At the United Fresh 2019 Conference and Expo workshop on “Management Challenges with a Changing Work Culture,” moderator Nathan Stornetta (from left), executive recruiter and director of client relations for Produce Careers and panelists Amalia Zimmerman-Lommel, director of social responsibility for GoodFarms, Viraj Puri, CEO and co-founder of Gotham Greens, and Nelson Longenecker, director of social responsibility for Four Seasons Family of Cos. speak about issues affecting work cultures. ( Amy Sowder )

CHICAGO — After the opening luncheon at the United Fresh Conference and Expo, the crowd broke into smaller groups to attend simultaneous workshops. 

The Management Challenges with a Changing Work Culture workshop on June 10 covered attracting talent, communications with management, mergers and acquisitions and technology.

When it comes to hiring the right match to a company’s culture, “consider your company’s scale of business, and their preferred work environment,” said panel moderator Nathan Stornetta, executive recruiter and director of client relations for Produce Careers.

Does the potential hire feel more comfortable in a huge corporation with many levels and resources, or at a small startup where responsibilities and roles are more fluid?

Good communication between lower level employees and management is key to a good work culture, panelists said.

San Diego-based GoodFarms, which grows tomato and strawberries, uses an app called Ganaz that connects growers with H-2A guest workers on their cell phones so they can communicate, even off-season, said Amalia Zimmerman-Lommel, GoodFarms director of social responsibility. The company shares information on when harvesting might begin and how the farmworkers need to handle H-2A forms. 

“For us to communicate directly is just a huge win, and we do that through this technology,” Zimmerman-Lommel said.

Also, GoodFarms shares financial information with farmworkers so they understand what “piece of the pie” the company actually keeps, which is what they then draw from to pay wages, she said.

The culture improves with “a lot of transparency and communication,” said Viraj Puri, cofounder and CEO of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Gotham Greens. It’s a company of climate-controlled, hydroponic urban greenhouses, with about 190 employees.

Gotham Greens sends out regular company e-mails to tell employees what’s going on, like “’Our Gotham Greens CEO is on a panel at United Fresh this Monday.’ They want to know that, which is surprising to me,” Puri said. The e-mails share other updates too, like new stock-keeping units, what’s happening at each location and what’s going on in the industry.

When it comes to ensuring new hires stay longer than the first week, Nelson Longenecker, vice president of business innovation at Ephrata, Pa.-based Four Seasons Family of Cos., said his company tries to recruit those who like the pace of the company and see potential for promotion.

“We use metrics to see how well we are doing explaining the job and matching expectations with new recruits," Longenecker said. He laughed and told a related joke later: "We do cold storage, so the only thing I can say is do your hiring during the summer."

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