3 lessons from this year’s Coolest Places to Work

This week, we’re proud to honor the CBJ’s newest class of Coolest Places to Work – a growing, fun-loving group of Corridor employers showcasing some of the most unique and innovative approaches for creating a great workplace culture.

This year’s edition is remarkable for the number of companies returning to the list, as well as the size of those making it for the first time. Only eight of the 24 companies honored this year are appearing for the first time, and five of those hail from the small company category (see the pullout box below detailing our different categories).

Among the repeaters is Clickstop, the Urbana-based e-commerce company that has appeared on the list each year since its inception in 2013 and makes our cover for the second time as “Coolest of the Cool,” a new milestone for the competition.

Taken together, this year’s list seems to illustrate at least three important points about cultivating a positive culture in the workplace:

  1. It’s easy to do. You don’t have to be a major company to create a workplace that excites and engages employees – all it takes is a little creativity and flexibility. The Iowa City Chamber of Commerce has surprise mini-office parties and “Fur- Friend Fridays”; at Hills Bank & Trust, free fountain sodas and company trivia nights are part of the fun mix. On a more fundamental level, employees with all the companies honored on this year’s list reported feeling respected and supported in their work. No company is ever too small for that.
  2. It’s learnable and replicable. The impressive number of returning companies on this year’s list suggests that those that work to improve their corporate culture are finding it a lasting benefit and creating ways to keep it going. Many of this year’s honorees have employee-led “fun” committees charged with planning special events, games and outings, as well as smaller, recurring opportunities to socialize. It’s an approach that empowers current employees to help create a place where they want to work, while also helping to pass that homegrown culture on to the next generation.
  3. It can fuel your company’s success. Several companies honored as Coolest Places to Work are now in larger categories than when they started, showing how key engaged employees are to business growth. This year’s list features both Clickstop, which moved from the medium to large category, and e-retailer Spotix, which moved from small to medium.


We hope you’ll enjoy reading about this year’s Coolest Places to Work on the (web)pages that follow, and perhaps take away a few ideas to improve your own office. Your employees will thank you! – Adam Moore


Selecting the Coolest Places to Work

Applications for the CBJ’s sixth-annual Coolest Places to Work awards were sought in April. In order to participate, a company had to nominate itself or be nominated by another company. Cedar Rapids-based HR and recruiting firm Skywalk Group then submitted a ques­tionnaire to employees and manage­ment for each nominee.

To qualify for awards consideration, companies needed to have a survey participation rate of at least 60 percent of their employee base. Eighty-five com­panies applied to this year’s competi­tion, and more than 60 percent of those had a participation rate high enough to qualify for judging.

Companies were then grouped into three size categories: small, those with 20 or fewer employees; medium, those with 21-99 employees; and large, those with 100 or more employees.

Finally, the companies were ranked by their scores, based on Skywalk Group’s analysis of the completed sur­veys. The firm will also provide an anal­ysis report to all of the companies that applied so they can see how they com­pared among the group and how they can improve.