After an especially turbulent year for working professionals, some workplaces went above and beyond to keep their employees happy when it seemed like the world was ending. As it turns out, Austin has a lot of great places to work.
Inc.'s annual Best Workplaces list highlighted 11 Austin-based companies, more than any other city in Texas, as employee-driven. Out of 429 companies Inc. awarded across the U.S., here are the "2021 Best Workplaces" in Austin.
Marking seven consecutive years being honored on the list, management consulting firm 9Gauge Partners once again made the list for its dedication to employees. Once the pandemic hit, 9Gauge continued to hold weekly interactive video calls to foster connections and still holds employee interviews every two-to-six months to gauge satisfaction. 9Gauge says they put employees "first in every business decision."
Austin-based SaaS, or software as a service, provider AgileAssets sees diversity as one of its biggest strengths and boasts a team brought together from 20 countries, 12 languages and five continents. The company was recognized with an "Enduring Impact" award for its progressive policies on healthcare, including maternity and paternity leave for new parents, and in-house self-care classes so employees can learn skills to be their most zen selves.
Proving that "Happier, healthier employees are a bedrock" of success, AlertMedia used the pandemic to rethink what company culture should mean. On top of trying to keep employees connected through frequent Zoom meetings when working from home, AlertMedia incentivized staff to take breaks for mental and physical health. The company also tried to pay it forward to the community in a hard time, donating "time and treasure" to local businesses.
Decent is not only providing "affordable" health insurance plans to small Texas businesses, they also try to go above and beyond to keep employees happy, healthy and well-traveled. On each employee's first anniversary at the company, they receive a $1,500 travel voucher and a poster with notes of love from all their fellow employees. They show they care about employees—even finding housing for those without power during the winter storm.
As a completely remote company, Fourlane strives to keep employees connected even when they are apart. The company claims to operate on core values of open communication and transparency, with a goal to "create a culture where everyone feels heard and valued." To accomplish that, Fourlane holds frequent open-agenda meetings led by employees and recognizes exceptional work with awards throughout the year.
Made In Cookware
We're beyond excited to announce Made In is one of @Inc’s Best Workplaces of— Made In Cookware (@madeincookware) May 12, 2021
2021! Grateful for this incredible team we get to work with everyday! Congratulations to all of the #IncBestWorkplaces winners! https://t.co/JWwzmdoLiSpic.twitter.com/RHh27v0G5Y
Mutual respect is the name of the game at Made In Cookware, which says it shares a belief that "that we should be able to share a meal with anyone we work with, even after a hard day," and that includes everyone they work with. That belief has led to the creation of the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund, which supports hospitality workers, and honors employees with peer-nominated spotlight awards.
Embracing the new hybrid of office and work-from-home, employees, marketing and digital communications organization Mighty Citizen says it is transparent by involving staff in setting quarterly goals and not hiding anything on the business end. With extensive benefits and paid parental leave, the company claims to keep employees at the front of decision-making.
Using artificial intelligence to connect people to their dream homes, OJO Labs says they put people first and hire employees who are mindful about the current social sphere. OJO is helping the community bridge the inequality gap by helping first-time Black and Latino homebuyers but it is helping employees by regularly revisiting company policies to maintain flexibility and extending breaks for employees during a hard year.
Protective intelligence software company Ontic tried to make the transition to the new normal by giving employees a stipend to perfect their home offices, hand-delivering home care packages and hosting virtual activities that came as close to the real thing as possible.
Digital media sales and services company Q1 Media is all about working hard and playing harder. For employees, hard work means bonuses, celebrations, happy hours (virtual for now) and trips to Vegas once it is safe. As Q1 says, "We put our people first, and the rest follows."
Some things never change. Getting named to #IncBestWorkplaces is one of them.— The Zebra (@TheZebraCo) May 12, 2021
Our #AllStripesWelcome workplace is on @Inc's list for the fourth consecutive year!
🏆🏆🏆🏆 ---> https://t.co/U3yg0qOFJgpic.twitter.com/4Somm32oNp
Not only does The Zebra love its employees, it also loves their furry friends. In addition to the five-month paid parental leave, $100 per month wellness stipend, unlimited PTO and employee-led resource groups, the independent insurance-comparison site offered employees a $300 stipend to welcome a new adoptable friend into their homes early on in the pandemic.
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Pet grooming salons and dog supply stores have seen a rash of at least seven burglaries over the last month, bringing store owners together to try and put an end to the repeated crime.
The break-ins started in late June and have continued every few days at different locations around the city, according to the Austin Police Department and Austin/CentralTexasGroomers Facebook group.
Victims have started sharing their security videos via Facebook, with a nearly identical story each time: A gloved man uses a rock to break through a glass door or window in the early morning hours, takes the cash drawer and splits.
Barkin’ Creek Dog Kitchen & Bath co-owner and CEO Jeff Springer has had two of his four locations hit. Springer said he’s not only out a few thousand in stolen cash but also keys and checks from inside the drawers, plus several thousand dollars in repairs.
