Once, a “good job” meant a stable position with a steady paycheck, plus basic benefits like employer-paid health care and paid vacation time. These days, especially for parents, a good job means much more. Enter the flexible workplace.
Case in point: PDX-based Boly:Welch, a human resources agency, tech firm FYMI and the nonprofit Asian Pacific Network of Oregon, also known as APANO, all three of which received this year’s “When Work Works” award from Family Forward Oregon, a Portland-based advocacy group that pushes for more family-friendly legislation and workplace policies.
Higher-ups at all three say that flexible policies have allowed them to attract and retain their talent resulting in very low staff turnover rates under 10 percent. Their employees, meanwhile, say their bosses trust that they can manage their own time between work and personal business, that personal and work/life balance really is encouraged, and that they are happier at work as a result.
One of the city’s flexible workplace trailblazers is Boly:Welch, a staffing agency founded by Diane Boly and Pat Welch in 1986. The two met as recruiters at another agency, jobs they loved and jobs they were good at. But at some point both started thinking about their families and their future, and looked to their employers for a 401K retirement benefit. There was none, so Boly and Welch decided to strike out on their own.
As two mothers raising young children, they founded their company with a family-friendly culture. “Both of their children answered the phones at the front desk as part of the staff. For them it was the only way to be successful raising your kids and starting a business,” says Karen Fogg, the company’s director of operations.
Fogg first came to Boly:Welch as a 20-something in the mid-1990s. “I remember coming in and there were kids. I thought, ‘oh okay this is normal.’ When I became a temp coordinator I’d go out to clients and realized, no it’s not so normal,” Fogg says.
Boly:Welch has invested in making their space accommodating for staff and their families. Even furry ones. Boly:Welch has been a dog-friendly office since the early days, before it was as common as it is today. There are several places within their office attractive for families, including a room for children to play or do homework, a lactation room, a hangout space with a comfy couch, a pingpong table and a nap room.
“Those rooms are non-negotiable. In fact, when we thought that we needed more office space we rented space upstairs. We almost didn’t take the deal here, because they weren’t going to let us have dogs,” Fogg says.
She says that Welch and Boly consider their employees family. “They feel that sometimes it’s going to cost us more, it’s not going to make business sense, but it’s the right thing to do,” Fogg says. “It really comes down to, what would you do for your family? That’s why people stay. That’s why I stayed.”
Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO)
From its earliest days as a grassroots organization charged with pressing for change on social justice issues, APANO valued the contributions of diverse individuals and communities, says Joseph Santos-Lyons, the organization’s executive director. “For most of us, culturally we are accustomed to multi-generational spaces. We wanted to have an organizational home that reflects that,” he says.
When Jeanice Chieng was considering accepting a position at APANO, she was told right off the bat, should she need to bring one or both of her kids to the office, that would be okay — and she hasn’t hesitated to do so. “That’s why I was so attracted to APANO, not only because the work is very meaningful, but I knew it would allow me to be a mom first,” Chieng says.
APANO has a designated children’s area with toys, books, and a pack and play. “The supplies, the coloring, all of the little things that make that place friendly to kids, that’s wonderful. But I think more than that, it’s the culture and understanding of staff leadership here. It’s that culture and supportive environment from people here that want you to succeed and understand that means sometimes having to bring your children to work,” Chieng says.
Khahn Pham, another APANO staffer, sits right next to the play area, which is convenient when she has her 1-year old in tow. Pham agrees that APANO offers much more than just a physical space for kids. “It’s also people’s ‘welcoming-ness.’ Whenever my daughter comes into meetings she’s welcomed there. Folks appreciate having a different dose of humor, a different energy,” Pham says.
In addition to kid-friendliness, APANO offers flexible schedules and is also a dog-friendly space. They even make child care available at all of their events and meetings, making the space family friendly for the communities they serve. Such workplace benefits have paid off. Santos-Lyons reports that APANO currently has a zero percent turnover rate, for two years and counting.
Check out more photos from APANO and Boly:Welch here.
When Justin Yuen founded his social collaboration software company FMYI in 2004, he and his wife Katrina had a newborn girl. She recalls, “Justin would be in the office with Malina on the swing, while I was out working.”
FMYI has since become even more of a family affair, as Katrina Yuen joined the company a few years ago as director of HR. Director of technology Eric Rath has been with FMYI since the early days of the company. He has appreciated being able to support his family when needed. “We had a day last week where our school was closed. We knew about that for months in advance, but it still didn’t change the fact that we need to be available.” He says it’s not unusual to have a kid or two in the office for an hour in the afternoon. FMYI is also a dog-friendly office, with as many as three dogs in the office sometimes.
Another benefit the company offers is working remotely. The remote-work policy emerged as a key employee moved out of state for her partner’s job. Another employee moved to Hood River to be able to pursue a passion for kiteboarding. Luckily the company’s own software supports good collaboration dynamics for remote teams.
All FMYI employees also get unlimited time off, one of the more unique workplace benefits. As a software and service company, customers expect around the clock access, spanning weekends, and other off hours, says Rath. “It just seems fair that if we are going to expect our employees to perform work outside normal work hours, we should be able to show flexibility for when they take their time off.”
The small company is a bit unusual for the tech sector. Unlike many tech startups who might work like crazy for a few years in order to sell the company, FMYI has a different priority — to grow slowly, steadily, and to be sustainable. “We want the company to stay around because we want a nice place to work,” Rath says.
With the fierce competition for talent in the tech industry, a flexible workplace can be attractive, says Katrina Yuen. “I’m quite certain that we’ve brought on people that could make more money in a larger organization, but have been attracted by the culture that we’ve built here.”
Author Toni Tabora-Roberts loves to explore the world with her sweet and hilarious daughter and hubby. Work-ish type adventures take her to places where arts, creativity, equity and civic engagement collide. She does projects and consulting with artists, nonprofits and small businesses through her company Esper House.
Photographer Irene Tejaratchi Hess is a multimedia producer. She spent her early career as a producer and editor at PBS, and now creates documentary media for various organizations. Her photos have appeared in the New York Times, The Brooklyn Paper and Transportation Alternatives magazine. Exploring nature with her family, taking photos, and Halloween are a few of her favorite things.
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