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These Companies Are the Best Workplaces in the Bay Area

When Maryanne Caughey was hired at San Francisco-based software and services firm Gusto about three and a half years ago, company co-founder Josh Reeves started to explain her maternity benefits.

Caughey interrupted.

She and her partner had no near-term plans to have a baby, she said.

But Reeves pressed on, saying it was important that Caughey, as the Head of People, knew the details of Gusto’s extensive maternity and paternity benefits—which include up to four months of paid leave, a baby care package, food deliveries, sleep coaching, and free housecleaning when employees return to work.

Good thing Reeves kept going. Because about six months later, Caughey found herself pregnant.

“‘Surprise, Josh,” Caughey told her boss at the time. “’We moved up the timeline.’”

Although she’s worked at other, more-prominent Bay Area tech firms, Caughey says she’s happy she ended up at Gusto. “It’s hard to imagine being a parent in another company.”

See the 70 Best Companies to Work for in the Bay Area

Thanks in part to thoughtful touches like the housecleaning service for new parents trying to juggle work and infant care, 96 percent of Gusto’s employees call it a great place to work. And roughly nine in 10 “Gusties” plan to work at the company for a long time.

With those striking figures, it’s not surprising that the provider of payroll, benefits, and HR services earned a place on the 2019 list of the Best Workplaces in the Bay Area. My organization, people analytics and research firm Great Place to Work, just announced this year’s ranking with our media partner Fortune.

Making this list is challenging. As the home of Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area has long been a place where organizations have tried to outdo one another to create a workplace that acts as a talent magnet. And competition for skilled labor is fierce. Unemployment for the region stood at just 2.5 percent in December, well below the national rate of 3.7 percent.

Bolstered by a booming tech sector, our Bay Area list has plenty of software and IT companies. Workday, Salesforce, and Zillow Group, for example, rank in the top 10 large Best Workplaces in the Bay Area. But the top two spots in that list belong to hospitality companies: No. 2 is Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, and No. 1 is Hilton.

In recent years, Hilton has stood out for its consistently great workplace culture. While many companies struggle with a gap in the experience between employees at different levels, Hilton has elevated the everyday work lives of housekeepers, cooks, and others on the frontlines to approach the kind of experience managers have at the company. Thanks partly to its “Hospitality For All” approach, Hilton recently earned the No. 1 spot on this year’s Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Hilton’s positive results in the Bay Area come in part by taking a page from the tech world. About three and a half years ago, the Hilton San Francisco Union Square hotel adopted an internal social media tool dubbed Hhive. The smartphone app was designed to improve communication across a diverse staff. Employees at the hotel speak about 30 languages, and English is a second language for about 70 percent of them. Hhive translates messages into major languages including Spanish, Cantonese, and Tagalog.

John Bernier, Hilton’s area human resources director who spearheaded the Hhive rollout, says trusting employees to communicate openly on the Hhive platform has paid off. There have been just two inappropriate posts in more than three years—one time an employee criticized a peer, and another time a staffer posted a vacation picture better suited for Facebook or Instagram. On the flip side, Bernier has been happily surprised by the way housekeepers have taken advantage of the Hhive tool to fix minor problems throughout the hotel, which has 1,921 rooms.

The housekeepers have improved on an older phone system to call in reports of peeling wallpaper, carpet stains, and the like. They now snap photos of these flaws and post them on Hhive. “It’s so much faster,” Bernier says. “They’re making the hotel a better place.”

Another tech advance is making scheduling smoother for Hilton’s workers in the Bay Area. Bernier and his team have implemented an artificial intelligence tool not only for setting up schedules but handling sick calls and offering shifts to other workers. This is no small matter for a unionized shop like Hilton—seniority rules must be applied and the company wants to optimize schedules to minimize overtime wages. The AI system, dubbed “Gustav,” applies all these rules fairly and in a way that complies with the union contract, Bernier says.

And it has an added benefit, he says. When people call in sick, it is almost always an uncomfortable conversation for both the employee, who has to “sound” ill, and the supervisor, who must find a replacement worker for the shift. Sick Hilton employees now call Gustav—which can comprehend multiple languages—and it automatically alerts the manager and texts the appropriate fill-in candidate.

Awkward phone call avoided.

“When you’re a manager, you can’t disguise the disappointment in your voice,” Bernier says. “The computer is less-human—in a good way.”

Ed Frauenheim is senior director of content at Great Place to Work and the co-author of the research paper Innovation By All.