Kelli Howard, a senior human resources consultant at Zenefits, points to the placard of businesses sharing Level Office’s space at 211 W. Wacker in Chicago’s Loop.
“People are doing some really cool stuff,” she says.
Those people include Zenefits, the technology startup that is revolutionizing the way that human resources functions, particularly for small businesses. The San Francisco-based company provides a single dashboard through which employers can obtain health insurance, process payroll, and onboard employees, all at a price that small businesses can afford: completely free.
“Onboarding is typically done on paper, and any changes have to be updated manually,” says Howard, who previously worked in human resources for health insurance giant Cigna. “It’s time consuming, and there’s no visibility for employees.”
When a company signs up for Zenefits’ web-based software, it’s given the option to purchase health insurance for its employees through Zenefits. Traditional insurance brokers collect a monthly commission for helping their customers find good rates—rates which were kept secret until the Affordable Care Act began requiring their disclosure. By becoming a broker itself, Zenefits can offer similar deals on health insurance, along with a simplified system for managing it and other benefits.
Since its 2013 inception, the company has become the number one submitter of new policies to Anthem Blue Cross and recently announced plans to hire more than 1,300 employees over the next three years. The Wacker office, which is Zenefits’ first Chicago space, provides support for their midwest and some east coast clients.
According to Howard, she and the company’s other Chicago employee chose the Level Office space because of its downtown location and the ability it provided to expand. Because the consultants frequently make presentations by webinar, they needed at least two private offices as well as conference rooms.
“When we begin to have on-site client visits, we’ll be able to offer a level of professionalism,” she says.
For Zenefits, it’s helpful to be sharing office space with other scaling businesses. Howard, who was one of thousands of employees at her previous job, says it’s motivating to see other companies in the same phase as Zenefits and to share the perspective of entrepreneurs trying to make a difference.
“You can learn so much just from popping in and seeing where another business is at, whether they’re a bit further along or further behind in their growth,” she says. “The other day I dropped into Suits and Tables to learn what their target markets are. There’s definitely a family feel.”
When Zenefits moved into the space in April 2014, the company hosted a “Lunch & Learn” info session, which Howard says turned up leads for potential Zenefits clients. Though Zenefits’ software can be used by companies of any size, it’s especially beneficial for small businesses who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford their own web-based human resources system.
“The traditional model is antiquated,” says Howard. “When all these systems and processes can communicate with one another, it frees up employers’ time to focus on more important things.”