More than words, part I: 6 Chicago tech companies whose cultures empower employees to do their best work

by Michael Hines
May 29, 2019

Building a strong company culture is about more than banging a gong when big wins occur and ensuring the cold brew keg is never empty. While celebrations and snacks are important — nobody does their best work on an empty stomach — many techies also look for companies with cultures that empower them in their roles and allow them to work with intent.

In this two-part series you’ll hear from Chicago tech workers at companies of all shapes and sizes about what makes their company cultures unique — and the real impact it has on their day-to-day. Continue below to read part one of this series.

 

Livly Chicago tech jobs

Livly is a real estate technology company whose modular platform enables building managers to offer residents a single portal that can be used for everything from paying rent to putting in maintenance requests and managing package deliveries. Head of Product Ren Wang said his work, which involves gathering knowledge from employees across the company and working with teams to build awesome products, is made easier by the company’s culture of mutual respect and open-mindedness.

 

How is your company’s culture different from what you’ve experienced before?

The first thing I noticed when I joined Livly was how open-minded and respectful everyone is. We have an incredibly diverse team in terms of personalities, skill sets and backgrounds, and I believe our receptive culture comes from constantly learning from each other.

The second thing is that even though we’re still a very small company, there has been a lot of emphasis put on building our people foundation and talent management. Everything from employee-sourced values to our thoughtfully designed office makes the team feel comfortable and provides a stable foundation for collaboration and learning.

 

A culture where everyone is mutually respectful, open-minded and positive makes it easier to collaborate on, and unite behind, a common goal and product vision.

What impact does that have on your work?

My role is defined by working with diverse teams and stakeholders in order to create the best product. You need the perspectives of many individuals with different lenses and areas of expertise to accomplish that. Collecting those rich perspectives and uniting teams is key to making good decisions and executing efficiently. A culture where everyone is mutually respectful, open-minded and positive makes it easier to collaborate on, and unite behind, a common goal and product vision.

 

Grubhub Chicago tech jobs

Grubhub’s online food ordering platform lets hungry people across the country and the pond — the company is active in London — easily order takeout from local restaurants. In addition to helping him grow professionally, Software Engineer Pranay Nanda said Grubhub’s culture of learning and information sharing has given him the opportunity to help junior team members sharpen their skills.

 

How is your company’s culture different from what you’ve experienced before?

There’s a strong focus on constant improvement and learning. My fellow engineers are incredibly intelligent, humble and always willing to act as mentors and share their knowledge, which really enriches our culture. For example, our team has a technical book club where we discuss a single chapter from a book every week. It's fascinating to overlay the book's content with a conversation amongst engineers who have a vast array of industry experience. There are always a lot of interesting ideas and perspectives from the group.

 

This collaborative culture at Grubhub has helped me hone my craft and grow my engineering skill set immensely.

What impact does that have on your work?

This collaborative culture at Grubhub has helped me hone my craft and grow my engineering skill set immensely. The unique culture of information sharing helps us build products that provide the best possible experience for our diners and restaurant partners. It’s been rewarding to contribute to this process while paying it forward with the more junior team members.

 

FTD Chicago tech jobs

FTD Companies is a global provider of floral and gifting products and the operator of ProFlowers, Shari’s Berries, Gifts.com and other brands. Director of Retention and Loyalty Nikee Pomper said the company’s collaboration-focused culture helps her find success in her role, which requires substantial cross-functional teamwork.

 

How is your company’s culture different from what you’ve experienced before?

Despite being in business for over 100 years, FTD operates very much like a startup. It’s an extremely non-hierarchical organization. Everyone leaves their ego at the door, is respectful of each other’s opinions and works hard to generate meaningful results. People are extremely smart, humble and respectful of one another. Regardless of individual performance goals, everyone works together to optimize the customer experience and drive the business forward.

 

Despite being in business for over 100 years, FTD operates very much like a startup. It’s an extremely non-hierarchical organization.

What impact does that have on your work?

