This article is part of the upcoming Top Places to Work issue. The names of the companies that made this year’s list will be released online Thursday night.
With employees in Colorado and the United Kingdom, Boston-based fantasy sports site DraftKings hasn’t always been able to get everyone in the same room for meetings. But now that the company (currently embroiled in a controversy about whether fantasy sports are violating federal and state gambling laws) has a rolling robot on staff, it’s easier to get workers together.
The droid’s “face” is an iPad running a video-chat application such as FaceTime or Skype that displays the remote employee’s face. About 10 DraftKings employees make regular use of the technology to have more of a physical presence in meetings, and even more are expected to join this group as the company expands in the United Kingdom.
The employee/robot can interact with co-workers and move around the office. It’s even been known to show up at Friday happy hour and demand a beer.
TURNING THE TABLES
Lots of young companies have Ping-Pong tables available for their employees. Energi, an energy industry insurance company in Peabody, takes its table tennis a step further, offering workers a chance to play against celebrity athletes, including Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Red Sox infielder Dustin Pedroia.
The professional-level competition is part of a charitable tournament organized by Patriots player Rob Ninkovich. To enter, Energi employees face off in an officewide round robin tournament. Six players win a chance to play against the pros.
“It was all civil, but we took it all seriously,” says Rebecca Julian, one of this year’s in-house winners. “It got competitive fast.”
Julian and her partner went on to triumph at the main event as well, beating some of Boston’s best athletes on their way to the title.
“I was probably the most nervous playing Julian Edelman,” Rebecca Julian says. “Edelman was the one taking it most seriously — he was really getting into it.”
GIVING IT THEIR BEST SHOT
For many employees at the Springfield gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, firearms are a hobby as well as a profession. So the company offers its workers access to three on-site shooting ranges to both practice their skills and keep up to date on the latest products. In all, there are 22 shooting lanes available to employees, and most of the company’s products are available to use. Workers can also participate in in-house shooting leagues and employee competitions.
To be allowed to shoot, employees must be trained in firearm safety. They are also encouraged to earn a License to Carry, the state permit that allows holders to buy and carry firearms; the company offers the course free to its staff and will pay the first $50 toward the cost of the license.
“Recreational shooting is a popular pastime these days,” says Elizabeth Sharp, vice president of investor relations. “To provide a safe and healthy environment is something that we think is extremely beneficial for them and for us.”
At Nitsch Engineering, leadership wants to make sure a job well done earns employees more than just a pat on the back. How about an iced latte or a new book?
The Boston engineering firm instituted a program that allows staff members to reward their colleagues with gift cards to dozens of vendors, ranging from Amazon to Legal Sea Foods. When an employee wants to thank a co-worker — for helping out on deadline or demonstrating a new skill, perhaps — he can request a “chit” in any amount from $5 to $50. Once the request is approved, the giver presents a certificate to the person he is thanking. The recipient can then exchange it for the gift card of his or her choice.
The program is popular. In a company of fewer than 90 employees, about 300 chits are given each year, says human resources manager Lisa Dolan.
“Everybody loves to receive a chit,” she says. “But people love to give them, too — it’s fun to go tell somebody, ‘Thank you.’ ”firstname.lastname@example.org.