Upgrade Brings Community and Fun Back to the Office

What is it like to work for Upgrade in Phoenix?

Upgrade Inc. surpasses standards for in-person work in the fintech industry by keeping employees safe and engaged in a work environment that thrives on community in Downtown Phoenix. Upgrade is a fintech company that offers credit cards, personal loans and online banking. The BestCompaniesAZ team recently toured their Arizona office to explore the culture and learn about how returning to the office has benefited employees.

A visit to their location on Central Avenue will show you a clear picture of how a successful fintech company gets people excited about being in the office. In January, 15.4 percent of Americans worked remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While many offices closed their doors and went remote over the last 2 years, Upgrade kept up a hybrid model that allowed some workers to work from home while others collaborated in the office. During the week of March 1, 2022 all Arizona employees commuted to the office.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the leadership at Upgrade committed to keeping workers in the office. They lean heavily on data and proven practices to keep workers safe rather than looking for the easiest ways to coax the team at the Phoenix call center.

“When I started I never felt unsafe at work. I’ve always felt very knowledgeable about our covid protocols and protected,” said Kayloni Rittmer, General Program Manager. “If something did pop up, I have the ability to take a covid test in-office and make sure I’m safe.”

To keep workers safe, Upgrade’s Phoenix office instituted temperature checks at reception, offers on-site vaccinations (including boosters), and sanitizes workspaces regularly. Unvaccinated employees get tested every week to ensure they are healthy. In large areas you will also notice filters removing particles that contain COVID-19 from the air. When employees do get sick, the office offers transparency on the situation so they stay informed and empowered.

“It’s good business to take care of your team members, because good team members will take care of your business,” said Crystal Piao, Director of People Operations.

It was important for Upgrade Phoenix to bring everyone back to the office because their culture thrives on collaboration and community. For new hires, nothing can replace getting to know your co-workers and supervisors in person. Their office environment is casual, friendly and trendy with open spaces and even a zen room. Personality is a quality that is not easily perceived in an online setting, so being in person enhances the ability for employees in Phoenix to work together and serve customers. Training, coaching, and time spent side-by-side facilitate professional development best in an in-person environment. According to a study by students at Harvard University, learning in a virtual environment falls short of the benefits of being in the same room as your instructor.

When some of the team members were forced to go hybrid at Upgrade Phoenix, they realized they missed the feeling of true collaboration. Smiling faces and bustling break areas are cheerful sights that uplift morale and foster deeper connections. Within the office Jasmine Duran, People Operations Business Partner, says people are genuinely excited to see each other each day.

“I would go a week or more without seeing Taylor, our People Operations Generalist, but when I do I see her light up,” Duran says. “In the virtual environment you do miss chatter that’s not work related like saying hey how are you doing.”

The culture in the Downtown Phoenix office is magnetic. Team members are drawn into a collaborative environment that stokes collaboration and innovation. More than co-workers, many people at Upgrade find friends in the office that exchange pleasant moments daily. Duran describes the personal moments that unfold at work like sharing your music taste or opening up about life events as unique aspects of the work day that disappear in a virtual workspace.

This office is a safe space for employees of all kinds regardless of beliefs, race, gender or sexual orienation. Upgrade is extending their list of employee resource groups (ERGs) that support the expansive diversity you can find across the company. Each ERG is led by members of its respective community and shares events, news and advocates for the needs of the group.

These ERGs do great work to raise awareness and highlight the lives of the diverse members of the Upgrade community. For example, during the 2021 Phoenix Pride Festival, members of the Pride ERG took the time to educate co-workers about the ERGs initiatives and put positive spotlights on LGBTQ+ members through interviews. During this experience Rittmer reported that multiple employees shared that they felt safe being out in this workplace after never feeling comfortable to own their true selves at previous employers. One employee expressed that they had kept their status in the community private for decades, but the accepting environment at Upgrade allowed them to express themselves without fear of judgment.

Upgrade prioritizes employee well-being and health, but leaders also go beyond to ensure workers thoroughly enjoy the hours they spend in the office. A fully stocked kitchen provides meals for employees at no cost to them. Comfortable spaces are available on multiple floors to take breaks, collaborate and renew focus throughout the day. One breakroom features a ping pong table for friendly competitions between tasks.

“People are genuinely happy to be at work, and at first it was strange for me…” says Lazendria Gray, Senior Talent Acquisition Partner. “The culture is very family-oriented, very fun and very upbeat.”

Personal growth at Upgrade does not take a backseat to the company’s overarching goals. Each employee has a flexible path for professional development. Talent Acquisition Coordinator Angel Soto began his career answering phones at the call center. He says management is trustworthy and willing to work with employees to accelerate their careers to get where they want to be.

According to the Senior Vice President of People Operations Guido de Koning, all the factors have come together to make exponential growth possible at Upgrade. They are hiring at a fast pace to keep up with demand driven by customer loyalty, financially responsible products, national marketing campaigns, and user-friendly apps. Upgrade avoids using predatory repayment structures and instead incorporates responsible options for paying off purchases into their credit card’s accompanying app.

“This is the nice part about being a fintech company and not being a bank…” de Koning says, “We really don’t want to be like a bank. Not for the customers but also not for the employee. We don’t want this to feel like working for a bank.”

Company leadership is intentional in perpetuating a start-up culture that sets the trend for everyone in the office. They examine the human factor of every-day business to ensure each voice is heard and each individual is encouraged to be their authentic self.

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