Learn the 4 Principles That Helped This Virtual Company Become One of the Best Cultures in America
For the second year, Entrepreneur partnered with CultureIQ to find the best office cultures in America. For more companies, tips and profiles, check out the rest of 2017's Top Company Cultures package.
Great companies invest in their culture. They realize that providing a strong and positive vision, values and beliefs, impact both employee happiness and the bottom line. And it’s not just a hunch. It is believed that a good company culture can increase performance 20 to 30 percent—and put a lot of smiles on employees’ faces.
Based in Atlanta, eaHelp serves as a sort of virtual assistant matchmaker, providing individuals and businesses with highly-trained, virtual assistants tailored to meet their specific style and needs. The company itself is virtual. There is no central office -- all 40 of the corporate employees work remotely in the greater Atlanta area.
Because of this, eaHelp puts a high value on creating a strong culture that unites the team and transcends distance. “We wanted to create a culture where people would actually enjoy coming to work every day, an environment that we all dreamed of working in. So we focused on building a team on a foundation of trust and empowerment,” says Krisha Buelher, HR manager and culture cultivator.
The strategy is working. Today eaHelp (which recently consolidated into Belay Solutions) has an employee retention rate of 99.3 percent, and the company’s staff grew 33 percent last year. Buehler credits the company’s success to four core principles.
1. Lead by example
“A successful culture has to start at the top and be lived by the leaders,” says Buehler. She credits eaHelp founders, couple Bryan and Shannon Miles, with walking the walk. “They continually invest in the company and employees and truly care about the lives of people who work here.”
Case in point: The couple was inspired to start eaHelp after Bryan had a great experience with his own, personal virtual assistant. That assistant, Tricia Sciortina, was eaHelp’s first employee. Through the years she worked her way up the ranks and is now the COO, a real-life inspiration to the entire company.
The Miles’ have also established the “Pay It Forward Program,” a fund that’s been used to help employees, clients or contractors facing hardship. Employees can voluntarily contribute a $1 from their paycheck towards the fund. Donations have gone towards everything from a water heater replacement to an employee who lost a child.
2. Invest in your culture
According to Buheler, eaHelp puts money where the culture is. “We’ve added positions and dollars to ensure the people are taken care of.” For example, they hired an events coordinator who organizes family days and semi-annual summits, where the team gets together for overnight stays to celebrate wins and talk about the future. A book club was created so that employees could swap thoughts and ideas on various topics (the reading list includes Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni and EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey). The company also hosts guest speakers and professionals who offer lectures and workshops.
“All of this aids in forming new bonds and stronger relationships amongst the team,” Buheler. “It unifies us.” And unity is especially important in a remote employee culture that doesn’t gather in the same office every day.
Perhaps eaHelp’s most radical investment is in their “no gossip” policy. Employees who are caught talking negatively about others in the organization can be terminated. The policy sounds harsh but Buehler insists that it creates a positive work environment. “A no-gossip policy means you don’t have to worry that somebody is stabbing you in the back.”
3. Share common values
Faith plays a big part in eaHelp’s culture. On their website “God” is listed as their No. 1 core value. “We are not afraid to give God the glory and talk about the fact that we believe His hands are in our business,” says Buehler. But she stresses that not all their employees are religious. “We clearly state that you do not have to be a Christian to work in our company.”
What you do have to be is passionate, hard-working, fun, trustworthy and a team player. As “protector of the culture,” Buehler puts potential employees through a rigorous interview process: four to five interviews, a personality test and multiple sets of questions to ensure that they align well with her company values.
“We’re not looking for individual stars,” she says. We focus a lot on the personality of a person. Will he or she fit in well with the team.”
She does all her interviews via video so that she can gauge how candidates carry themselves and communicate. “I even look at the background,” she says. “It can tell you a lot about someone.” She recalls one man doing an interview with a photo of his nude wife behind him. He didn't make the cut.
4. Focus on the people
Buehler stresses the importance of treating your employees like “professional adults.” To this end, employees are free to set up their own work schedules. “We like you to be free from 9 to 3 for meetings, but if you want to get your kid off to school then we trust that you’re going to get your work done,” she says.
The company also makes a point of promoting within. “It’s always our first look,” Buehler says. “Thirteen people were promoted within the company last year alone.”
At the risk of being slightly annoying, Buehler says she does her best to over-communicate with the staff. “We may call a meeting, follow up with email, post in on Facebook and circle back on it again. We literally communicate the same things four or five times.” The reason, she says, is that in a virtual environment that values community, it’s essential to stay connected and be completely transparent. “We are here to support our team, serve them, remove obstacles and do whatever they can so that they are successful.” Spoken like a true Culture Cultivator.