Three Roaring Fork businesses crack Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work list; Aspen’s Forum Phi captures the No. 1 spot | AspenTimes.com

Three Roaring Fork businesses crack Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work list; Aspen’s Forum Phi captures the No. 1 spot

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times

There's music playing, the fridge is stocked with beer and employees are coming and going with their ski gear in tow — it's just another day in the office for the folks at Forum Phi.

Outside Magazine just recognized the Aspen architecture and design firm as No. 1 on its annual list of the 100 best places to work in the United States. Two other area businesses — Charles Cunniffe Architects in Aspen and Bluetent in Carbondale — also made the list at No. 14 and No. 46, respectively.

"We were kind of shocked," Forum Phi founding partner Steev Wilson said of his firm's No. 1 ranking.

When he read over the list of criteria, he knew Forum Phi had what it takes to make the list.

"We're right in there with that same ethic," he said, adding that this is the first year the firm applied for the award.

Work-life balance is a common theme across the companies that make the list. Ski passes and flextime are universal in these offices. Forum Phi pays travel expenses and tuition for employees who want to take a week off to pursue continuing education each year, Wilson said.

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At Charles Cunniffe, a 35-year-old firm in Aspen that has been ranked on the Best Places to Work list three times, employees use flextime for athletic pursuits or family obligations, said Director of Marketing Rebecca Richardson.

"It makes people really appreciate working hard when you can play hard," she said. "Having that balance makes people happy and productive at work."

Bluetent, a digital marketing agency in Carbondale, has made the Best Places to Work list five times. CEO Peter Scott said he thinks the company is "a product of this awesome valley."

"A lot of the values that do come along with living in the Roaring Fork Valley help drive the culture here at Bluetent," he said.

Flextime also is a thing at Bluetent. There might be important work to do, but a powder day is a powder day, Scott said.

"Or someone freaked out on you and you need to go walk around the park for an hour — go do that," Scott said.

At Forum Phi, the Aspen Idea of mind, body and spirit comes into play daily, Wilson said, especially the spirit part. The firm takes culture and work-life balance seriously, and they truly value their people. Wilson points out that people across all levels in the office are always included — such as the administrative person at the front desk being invited to a design meeting to provide input, for example.

Office collaboration is something Wilson is particularly proud of at Forum Phi.

He wants employees to feel like they can be themselves, "uncensored and out loud."

"To have that kind of self-confidence at work goes a long way toward creating that environment and work culture," Wilson said.

Yes, there's beer in the fridge at Forum Phi, but the health care benefits alone prove the firm is committed to its employees. Health plans are 100 percent paid for by the firm, including family members.

Bluetent hosts Beer Fridays, and sometimes even Beer Thursdays. Every Friday morning, employees meet in Basalt for a group yoga class. On Wednesdays, it's team Crossfit.

Charles Cunniffe Architects has bike and ski storage at the office, just two blocks from the gondola. "Beer:30" is a thing in their office, and on Friday mornings the staff is served breakfast while they discuss the latest and hottest technology trends, Richardson said.

And while each of these businesses scored extra points for all the fun things they let their employees do, they also scored points for being professionals, too.

"We want to allow you to be a true, progressive professional," Scott said. "To be able to get a paycheck where you can pay your mortgage, then to be able to have some sense of life-work balance."

lglendenning@aspentimes.com