Retention marketing is a high-touch channel that requires a lot of cross-functional teamwork. Whether it’s operationalizing campaigns, optimizing the on-site landing page experience, building data pipelines in order to deliver customized lifecycle communications, or leveraging data models for segmentation and targeting, collaboration is key. Working respectfully alongside others who share a common sense of urgency and a desire to enhance the customer experience makes the day-to-day enjoyable. We’re all in it together.

 

Puchkick Interactive Chicago tech jobs

Punchkick Interactive partners with brands to develop apps, responsive websites and mobile strategies. The company has a flat management structure, which Product Manager Greg Phelps had no experience with prior to joining the team. Despite being a bit of an adjustment, Phelps said this unique aspect of Punchkick’s culture enables him to more easily think outside the box in his work.

 

How is your company’s culture different from what you’ve experienced before?

Punchkick has a flat management structure, which was a big adjustment for me. I’ve had the privilege of working for other amazing companies with great cultures, but Punchkick was the first that embraced the idea of no hierarchy. That, combined with being a smaller company, means that all my coworkers are my peers, and we lead each other by expertise and service rather than title. I feel empowered to ask for help from anyone or take initiative with a new project so long as I make a good case and have buy-in from my peers.

 

The flat structure is important because it gives me the freedom to try new things and incorporate outside perspectives.

What impact does that have on your work?

The flat structure is important because it gives me the freedom to try new things and incorporate outside perspectives. It means our team has a sense of shared ownership. I’m held accountable by my peers of all disciplines to perform to the best of my ability, rather than just what a supervisor would see. When we run retrospectives or product planning sessions, we all have a stake in our shared success. Whether it’s product growth or personal development, there’s no bureaucracy standing in anyone’s way.

 

10th Magnitude Chicago tech jobs

10th Magnitude helps companies leverage Microsoft Azure cloud solutions to become more agile, efficient and customer focused. Senior Engineer Chris Nagel said what makes the company’s culture so different from others he’s experienced is its emphasis on ensuring employees at all levels have their voices heard — and its personalized approach to career development.

 

How is your company’s culture different from what you’ve experienced before?

We put emphasis on work-life balance and are mindful of employees and engineers having a true voice. Collaboration and continuous innovation are paramount. Rarely, if ever, do questions hang idly in our collaboration channels. We regularly participate in training, conferences, local meetups and industry knowledge sharing of any kind. This level of collaboration is really something special.

On top of my engineering responsibilities, I’m also a career sponsor. This role puts an emphasis on leading engineers toward their own personal career goals. The feedback received from this model has been very positive, and it’s one I haven’t encountered before.

 

Our commitment to collaboration has helped me learn and progress as an engineer and leader in the Azure space.

What impact does that have on your work?

As a career sponsor, it’s important that new engineers have the path shown to them and that they’re given the opportunity to learn from someone who’s experienced what they’ll be going through. Close feedback circles from employees and leadership ensure that team members of all levels have a voice. As an engineer, no one has all the answers. Our commitment to collaboration has helped me learn and progress as an engineer and leader in the Azure space.

 

Nexgen Packaging Chicago tech jobs

Nexgen Packaging’s cloud-based platform and creative services help companies in the retail, apparel and footwear industries manage their supply chain and develop brand identification products like tags and labels. Office and Accounting Manager Kelli Keck said the biggest difference between the culture of Nexgen and her previous employer is the level of communication and transparency around change.

 

How is your company’s culture different from what you’ve experienced before?

My last company was public, and we went through several changes caused by shareholders. No one explained why things were changing or gave us the tools or resources to respond and adapt. Nexgen is a close company with partners and managers who explain why and what we are doing when things change. I love that we have an open-door policy. We all get along and play a very important role in the advancement of Nexgen and its future.  

 

Nexgen is a close company with partners and managers who explain why and what we are doing when things change.

What impact does that have on your work?

Companies change and grow every day. It is so helpful to have the tools, resources and managers to educate, support and challenge you. Nexgen became a part of my family because they care about the people who work for them.

 

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