The 2015 Best Places to Work
Check out all the categories in this year's Best Places to Work program.
Coordinating trips and tours for other people doesn’t always translate to an adventurous life for the person doing the planning, but these companies go above and beyond to ensure their workers have every opportunity to unplug, ditch the desk, and enjoy themselves.
That could mean subsidizing trips to national parks, instituting snow days when there’s fresh powder on the mountain, offering staff day trips, or simply locating the office in a place with easy access to awesome activities. If you want a job that gets you outdoors, these are the companies for you.
Location: San Francisco, California
Number of Employees: 67
With views from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge and a sprawling headquarters set next to San Francisco hot spot Pier 39, Zozi is an attractive place to spend 40 hours a week. The company is an online-booking software company for tour, activity, and event providers in 90 countries.
But CEO and founder TJ Sassani’s “no politics” policy is what separates this company from the rest. “We don’t allow any posturing or positioning by people trying to move up in the ranks,” says Sassani, who founded Zozi in 2010 and counts Sir Richard Branson among his investors. “If we keep that culture intact, people don’t want to maneuver around others. They just want to do a good job and support their coworkers.”
Staffers also like the lunchtime patio yoga, the company running club, the $400 per quarter in “Zozi credits” to book travel or buy discounted gear from the likes of The North Face and GoPro, and the $1,000 annual professional development budget. Zozi also pays for its employees’ cellphones and gym memberships, hosts in-house educational events such as photography workshops, and arranges free chair massages every other week.
2. AmeriCan Adventures
Location: Santa Rosa, California
Number of Employees: 27
Already boasting one of the best benefits packages in the travel business, AmeriCan Adventures plans to introduce another employee perk this year: Visit any national park in the United States and get $500 and five extra paid days off. “All they need to do is come back with a receipt from the park,” says Matt Berna, general manager at AmeriCan.
AmeriCan is a continental outfitter founded in 1988 that offers trips ranging from seven days in the Southwest to a three-week cross-country journey in search of Americana. The list of staff sweeteners also includes a familiarization trip covered by the company when you start (think tracking wolves in Yellowstone or camping in Alaska); access to the “free table,” where guides dump all their extra supplies after a trip; weekly table tennis and cornhole tournaments; and two extra days off in December, January, and February, when work slows down.
Employees also get $2,000 to spend on industry-related education, as well as five days of paid education leave for student-employees to prep for exams or work on big papers, for example. AmeriCan does its part to help nonemployees by donating extra sleeping bags to local missions in California’s Sonoma Valley or fundraising for multiple sclerosis research via the company cycling team.
3. Ecology Project International
Location: Missoula, Montana
Number of Employees: 28
A handful of days every spring, Scott Pankratz kayaks to work in Missoula. No joke. The co-founder and executive director of Ecology Project International (EPI) walks out of his house and over to Rattlesnake Creek, two miles outside town. He paddles the creek down to where it meets the Clark Fork River, which he then takes right to his office. Each day he does it, he earns 50 cents in commuter reimbursement from the company. That’s not all the river has to offer EPI employees.
“Right in front of our office, some people created a standing river wave a couple years ago, so you can head out on a lunch break and surf,” Pankratz says. The organization also owns ten inner tubes and uses them to hold half-mile float meetings on the river in summer. “We call them water coolers,” Pankratz says.
EPI, which was founded in 2000 to get local youths active in conservation by connecting them with area field scientists in five countries—Costa Rica, Mexico, Belize, Ecuador (the Galapagos), and the United States—also pays for employee familiarization trips to, say, study whales in the Sea of Cortez alongside the program’s participants. “Within two years of working here, most of our employees have traveled internationally,” Pankratz says.
4. Cloud 9 Living
Location: Boulder, Colorado
Number of Employees: 16
It’s a fact of life that there is nothing worse than being stuck at the office on a deep powder day. So Cloud 9 Living, a ten-year-old firm that sells “experience gifts” in 51 cities nationwide ranging from Ferrari racing to whitewater rafting, enacted a policy: If any resort within a two-hour drive from company headquarters in Boulder reports 15 inches of fresh snow, you can take the day off, no questions asked. “But only if you’re going to go play in the snow,” clarifies Bobby Augst, executive vice president at Cloud 9.
Similarly, whenever employees go above and beyond their job responsibility, they get a “hall pass,” a half-day off to use anytime they want, provided they give 24 hours’ notice.
The entire company takes one day each quarter to go zip-lining or snowmobiling or hot-air ballooning—what Augst calls “experience days”—to familiarize staff with the gifts they sell. Cloud 9 also supports its staff’s personal adventures and passions; last year, the firm bought World Series tickets for a diehard Kansas City Royals fan. “If a unique opportunity presents itself to an employee,” Augst says, “we’ll do what we can to enable that dream.”
5. Geographic Expeditions
Location: San Francisco, California
Number of Employees: 55
If you like to explore hard-to-reach places, why not work for a travel company that specializes in doing just that? Founded in 1982, GeoEx, which offers trips in more than 70 countries—but none in North America or Europe (its top two destinations currently are Cuba and Iran)—counts on its staff to suss out locations. “Our [research and development] consists of sending our people out into the field,” CEO JP Tennant says. “It’s probably not shocking at all that they love that.”
Additionally, employees take advantage of twice-weekly in-house yoga classes, a cocktail cart that periodically appears in the office, and a worksite in Presidio National Park on San Francisco Bay that affords remarkable out-the-door adventure opportunities. You’ll find staffers running the famous Lyon Street stairs, trail running along the ocean and then into Presidio, or kitesurfing within walking distance of their desks.
