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When Ken Sorensen was promoted to general manager of commercial roofing company Allweather Roof 18 years ago, he held a company meeting at Jax Cafe in Minneapolis to talk about his vision for leading the company.

He wanted to create an environment where everyone felt like they were a part of the team, he said.

"The success of the company was dependent upon each individual," Sorensen said.

For the past two decades, Sorensen, now president of the Golden Valley-based company, has built upon that premise. He built a culture where he hopes people feel heard and are told their role at the company matters, no matter their title.

That emphasis has paid off for the 110-person business — ranked fourth on this year's Star Tribune Top Workplaces small business list — that started in 1925.

"It took a number of years, but each year it feels like we've got more and more buy in," Sorensen said.

Outsiders might assume creating an inclusive work environment is easier at smaller organizations, with intimate office settings and fewer people allowing room for individual attention and instruction.

That's not always the case.

At Allweather Roof, for some employees, "their office is on somebody's roof," Sorensen said. So instead of having employees commute into the main office, company management brings the conversation to the field, sometimes with lunch.

"That way I can communicate with them and let them know what we're doing and how we're doing it, but also get feedback from them on how they perceive things and what are any ideas they might have to make things better," Sorensen said.

Knock, a woman- and minority-owned creative agency in Minneapolis with just over 100 employees, has a diversity, equity and inclusion committee, composed of early-career to management-level personnel, meets monthly to discuss strategies, initiatives and events focused on widening and deepening cultural perspectives.

That committee also meets regularly with company leaders to ensure goals are aligned and objectives are met, said Alex Miranda, managing director of inclusive marketing and growth markets at Knock, ranked 71st on the list.

Cultural events at the company's headquarters are open to clients and others in the advertising and marketing industry, Miranda said.

"We open our doors to everyone who wants to hear those stories," he said. "It's not only about us because we are also part of the community."

That challenge of making people feel included and valued is even harder for companies that operate mainly remotely.

Players Health is a fairly new Minneapolis sports technology startup that offers online insurance and risk management for young athletes. Of the company's 60 employees, only about 15 live in Minnesota, said Emilee Rank, the company's chief people officer. The remaining are scattered throughout 17 states.

Various forms of online communication are used to keep people engaged, Rank said. In the summer months, people are paired into, cohorts and once a month, those groups hop into virtual breakout rooms to discuss crowd-sourced topics like career goals or personal hobbies.

Well-being surveys are distributed quarterly, and employee satisfaction polls are given every six months, she said. Results are shared for all employees to see, she said.

Open talks around mental health and making sure employees know about available resources have helped create an environment where people feel comfortable requesting time off. For remote workers, there's often a belief they don't need time off because they work from home.

"I pull reports to see who's not taking time, and I reminded the managers to make sure that people are taking the time they need to step away and rejuvenate themselves," Rank said. "Part of it is being proactive. The more you can do that, people feel more comfortable coming forward with what they need. It also helps productivity because they want to contribute to the company."

It's important, Allweather Roofing's Sorensen says, to remind staff members that the roofs they build protect assets worth millions of dollars.

And it's also important to remember employee handbooks and workplace manuals can't carry the words needed to create an environment where workers feel comfortable verbalizing their concerns or ideas, Sorensen said.

"It's great to remind them of the value they're providing and how important each and every one of those individuals is for us to perform for our customers," he said.