There is never a bad time to celebrate wonderful workplaces--businesses that make employees feel challenged, valued, and respected, where leaders are trust­worthy, generous, and humane.

And yet ...

We started assembling our annual Best Workplaces package months before Covid-19 began emptying offices and dispatching employees to their homes. Even in those innocent times, we knew great companies don't depend on stocked refrigerators, onsite gyms, and nap rooms (though those don't hurt).

But we did envision workplaces as actual "places," physical spaces made inviting and stimulating through a combination of thoughtful benefits, perks, and policies, and the interactions of the smart, interesting people attracted to them. Such offices thrummed with energy and collegiality.

And then ...

As this issue went to press, sanitizer-drenched tumbleweeds blew through workplaces all across the country, including some of those profiled here. No one is bellying up to the company bar at Buildertrend and then Uber-ing home on the construction software firm's tab, for example. But employees still enjoy the truly considerate Pick Your Perk policy, which offers $1,000 toward child care or a down payment on a house--anything they truly need or want. And, the staff of the Black Sheep Agency are encouraged to take any classes they think will improve their work life.

Great workplaces don't just make employees' work lives better--they make their whole lives better. That includes putting their well-being first in times of crisis and providing the resources and reassurance necessary to sustain energy and collegiality, even when friendly faces are on a Zoom meeting or replaced by voices on a conference call or words in a Slack channel.

The 2020 Best Workplaces survey was open from November 5, 2019, to February 18, 2020. The survey period closed well before the United States declared a state of emergency in response to the Covid-19 outbreak on March 13. We had a record number of organizations compete--almost 2,500. And a record number of employees completed a 37-item questionnaire--370,000.

For the fifth consecutive year, Inc. and Quantum Workplace identified the Best Workplaces as measured by employee engagement. The predominant theme among this year's highest-scoring companies was "listening." Highly engaged workplaces have management teams who consistently monitor the voice of the employee through surveys, manager check-ins, and town halls. Communication is what sets the best apart from the rest.

No doubt organizational communication has been put to the test since then, as many companies have transitioned to work-from-home, some have shut their doors, and others, such as telemedicine provider Beam Healthcare, have found themselves awash in new demand. Communication works in all economic cycles. It builds trust. It creates cohesion among dispersed teams. And it recognizes individuals for a job well done. There has never been a better time to work at a Best Workplace.

We're still early into this new chapter. We started the year in a decadelong war for talent, in which companies needed high engagement and high retention of all employees to succeed. Expect Best Workplaces to continue prioritizing culture--and innovating their people practices. Expect fewer special perks that cost money. Employers will lean toward keeping people on payroll and will shed some frills. Expect more internal development of managerial talent and clearer career paths. And expect a new movement toward individual- and team-performance measurement.

Commentators are predicting that by the time this is over, remote work may have become the norm. We don't believe it. Homes and coffee shops, restaurants, and bars--famously the "first" and "third" places where life happens--are indispensable. But so are the "second" places--the offices, the factories, the storefronts--where people coalesce around a shared mission and bring their best to their jobs.

Remote work, where applicable, will remain an option. It is at once kind and strategic. But if leaders returning to their workplaces emulate the companies profiled here, they don't have to worry about people spending too much time out of the office. They'll be more than happy to be at their desks again.

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