West Coast tech firms set the standard for eccentric workplace benefits. Software company Skookum brings the tradition east to its uptown Charlotte office. Dress code? “You should probably be wearing clothes,” says senior software engineer Rob Florence, sporting shorts, a T-shirt and tennis shoes.
Need a haircut? Head to the designated shop down the street and bill it to the company. Feeling tense? On occasion a masseuse navigates the office offering shoulder massages. And there’s no set limit on paid time off or sick days. “We’ve decided that when there’s a limit, people worry about whether they can take a day off to take care of business,” says Florence. “We decided to let people be responsible and take time off when they need it. If you work non-stop the quality of the work is going to suffer.”
While the benefits are appreciated, a big reason Florence sought employment at Skookum was he heard “You could work on a lot of cool projects.” Skookum builds quality web and mobile applications that often automate or reduce a manual step in a process. A door-handle manufacturer hired them to build a handle that uses Bluetooth so it could be locked remotely. They built a mobile app for a distribution company that lets sales reps skip the step of returning to the office to report their data.
With 54 employees, “it is big enough that no one person can hold everything tightfisted,” says Mark Flowers, director of software engineering. “We can push a lot of decisions out to people who are directly working on projects. There’s a lot of trust and autonomy in letting teams perform their work.”
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Friday Tech Talks hosted by Skookum provide a platform for local people to talk about technology and how it is changing their industry. Past speakers include WCNC meteorologist Brad Panovich, former Mayor Anthony Foxx, and Senator Jeff Jackson. The biweekly talks are open to the public. On alternate weeks there is a catered internal lunch, where employees can socialize and discuss projects.
“The people I get to work with are very smart and very motivated; people who really care about the work they are producing,” says Flowers. The assumption is “You are smart, and you know more about this than I do, so I’m going to let you make a decision about that,” he says.
An atmosphere of appreciation imbues the company. “People are interested in building each other up and making the team become closer knit,” says Florence. And then there are the little things. When he returned home after knee surgery a box of chocolates from Skookum awaited him.