The Dublin software company encourages philanthropy and volunteerism.
Dennis Acosta's primary job at Northwoods Consulting Partners involves supporting a child support enforcement bureau, helping them maintain their computer system and handling help desk issues and special projects.
But he also spends time evaluating requests for charitable donations, meeting with representatives from nonprofit agencies and raising money. Those duties are part of his volunteer work gig—chairperson of the Northwoods Foundation.
Created by Northwoods' owners, Michael George and Gary Heinze, the foundation is the software solutions provider's formal charitable giving arm.
The foundation, which receives a percentage of the company's annual profits to donate each year, operates at the discretion of a board of directors made up of employees. George and Heinze provide the money and allow the board to donate it as they see fit, Acosta says.
The Northwoods Foundation is one of many reasons why the organization ranked first in Columbus CEO's Top Workplaces 2018 survey among midsized companies in central Ohio. The company, which describes its mission as “revolutionizing the delivery of services to vulnerable populations,” designs software for human services agencies.
The Dublin company also holds volunteerism in high regard, allowing employees to volunteer for causes they care about on company time. Acosta applied to be on the board because giving back is “in my DNA,” says the former parent teacher organization president and youth sports league commissioner. “Ever since I can remember, I've tried to help out in the community where I've lived.I believe we all have a responsibility to our families and our neighbors to try to make things a bit better to the best of our abilities.”
He's thrilled to work for a company that shares his passion for making a difference. The foundation has done everything from helping a family pay for their loved one's funeral to assist in making a bathroom handicapped accessible to more traditional projects like providing meals and Christmas gifts for families in need.
“It's really motivating to work for a company that's owners want to do good in the community,” Acosta says. “It warms my heart.”
Employees also enjoy a flexible paid time off program and a high quality benefits package, says Sarah Edwards, general counsel and HR director. “There are things more important in the lives of our team members than what happens at work,” Edwards says. “That's why Northwoods does not have a traditional PTO plan. Instead of offering a fixed number of vacation and sick days, we allow team members the flexibility to take the time they need to have new experiences, make memories or take time to recoup from the flu.It's all about communication and being accountable for your work.”
The company also prioritizes fun. Employees can play video games, challenge someone to ping-pong or play a few hands of cards. In addition, the company has a fridge stocked with beer for after-work gatherings.
Associates are expected to get their work done in a timely fashion, but there's recognition that balance is important. The owners of the company understand that you can complete your tasks and take a few moments out of the day to relax and recharge, Edwards says. The company regularly organizes workday get-togethers like the annual chili cook-off and costume party at Halloween, Cinco de Mayo celebration and a Seinfield-esque Festivus party. Company leaders are committed to creating a sense of family and camaraderie among employees, Edwards says.
“Our executive leadership team is on a first-name basis with every single employee and takes the time to sit and speak with people and really learn about who they are—not just what they do for the benefit of the company,” she says.
However, it's not only the Northwoods leaders who are concerned with culture, Edwards says. Employees love the work environment and work to protect it, she says. They routinely participate in surveys or brainstorming sessions about how to maintain the positive atmosphere, she says.
“We have pretty much all worked for other companies where the culture was less than stellar when we came across this little hidden gem of a company,” she says. “We want to keep the culture strong because no one wants to go back to feeling the dread/stress on Sundays, knowing you have to show up to work on Monday. Or to feeling belittled or unempowered. We love this place and are very protective of it.”
Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.
The Office Fun Guy: David Lowe, customer support center manager
How many Nerf guns are currently available to Northwoods' employees?
A few dozen. As for darts and bullets, it's harder to say. The simplest way to control the chaos is to hide the bullets. From time to time, someone will open a drawer for a pen, and it's full of Nerf ammo. Shooting someone with a Nerf gun is a way to reach out and let people know you're thinking of them.
Why is fun considered an important part of the company's culture?
Because work and deadlines are not really fun, and we ask people to work incredibly hard at helping our clients. When that's not necessary, we're very open to letting people have fun. No one here has to worry about making themselves look busy if it's a slow day. We're all adults here, and we know how important our work is. And during those busy times, our bosses are likely to run out and grab us doughnuts or bring us beers at the end of the day.
Do new employees ever experience “culture shock”?
It definitely happens, but we try to prepare people for it in the interview process. We also ask questions that probe whether they will fit in with our Northwoods family. We let people know that we try to add value to what they do by creating a fun atmosphere and engaging them beyond their job duties. Usually people find themselves asking, “Why doesn't everyone do it this way?”
You've said that if you were given an unlimited budget you would take the entire company on a cruise as the owners did once years ago when the company was a lot smaller. Would you really want to go on vacation with your co-workers?
I don't consider them my co-workers. I'm very close with the people I work with. I consider them close friends. I know their families. They know mine. I've hung out with their kids. They've hung out with mine.
When's the last time you drank a beer at work?
Last Friday, when I was making green pancakes for everyone at our St. Patrick's Day party. Someone brought me a Guinness.