Location: Seattle, Washington
Number of Employees: 78
Before founding the company that would one day guide 10 million users around the world toward 2.7 million mini-treasure chests, Jeremy Irish, Elias Alvord, and Bryan Roth used to ski and snowboard together. They didn’t want their adventures to end as their business grew, so among many employee policies that embody Geocaching’s “we play where we work” mantra, this one stands out: Bring in your lift ticket from a day on the slopes, anywhere in the world, lessons included, and the company will reimburse you. “After hitting the mountain, you come back, your head is clear, you feel free,” Roth says, explaining how the company benefits.
Located in Seattle’s tech-heavy Fremont neighborhood on the 27-mile Burke-Gilman Trail, Geocaching drives revenue by selling premium memberships, geocaching-related gear, and GeoTours (like a guide to 50 caches around Mount Rainier to keep you busy all weekend). Employee benefits also include free catered lunches four days a week, a “keg squad” of five who keep the office kegerator flowing with fresh craft beer, meetings on Lake Union, and a requirement that each employee spend at least a few hours of work time each month geocaching.
7. Montana Wilderness Association
Location: Helena, Montana
Number of Employees: 23
If you like spending time on the trail and getting paid for it, you might like working for the Montana Wilderness Association, which was founded in 1958 and helps preserve the state’s wilderness heritage. Not only can you work as a trail steward or U.S. Forest Service liaison on, for example, the Continental Divide Trail, but the employee handbook mandates that every employee have access to personal “trail days.”
That means “you can call up your supervisor and say, ‘I need to spend one, two, three, or four days out there to really get to know this place,’” says Gabe Furshong, the nonprofit’s deputy executive director. No catch. Fully paid. “We work really hard to protect wild places,” Furshong explains, “but we expect our staff to cultivate personal connections to wild places, too.” They can do that while being based in the Helena headquarters or one of eight field offices.
There’s also an annual four-day staff backpacking trip each August and what Furshong calls “the best sabbatical policy I’ve ever seen in a nonprofit”: three months of fully paid leave after five years of employment.
8. Hawaii Forest & Trail
Location: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Number of Employees: 50
Rob Pacheco founded Hawaii Forest & Trail, which leads nature tours on Hawaii’s Big Island, in 1993. It took three years before he could hire a full-time employee, but it says something that the first person he hired—as well as the first full-time guide he hired—is still working for the company. The outfitter has since grown to employ 50 guides and entertain roughly 55,000 guests each year, many of whom take in the sunset from the 13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea, the most popular tour among the ten Pacheco offers.
In addition to offering a learning stipend for staffers to build their knowledge, the company provides health insurance (rare in the Hawaiian tourism industry) and comps passes for various outdoor tours. At the end of each year, employees can tally one percent of their annual hours to use as paid leave on a volunteer project such as a trail-work day. And if you’re a guide, your on-the-clock duties include familiarizing yourself with routes and local flora and fauna (tours also include rare-bird watching and waterfall hikes). “The natural history of this place is remarkable,” Pacheco says. “From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s on par with the Galapagos.”
9. G Adventures
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Number of Employees: 15
“Our business model is rooted in happiness,” says Dave Holmes, “mayor” (aka the man who runs the show) of Toronto-based travel outfitter G Adventures, which offers small-group trips in more than 100 countries. Those roots came from Bhutan, where company founder Bruce Poon Tip visited in 1997. Poon Tip was amazed by the way locals viewed their success—not according to gross domestic product, but gross national happiness. He aimed to cultivate a similar culture in his business.
As such, status is downplayed at G, where CEO stands for “chief experience officer,” a fancy term for tour guide. Holmes describes G, which was founded in 1990 and now operates worldwide, as a “customer-obsessed company.” But it’s also a fun place to earn a paycheck. Staff at the Toronto headquarters enjoy a rooftop “partio” with hammocks and Wi-Fi to work outside; free ice cream; “Beer’O’Clock” every Friday at 4 p.m., when fridges are filled with beer, wine, and cider; transit and gym reimbursement; and an annual $2,000 allowance to put toward a trip offered by the company, plus another $750 for airfare. The crowning perk is always an invitation to G Stock, a weeklong internal team-building conference that culminates with three days at Niagara Falls and an outrageous costume party.
10. Avid4 Adventure
Location: Boulder, Colorado
Number of Employees: 15
A heavy seasonal workload isn’t for everyone, but if you can handle the busy times, Avid4 Adventure affords unusual freedom the rest of the year. The Boulder-based outdoor summer camp operator offers its year-round employees unlimited time off as long as they get their work done during the summer high season.
“We kind of stole that from the tech sector,” chief operating officer Kyle Littman says. “We believe in quality of work rather than creating a nine-to-five schedule for everyone.” The company, which was founded in 2004, also offers camps in the San Francisco Bay Area and programs at local schools during the rest of the year, ranging from mobile climbing walls to mountain-bike skills courses. Altogether, Littman estimates Avid4 serves nearly 20,000 kids each year.
Other employee perks include in-house bike mechanics; a gear warehouse full of tents, paddleboards, and the like for staff; and annual “anniversary gifts” for employees ranging from $600 to round-trip airfare and a stipend to spend a month anywhere in the world, plus an additional $1,000 to put toward an adventure of your choosing (that’s only if you’ve worked there ten years).