Workplace innovators

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August 8, 2014 // UPDATED 11:22 am - August 20, 2014
By: Sarah McKenzie
Clockwork employees in their Northeast office.
Submitted photo
Sarah McKenzie
Northeast-based Clockwork Active Media earning praise for its employee benefits

Clockwork Active Media, an interactive digital agency housed in a former Northeast Minneapolis gas station, has attracted national attention for its family friendly workplace culture.

The 65-employee firm offices out of a rehabbed space at 1501 E. Hennepin Ave. that was once home to the Rayvic auto service station. Employees work in teams, set their own schedules and have the option of working remotely.

The company also hosts a lab day once a month where people can work on personal projects of interest, learn new coding skills or do volunteer work.

Clockwork also allows parents to bring babies to work as they are in transition from maternity or paternity leave. Older children are also allowed at the office in the event of childcare conflicts, said Lyz Nagan, the company’s communications director.

“Both programs, when not explained, can sound like we have kids running around all of the time,” she said. “But because there are policies with specific guidelines and expectations, and because there is a high degree of mutual respect and open communication among our colleagues, neither program has ever been a problem.”

Clockwork’s approach prompted the White House to extend an invitation to Clockwork CEO Nancy Lyons to serve as a panelist for the first White House Summit on Working Families earlier this summer.

“We really want people to bring their whole selves to work,” Lyons said during a recent interview. “People are not just software programmers. They’re not just technologists. They are artists, musicians and moms. They are churchgoers and community members. They are multifaceted and if we’re doing it right, all of that informs the work that we do.”

One of the goals of the White House gathering was to glean tips from small businesses with flexible workplaces that could be passed on to larger companies.

“The whole conversation at the summit was about how we can change workplace policies  and thinking to be more supportive of the 21st century family, which doesn’t look at all what it used to look like, and is changing at the speed of light,” Lyons said.

Lyons also serves as the vice chair of the national board of directors for the Family Equality Council — an advocacy organization that supports LGBT families.

Clockwork has experienced rapid growth since it launched in 2002 and made it on several best place to work lists. The company had more than $8 million in revenue in 2013.

The employee retention rate is over 95 percent.

The interactive company creates applications for clients in a wide range of sectors, including Fortune 500 companies like Target and PepsiCo and nonprofits like Nice Ride Minnesota and the YWCA.

Emily McAuliffe, vice president of strategy and user experience for Clockwork, said the company provides employees with a lot of flexibility about how they approach their work and balance their personal lives.

“As long as we are keeping our commitments to each other and to our clients, how, when, and where we do our thinking and producing is up to us,” she said, adding that’s she’s a “night owl” and often does her best work in the evenings after her kids have gone to bed.

Luke Vestrum, the company’s director of project development, said the company responds to the needs of employees as they arise.

“Aside from monitoring staff hours and proactively identifying causes for concern, I think what we do well is give people an environment to stand-up and have a voice regarding their personal balance,” he said. “It’s part of our culture — we expect people to voice concerns so as an organization we can adjust.”

Meghan Wilker, chief operating officer at Clockwork, echoed Vestrum’s comments about the company’s vibe.

“What feels distinctive to me is that there’s a real sense that we all contribute to the culture,” she said. “It’s not something that is dictated by any one person or group — it’s something that’s cultivated by each person in the organization. So there’s this feeling that we are all responsible for how the place feels.”

Wilker said there’s a genuine commitment to honoring employees' family responsibilities.

“There’s never this expectation that people set aside their personal lives when they walk in the door,” she said. “It may feel counterintuitive at first, but if you give people the freedom to deal with their personal lives, the time they spend at the office will be that much more productive because they’re not wishing they were somewhere else.”  

Wilker and Lyons are also behind the Geek Girls Guide (www.geekgirlsguide.com) — a website that aims to make web technology more accessible to people. The site also features a podcast on a variety of technology topics.

Lyons is a self-taught technology expert and is active in outreach efforts to encourage more young people, especially women, to consider the industry for a future career.

“Women that are in tech have to tell their stories,” she said. “They have to be louder and they have to look around them to see who needs a hand or a word of encouragement.”