Culture, flexibility unites Jahnel Group through hobbies and interests, not just work

5/23/2021 - The Times Union 

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Human resources personnel Dani Milliken sits in her office at Jahnel Group

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Human resources personnel Dani Milliken sits in her office at Jahnel Group

"It’s been a lot of effort to make virtual stuff as cool as possible"

Jahnel Group had relocated to its fifth-floor office space overlooking Schenectady when the pandemic hit.

The three gleaming rooftop terraces designed for events to showcase the company’s fun workplace culture went unused.

“It literally got shut down before we got to have a single event and enjoy being out there,” said Jessie Zweigenthal, director of employee engagement.

But the custom software development and consulting company quickly pivoted and was able to flawlessly transition to a work-from-home model while still retaining its zany workforce culture, including online holiday parties, hours-long bashes with giveaways, prizes and other entertainment to keep staffers engaged.

Another event saw staffers huddling around a tiny virtual campfire noshing on company-provided s’mores.

And their 10 million push-up challenge has now given way to the 10 million step challenge, feats that are logged by smartphone apps, as well as some employees logging 100-plus hours in six days as part the company's War Week, another team building activity.

“It’s been a lot of effort to make virtual stuff as cool as possible,” Zweigenthal said.

Founded by brothers Jason and Darrin Jahnel in 2009, the firm has 108 employees, 70 of them in their headquarters in the Mill Artisan District, as well as smaller offices in New York City and Texas, plus a few staffers who work remotely from other states.

Since the company works with most clients remotely, the switches brought on by the pandemic were relatively seamless.

So was onboarding new employees who were hired during the pandemic. Olivia Bowman, 20, started in July as a quality assurance analyst.

“It was easier to get acclimated and get to know everyone than I thought it would be,” said Bowman, citing the company’s use of Slack, an internal business communication platform.

While many companies use the software strictly for work-related business, Jahnel branches out and offers specific channels for employees to come together over shared hobbies and interests — from croquet to baking — something appealing to Bowman, a graduate from Mekeel Christian Academy in Scotia.

“It’s unique the way that they invest in their people,” Bowman said.

Ditto for Brandon Badgett, Jahnel’s director of business development. Badgett, 27, started in November and relocated from Long Island.

“Whenever I come to work, I legitimately feel this is too good to be true,” said Badgett as he chatted with employees in Jahnel’s break room, one with a panoramic view of the city and outlying countryside.

Badgett came from a larger organization and appreciates how Jahnel management invests in its employees.

“They put you in the best place to succeed,” he said.

Daniel Schuldt, 37, joined the team 18 months ago, also after working for larger institutions.

The Burnt Hills native was sold when Darrin Jahnel pitched the job as a “mecca for developers.”

“We hire only the best people,” Jahnel told him.

Now he’s happily working as a senior data engineer. And the company culture — one of recruiting top talent and putting them in positions where they can succeed — has resulted in him upping his professional game.

“I definitely got the variety I’m looking for,” Schuldt said. “The teams are some of the best teams I’ve ever been on.”

As the pandemic subsides, Zweigenthal envisions a hybrid workplace model with some staffers working in-house, and others remotely, a choice up to each employee.

“We want people to feel comfortable,” Zweigenthal said. “At this point, we’re being flexible.”