Fast Company published its fourth annual “100 Best Workplaces for Innovators” list in its September issue, spotlighting standout companies across all sectors from 13 countries. As I skimmed the descriptions of what made each company an innovative place to work, I noticed how often events were cited as part of their creative DNA. I circled each instance — events were mentioned in more than one out of five companies.
Some organizations value having their employees attend industry events — like Dermalogica, whose CEO attributes much of its success to the “premium the company puts on face-to-face encounters.” The global skincare company’s employees are encouraged to travel to industry conferences every two months “to help them stay connected to the people they serve and better identify and address problems that aren’t always visible through digital communication alone.”
Professional development often takes the form of conferences, and venture capital company Gener8tor gives every employee an annual professional development stipend — last year, one-quarter of its staff earned a promotion. Each year, software company GitLab allots $10,000 to every employee for — and customer management company Evergent Technology employees receive up to 40 hours of — professional development.
Hackathons were frequently mentioned events. AI software company Cheq holds a weekly open forum for employees to pitch new ideas; Lucid Software sets aside one week each year for a hackathon; and online language instruction company Duolingo hosts an annual three-day summer hackathon. Last year, global software company Workiva expanded its company-wide innovation event from one to two weeks, and payment-card company American Express revamped its annual hackathon to focus on ways to help underrepresented small-business owners.
Wholesaler Alex Lee hosts an annual “Shark Tank”–style event for employees to pitch ideas and earn seed money for further development. To combat the effects of bias in the health-care system, tech company Athenahealth held its first company-wide hackathon in May of last year. A few months later, a brand new, five-day codefest “brought a slew of ideas” to the company.
Video game company Electronic Arts runs multiple annual international events and a tech expo “to celebrate and encourage employee innovation.” Last year, financial services firm Citi hosted its second annual Innovation Week, generating 300 ideas from 3,000 global attendees. Women comprise half the leadership at Peek, and the travel tech company hosts an annual virtual conference, SheTalks, to help them thrive in a male-dominated industry.
I initially scoured Fast Company’s list in search of a company that sits squarely in the meetings industry. But what came through is the value corporations continue to place on events, in whatever form they may take, to engage their staff and to move forward.
It Takes Imagination
Events are an integral part of the approach that makes for innovative workplaces, Fast Company’s list proves. And the design and execution of those events themselves require creativity. That’s what quite a few planner respondents to the Convene’s 2022 Salary Survey said was their favorite aspect of their jobs. Some said they love the challenge of figuring out how to hold events in this continued period of uncertainty. (Others, not so much.)
Michelle Russell is editor in chief at Convene.