Summer is the season for perks
In the middle of June, Zoe Carlberg packed up her laptop and her dog and drove from East Boston to Butte, Mont., to live with a friend. Carlberg isn’t starting a new job or a new chapter in her life: She’s taking advantage of a perk offered by her employer, the Boston software firm Annkissam, which allows employees to work from wherever they want for up to three months a year.
For Carlberg, a 29-year-old project manager, that place for the past two summers has been Butte, where she has a tightknit group of friends from her days as an AmeriCorps volunteer and she can visit hot springs and take long walks on secluded mountain trails with her dog.
Not every company can let their employees work off-site for so long, but in the summer, there are plenty of other ways to give workers a little extra love, whether it’s lifting the dress code to allow flip-flops and shorts, handing out ice cream on hot days, hosting cookouts and harbor cruises, or letting people leave early on Fridays.
And with so many job openings out there, some employers are coming up with even more creative ways to keep workers happy in the summer, a time of year when — let’s face it — it can be difficult to sit at your desk. Last year, True Fit, a Boston software platform that helps online shoppers find the right styles and sizes, started giving people three extra days off in the summer — one in June, one in July, and one in August. Boston-based cleaning service MaidPro holds outdoor workouts with a professional trainer. Toward the end of August, Neon Therapeutics, a Cambridge cancer-drug startup, will host its second annual dog park day — on an early-release Friday — complete with company-branded bandannas and collapsible water bowls, tennis balls, and grain-free treats.
Activities that get people out of the regular office environment are a great way to keep workers happy, and this is much easier to do when the weather is nice, said Nancy Saperstone, a Canton-based human resources consultant at OneDigital Health and Benefits.
“With the tight labor market, every other day, or really every other sentence, I feel like I’m saying ‘attract and retain employees,’ ” she said. “The more that we can engage employees with each other, the more engaged they’re going to be with the organization.”
Giving them more freedom doesn’t hurt either.
Several dozen people at Ann-kissam have taken advantage of the policy, formalized in 2015, that allows employees who’ve been there at least 2½ years to work remotely for three months a year — newer employees can leave for a month — a benefit used mainly in the summer, said chief executive Kevin Palmer.
Flexible work arrangements are part of the culture at Ann-kissam and the company said it hasn’t had any problems with people abusing the benefit. In fact, individual productivity actually increases when employees work remotely for several months at a time.
The company said it is more focused on what people are working on and getting done, not where/when they do it. There are a variety of internal controls to monitor staff output, and managers and teams know if productivity is not what it should be.
“When people come back, they’re refreshed and engaged,” said Palmer, who helped pioneer the concept when he joined the company as employee number one in 2008 and periodically worked remotely in Madison, Wis., where his girlfriend, now wife, was going to veterinary school.
Employees at Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar in South Boston also get a chance to get away from the office — in the form of a free vacation with their co-workers on Nantucket. The tradition started five years ago to promote the restaurant during the island’s annual wine and food festival. But all employees are welcome at the five-bedroom house the owners rent for five days each May, even if they don’t work any events. It’s a pretty tight-knit crew, said bar manager Kaitlyn Fischer, who has gone every year. Some nights, there might be 25 people at the house, and they sleep wherever they can find a spot — on couches, on the floor, even the staircase landing.
“You might come home with a good story: Who fell asleep where, who did what at the bar?” Fischer said.
Renting a house on Nantucket — and stocking it with food and drinks — is not necessarily a wise financial decision, said co-owner Mike Shaw. “Most accountants would tell us not to do it,” he said. “I think ours has told us not to do it.”
But the sense of community it provides is worth it: “To be able to bond with people who are working their asses off every single day . . . has been invaluable.”
EF Education First’s location on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, next to a dock, provided the perfect opportunity for the international education company to launch one of its newest perks: the EF Sailing Club. A discounted membership to Community Boating Inc. ($99 a year instead of the usual $340), which provides unlimited access to boats and lessons, is nice. But the motor boat shuttle that picks employees up at the office to get there? Priceless.
“You just feel like a VIP,” said Ally Lynes, 27, the company’s internal communications and events specialist.
Not only has Lynes become certified to sail since the club launched last summer, she has met, and bonded with, people she might not have otherwise.
“We’ve all been out there on the treacherous seas of the Charles River together,” she joked.
Planet Subaru in Hanover doesn’t have water access, but it does have a new half-mile walking trail that winds through wetlands and wildflowers and stands of tall trees. Service specialist Mark Negron, a nature and wellness enthusiast who has built mountain bike trails, came up with the idea, and after the owners signed off on creating a quiet place for employees on the 11-acre property, he spent months hacking away at dense greenbrier vines, on his own time.
Last year, the dealership funded a release of 50 bobwhite quail around the trail, and another 250 will be released there this summer — an effort both to help restore the number of quail in the state and to reduce the population of ticks, which the birds eat.
Planet Subaru also put up $11,000 to start a food forest near the trail, a self-sustaining edible garden based on woodland ecosystems that is an official site of the Boston Food Forest Coalition. In October, the company hired a contractor to plant nearly 50 persimmon, pear, peach, and apple trees, and dozens of blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry bushes. More trees and berry bushes are planned on the half-acre plot, along with kale, spinach, and other vegetables. Employees will have first dibs on the produce.
Now that the bulk of the work is finished on Ruby Trail, named for Negron’s 5-year-old daughter, more employees, and customers, have started venturing out on it.
“Being inside a noisy shop with air wrenches and clacking and clanging and fumes is not the best thing for their well-being,” said Negron, 55, who formerly worked in corporate marketing. “You can’t even believe . . . you’re in the middle of a dealership [on the trail]. All you can hear is the wind going through the pines, and you hear the birds.”