Planning a zen environment for employees

Highlands Ranch company named No. 2 to work for in U.S.

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When Highlands Ranch fitness software company Zen Planner was named the No. 2 place to work in the United States by Outside Magazine recently, founders Ben and Filipina Pate experienced two emotions – validation and shock.

“For someone that large to see the way we do things as highly valuable and to use us as a model for other companies to use, it really makes you feel humble,” said Filipina, the company’s chief product officer, who started the company with her husband in the family basement in 2006.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the two, having grown their client base to 400, moved into a small space in Littleton, bringing in their first few employees, along with CEO Jeff Gardner. A year later, they moved into Highlands Ranch’s Town Center. Now, they have more than 2,000 clients and 25 employees and counting.  

“It would have been easy for Outside Magazine to overlook us, as small as we are,” Gardner said.

But it’s how Zen Planner treats its 25 employees that got the company noticed, and now discovered by just shy of 690,000 readers across the country.

It’s the weekly “chug and learn” sessions each Tuesday, where employees discuss their product over beers. It’s the Van Halen Room, a soundproof former bank vault where employees’ kids can play pop-a-shot, music, X-box or darts while their parents work. It’s the yoga sessions during office hours. It’s the ping pong table, the fantasy football league, the memberships to BackCountry CrossFit, the ski trips, Rugged Maniac outings and the understanding from the owners that family comes first.

“We consciously chose to take a different path, and focus on what was important to us as people and how we felt people should be treated,” said Ben Pate, the company’s chief technology officer. “But maybe we aren’t alone. Maybe there are other people out there that also value this (model).”

Part of the Zen Planner business model is hiring positive individuals who have an athletic background and can really understand the needs of their clients. And according to Ben, when employees are more invested in the community they are serving it makes them more passionate about the job they are doing.

It doesn’t hurt either that the company encourages employees to be active in their athletic pursuits. And where many businesses like seeing their employees stay active and healthy on their own time, Zen Planner blurs the line, allowing employees the flexibility to take care of their health and make time for training when they need to.

“There’s sort of an expectation to participate in the things our customers sell,” said marketing director Bryan Kreitz. “It’s a very healthy-minded group of individuals.”

And while they are on the lookout for new employees, they are picky about how they hire, Gardner says. Some of the qualifications listed on the website include being “a fun person to work with, who is passionate about making your world better,” being able to fit in with a team that is “into cycling CrossFit, martial arts, yoga, Zumba and zombie races,” and being dedicated to “creating amazing technology.”

“You spend more time at work than you do with your regular family,” said Filipina. “So if you are going to spend so much time with a group of people, they should be people you trust, that you can believe in and be inspired by. That’s what we have.”

For more information on Zen Planner, please visit www.zenplanner.com

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