“There's a sense of anger and helplessness combined—anger because you've been victimized and helplessness because there's nothing that you can do that could have stopped this,” Springer told Austonia.
The stores that were hit:
- June 27: Mod Mutt Salon
- July 2: Rainbow Paws Pet Salon
- July 4: As the Fur Flies
- July 11: Sniff Grooming Studio
- July 23: Hair O’ the Dog Pet Salon
- July 26: Barkin’ Creek Dog Kitchen & Bath Zilker location
- July 29: Barkin’ Creek Dog Kitchen & Bath South Lamar location
Springer said his first burglary occurred around 2 a.m. at the Zilker location—the perpetrator smashed through the door, ripped out the cash drawer, unlocked the unbroken door and calmly walked out. The scene was found by an employee a few hours later.
Springer said they spent the morning rescheduling grooming appointments and cleaning up the glass. Barkin’ Creek’s South Lamar location was hit three days later in the exact same way, by who he believes to be the same person Springer said, and the robbery was discovered around 6 a.m.
“He left the computers—he left some very expensive items that are on our sales floor right there,” Springer said. “I think he wanted to expedite the theft and get in and out as quickly as possible.”
While Springer has reached out to police, he said he’s been repeatedly told they are understaffed and are trying to prioritize reports as they come in. He had to fill out the police reports online, as opposed to having an officer dispatched to him, due to staffing issues.
After reaching out to District Five Council Member Ann Kitchen, he was able to get in touch with a district sergeant who helped him upload evidence on Friday.
“That was frustrating because you expect the police to show up when you're burglarized,” Springer said. “I wanted to make sure that the police were aware that we had a serial burglar on the loose who is targeting dog stores. This is low-hanging fruit given all the evidence that all these stores have collectively together on the guy.”
A report from KXAN said several other store owners have complained about little to no police response—Nancy Rich with As the Fur Flies said police haven’t come to take fingerprints on objects the perpetrator touched or evidence.
Springer said in the meantime, they have updated lighting in their parking lots, are converting to a cashless system and looking into stronger glass, but he fears that after the repairs are done, the robber will strike again.
“(Upgrading) the glass is another heavy cost,” Springer said. “We're a small, family-owned business. We don't have a lot of money to pay somebody to be a full time security guard at each one of our stores. It's just not feasible.”
By Willow Higgins
In the summer of 2020, in the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dove Springs community members began to wonder how they could better use a section of the local greenbelt that had become neglected. The unmarked trail, which is overgrown and enclosed by a 10-foot flood wall, was once actively maintained and a go-to river access point for residents in the mood for a stroll or a swim. Last week, project partners presented their proposal for a revamp of a section of the East Williamson Creek Greenbelt–which they’ve named Donde Corre el Agua (Where the Water Runs)–to the Parks and Recreation Board.
The project team has been working tirelessly over the past year to figure out how to transform the space. Dove Springs residents Blanca Ortíz, Elena Rodríguez and Enedina Sánchez, who initiated the project, teamed up with Frances Acuña of Go Austin/Vamos Austin and Bjørn Sletto, a UT architecture professor, and his class to pull together a 100-plus-page book that spells out how the project should be approached.
“The residents and students have been working every single weekend for a little bit more than a year so they could get the language that was needed to be included in this book so we could have a model for how to transform something that looks like (this) into something beautiful and doing it the right way by including the residents and including the neighbors,” Acuña said in her presentation to the parks board.
While some enjoy hiking the trail in its current wild state, steep drop-offs to the creek and eroded riverbanks have prevented neighbors from enjoying it the way they used to. The parcel used to be lined with houses that backed up to the creek, but after the area was hit by a flood, the houses were bought out and removed. Nonetheless, the area has a rich history and holds memories, especially for older residents, that the team worked to honor.
What they have in mind is a beautiful, well-maintained trail with flower gardens, a community garden, rest stops, picnic areas and a play area including swings and volleyball and basketball courts. The trail will also be adorned with murals that tell stories about the community.
“We prioritized culture preservation and conservation, making sure that the culture wasn’t lost in our community,” Acuña said. “We have been losing (our culture) little by little because of gentrification and displacement, but at least in this space, we were able to come together and see what the residents, between the youth and the older adults, highlighted that they wanted to see.”
Now that the community-activated project proposal is complete, the partners will move on to complete the Neighborhood Partnering Program application, which will include an estimate of the budget and zoning and permitting logistics. Then they’ll identify and begin to implement the project’s priorities. If they don’t secure the funding to complete the project in one sweep, they’ll steward their plan over time.
“This means a lot to the neighborhood because we have taken so much of our minds and our souls into this project,” Acuña said. “Dove Springs is an area that has been neglected and all the work the residents took and the students took to make this happen is something that is admirable for it to become a reality.”