This is an archived article that was published on in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At Thumbtack's Sandy office, employees can fuel up on snacks in the fully stocked kitchen, burn off calories in the gym or practice pingpong in the game room.

They enjoy monthly massages, free yoga classes, a generous 25 days of vacation time.

And — like workers at other thriving tech companies from Google to Facebook — Thumbtack employees are treated to one of the most coveted benefits of all: a freshly prepared lunch every workday.

Still, these perks scored barely a mention from the happy employees who vaulted Thumbtack to its spot as the No. 1 place to work among midsize Wasatch Front companies, according to a regional poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune by WorkplaceDynamics.

What Thumbtack workers truly love is less flashy but more difficult to provide — a culture in which each employee feels valued, empowered, connected.

"The culture alone is enough," says Ciara Perry, a 24-year-old reporting analyst at Thumbtack. "Having all of [the extras] on top of it is icing on the cake."

The San Francisco tech startup opened its Sandy customer service hub in April 2014, quickly growing the office to 250 employees. Thumbtack matches professionals, from painters to voice coaches, with customers via its website, mobile app or toll-free number (call it and you will speak with someone in Sandy or Thumbtack's other service center in the Philippines).

With more than $270 million raised from notable investors, including Google Capital, Thumbtack has an aggressive plan for growth, aiming to be the Amazon of online shopping for local services.

"Tech companies are, even now, much more likely to look at creating a positive culture," says Abe Bakhsheshy, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business. "If they don't, the talented and bright individuals will go elsewhere."

James Hwang, Thumbtack's vice president of customer success and head of the Sandy office, says the culture has been built with painstaking care, starting with each hire.

"We have a really high hiring bar," Hwang says. "We look for people who are not only experts in their field, but people who we believe are going to be a great culture fit."

Candidates should exemplify the brand's values of being encouraging and supporting. And, Hwang notes, the Thumbtack mission — helping small businesses succeed and local economies thrive — should resonate with new employees.

"I feel like I'm part of something really big and important for the U.S. economy," one Thumbtack employee writes in comments to pollsters about what's to love about the job. "I'm helping small businesses grow and people to achieve their dreams."

Connections to the Thumbtack mission and a team of supportive colleagues are common threads in employee comments in the workplace survey. True to the company name, the office sports a bulletin board where employees can tack birthday wishes, kudos and announcements.

"From the day I started, it felt like everyone you talked to could immediately be your friend," says Perry, who has been promoted twice since joining Thumbtack a year ago. "You can ask questions and no one is going to brush you off."

Cameron Crump, a customer-success team member, agrees that "the people" are the best part of his job. He sees company leaders as genuine in their quest to help customers complete projects while building revenue for small businesses.

"That really is ingrained into everyone here," the 27-year-old Crump says, "that natural tendency to be super-helpful and to be able to help people out with whatever we can."

Hiring top talent, however, isn't enough to build a top-notch culture. The second key to Thumbtack's success, Hwang says, is transparency. The company works systematically to eliminate traditional barriers between employees and management.

That means executives sit among employees — not in private offices — and almost every meeting is open door. If you're interested, come in, sit down, listen quietly or ask questions. The San Francisco and Sandy offices have an exchange and immersion program, shuttling workers between the two locations so they can learn various parts of the business.

In Sandy, the digital startup offers an old-fashioned comment box where employees drop their suggestions, from stocking kombucha in the break room to strategies for building the marketplace of Thumbtack pros in the Salt Lake City area. The office manager sends out all comments in a weekly email, with a note about how he or the leadership team plans to respond to each one.

For his part, Hwang holds open office hours twice a week to spend one-on-one time with his employees. It's a chance to seek out career advice or present ideas directly to the big boss.

"This is part of our DNA. This is who we are," Hwang says. "If someone at any level of the organization comes up with an idea, if this is a great idea, we do it. We work collaboratively."

In the future, the most successful companies will be "horizontal," not vertical, says the U.'s Bakhsheshy. Major corporations, from Cisco Systems to Costco, know they benefit from shortening the distance that employees' innovations need to travel to be implemented.

Creating a culture that empowers people to share their ideas also pays huge dividends in employee engagement, retention and recruitment.

When compared with the high cost of turnover, the free lunch is cheap. 2015's top 5 medium companies

1 • Thumbtack

2 • Health Catalyst

3 • Encompass Home Health-Hospice

4 • Gardner Village

5 • Young Automotive Group

2014's top 5

1 • Health Catalyst

2 • Encompass Home Health-Hospice

3 • Mark Miller Subaru

4 • Axiom Financial

5 • Futura Industries

Source: WorkplaceDynamics