Workplace kegs stoke camaraderie at Columbus startups

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
CoverMyMeds has beer on tap in its common room.

The Columbus Unscripted improv troupe is on the CoverMyMeds company stage, interacting with 17 employees from the office on a Tuesday evening, well past closing time. Some of the employees have computers in front of them. Some have IPAs. Some have both. For the pharmaceutical startup (whose workforce has doubled every year since 2008), the presence of the bar-and in-house Thursday happy hours-is as normal as a copy machine or a water cooler.

Staffers at CoverMyMeds, which occupies three floors in 2 Miranova, describe the company culture as "casually intense" and like to brag about their in-house chef who cooks free lunches, their flexible PTO strategy and the frequent office concerts from bands like the Floorwalkers. And then there's the bar (with a tap created on a 3D printer by company programmers) constantly stocked with four beer varietals, two of which are brewed in-house by the company's sous chef, Marianne Van Voorhis, who operates the company brewery's Twitter account, @covermybrew.

CoverMyMeds is not alone in providing a little liquid inspiration for its hard-working employees. A number of young and innovative companies have made the on-site keg the 2015 equivalent of the office Ping-Pong table.

Ask Michael Bukach, communications manager at CoverMyMeds, about the (super) locally brewed beer, and it's clear the company doesn't want alcohol to define it. Bukach would rather talk about how Van Voorhis began the tradition: a workshop that doubled as a Pelotonia fundraiser. Other beer-friendly companies feel the same way. While many businesses (young and old) bring in the brews, it's their work, not their refresments, that they want to talk about.

"Companies that are showcasing their beer in [team-member] acquisitions aren't getting it," Bukach says. "I feel like it's a very small portion of what our culture is all about. I think once you start trying to lock down and define and put down exactly what it is, you lose your culture, because you establish what your culture has to adhere to."

Rory Garand, whose handmade kegerator is housed at the High Street location of Clintonville's The Salt Mines coworking space, doesn't consider beer on the premises a big deal. "It was just a thing I wanted to do, and people were OK with it," he says. "Members are allowed to have a beer if they want to, and we have a signup form as to who's bought kegs. If I feel that I've been drinking a lot of the beer this time around, I'll go get a keg. It's not an advertised perk to membership. It's just a thing that sits here. I don't think that anyone comes here because they see there's a keg. People get a chuckle. That's about it."

Folks from Cardinal Health's Fuse (a commercial technologies innovation lab with a startup-like atmosphere inside of Ohio State University's South Campus Gateway) are just as reserved about their keg. "[We encourage] team members to interact, even when they're not working," says Brett Ludwig, a company representative. "A sign above the keg advises employees to drink responsibly and encourages them to find a friend to enjoy a drink with, which facilitates camaraderie among employees."

Do on-site kegs present a risk to productivity or safety?

"I've never seen anyone drunk," Garand says. "If I ever saw someone drunk, I would get rid of [the kegerator] right away. With the people who come here, I couldn't ever imagine that happening. The community that we have here will, by design, keep people like that out of the [space]."

"[Drunkenness has] never really been a problem," Bukach agrees. "The best part of this company is that upper management treats everyone as adults. You probably shouldn't be having a beer at 10:30 a.m. or having too many before you go home."

A bonus: The presence of beer adds an opportunity for coworkers to connect and collaborate, which for most of the companies is the point.

"From time to time, for seemingly no reason, everyone has a beer and it turns into happy hour instead of working," Garand says. "People take a break for a while, talk and chat. It makes these impromptu mixers, so we can have that office feel. We're all these people working on separate projects. It's a good chance to chat."

Together, folks come up with ideas, like a television for the shower. So far, none have come to fruition, but the creative energy flows, along with the beer.