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"Every company has a culture. The question is whether or not it is intentional and recognized. Company culture needs to align with your business objectives," says Heinan Landa, founder and CEO of Optimal Networks, a full-service IT firm that caters to small and midsize businesses in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Creating a strong company culture is especially important for Optimal Networks since 65 percent of its workforce is remote, either working from home or onsite with clients.
Landa has built his company's culture around three core values: Tell the truth, do the right thing, and everyone benefits. That last one means that anyone who has an interaction with Optimal Networks should end up better off for the experience.
Optimal Networks formalized these values in 1998, but Landa says he and the team were living them well before then. "I don't think you dictate values, you discover them. Company leadership lives a certain set of values, and it is incumbent upon them to figure them out," he says. "We guard and protect our values starting with the hiring process, where we screen for cultural fit, and all the way through an employee's life cycle."
Culture: The glue that keeps a workforce together
Part of a culture is having traditions. Every Friday morning, the team cooks breakfast together in the office kitchen. This ritual started organically, but Landa explains that it was his job as CEO to "fan that flame."
While Landa was happy to embrace the remote-worker concept and extend the company's search for talent outside the D.C. area, he mandated that employees live within driving distance so that they would be able to come to the office for routine team-building exercises.
The company hosts summer picnics, holiday parties, happy hours, outings, and two annual "company spirit days." In the past, team members have gone sailing, whitewater rafting, and taken over an amusement park.
Optimal Networks also makes it a point to celebrate longevity. When employees reach their 10-year mark, the entire team goes out for a company dinner. The honoree is presented with a custom-tailored jacket in the company color, "Optimal blue." On employees' 13-year work anniversaries, the company throws them a happy hour.
Say it loud and proud
The Optimal Networks team is so proud of its culture, it deliberately shares it with its clients by hosting events, onsite and off, from technology trainings to happy hours. The business is also committed to providing a wide-range of benefits options, including medical, dental, Aflac supplemental insurance*, 401K plans, flexible work schedules, a wellness program, and more.
"We chose Aflac because it offers our employees additional insurance, and peace of mind," says Landa. "In addition, many of the Aflac policies offer benefits for preventive care-and anything that motivates our folks to take good care of themselves is worth its weight in gold."
Perks like these improve retention rates, which, in turn, benefit clients. "There is a ton of organizational knowledge in the people here," says Landa. "If you have terrific people and they stay for a long time, it is magic. They know how things are done. They can service clients properly, and they can mentor people. That is how you grow the business."
Landa has always recognized the business benefit in putting people first. He actually wrote the business plan for Optimal Networks when he was an MBA student at Wharton School of Business. He devoted an entire chapter to company culture, in which he hypothesized that by taking care of his employees and making work fun, he'd create a better service company and a higher level of client satisfaction.
His professors told him to remove the chapter, but he didn't listen. In fact, he still keeps it in his office desk drawer.
As fun as work can be, Landa emphasizes that it is not fun for fun's sake. "If a company is sponsoring something, there is a purpose behind it, whether it is team-building or to integrate people who are working remotely," he says.
When employees are happy, it is contagious. It helps to improve their outlook in the office, the quality of their work, and perhaps most importantly, their relationships with their clients.
*Aflac coverage is underwritten by American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus.