution: Ditch managers and make Zappos a Holacracy.

Process: In self-management employees know what is expected, and are then allowed to do what they think is best to meet those expectations. Instead of teams, Zappos now has “circles” with “lead links.” The lead link performs many of the traditional managerial duties, but the circle comes to a decision together about how to make changes. The result is the ability to make decisions without permission, promoting trust and innovation without barriers.


21. Zingerman’s

Challenge: Many companies miss out on valuable employee input by not giving a voice to all workers.

Solution: Zingerman’s focuses on complete transparency and employee empowerment to make sure all voices are heard.

Process: Zingerman’s adheres to the open-book management (OBM) system, in which everyone in the organization participates in running the business — from reviewing the financials to making big (and small) decisions. Co-founder Ari Weinzweig notes that in addition to tapping into the on-the-ground knowledge of the workforce, the open-book method also gives employees a greater sense of ownership of the company, making them more accountable and invested in its success and better equipped to ensure that success.

Result: Zingerman’s has grown to a $60-million collection of community-driven businesses and ranks in the top 10 percent of all firms practicing OBM.