Ottawa Business Journal - HR Update - - Awards 2009-10 -

Sit­u­ated in a for­mer movie the­atre site com­plete with gi­ant screen and seats, beer taps on two floors, and gam­ing nights, em­ploy­ees at bitHeads must pinch them­selves to de­ter­mine if they’re dream­ing. “I’ve heard peo­ple say they can’t be­lieve they get paid to work here,” agrees Kerry Bent, man­ager of hu­man re­sources. “There’s noth­ing ster­ile about this en­vi­ron­ment at all. It screams fun!”

bitHeads is a cus­tom­ized soft­ware de­vel­op­ment com­pany that helps clients de­velop prod­ucts and get to mar­ket faster. Es­tab­lished in 1995, the com­pany has helped more than 100 Cana­dian, Amer­i­can and in­ter­na­tional clients in the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, mo­bile wireless, en­ter­prise/In­ter­net, med-tech, re­tail, and more re­cently the gam­ing mar­kets.

The old movie the­atre of the West­gate Shop­ping Cen­tre makes the per­fect lo­ca­tion for this fun-loving com­pany.

“We have fun and we get things done,” says Ms. Bent.

That’s ev­i­dent with the in-of­fice bar, pool ta­ble, and movie the­atre avail­able for gam­ing and movie nights, staff meet­ings and pri­vate em­ployee birthdays. Ms. Bent adds the staff ’s will­ing­ness to spend time to­gether out­side of work is what sets bitHeads’s HR prac­tices apart.

“A lot of time we’ll be here all day to­gether, then af­ter work at an ac­tiv­ity or games night. It’s a fam­ily en­vi­ron­ment and like work­ing with all your best friends. And I get feed­back from em­ploy­ees say­ing the same thing,” she says. “When we hire peo­ple, we’re care­ful of mak­ing sure they fit in with the en­vi­ron­ment. We’ve had very few peo­ple leave us.”

In­deed, em­ployee feed­back in the 2009 Em­ploy­ees’ Choice Awards sur­vey makes vol­un­tary de­par­tures seem un­likely.

Staff awarded the com­pany very high marks in em­ployee en­gage­ment and per­sonal growth, along with man­age­ment and lead­er­ship style. Feed­back for im­prove­ment was mi­nor with “more train­ing” be­ing the most in­sis­tent call. Just as likely were em­ploy­ees say­ing there was noth­ing to im­prove on.

“I can­not dream of a bet­ter com­pany to work for. I am part of bitHeads and I feel like this is my com­pany and I’m help­ing di­rectly to its growth,” wrote one.

An­other com­mented: “One of the amaz- ing things about bitHeads is that they feel like a small com­pany in terms of rap­port and ca­ma­raderie, but the HR sup­port poli­cies and peo­ple are much richer than even the big­gest com­pany I have worked for in terms of mak­ing em­ploy­ees feel val­ued.”

Staff mem­bers are re­warded with spot awards, monthly op­por­tu­ni­ties to win tick­ets to var­i­ous events, in-house monthly mas­sage ther­apy, 50 per cent off com­pany mer­chan­dise and bi-weekly free lunches, where staff re­ceive in­for­mal com­pany up­dates. Then there are the par­ties.

“We cel­e­brate all birthdays to­gether. We meet at the bar af­ter work, and every­one re­ceives a gift on their birth­day,” Ms. Bent ex­plains.

The com­pany birth­day is cel­e­brated in sim­i­lar style. Ev­ery Oc­to­ber, em­ploy­ees pool their money to buy gifts for the “Head Bits,” as the com­pany founders are af­fec­tion­ately known. The gifts range from the prac­ti­cal to the zany: Ms. Bent re­calls a cus­tom­ized goalie hel­met, gam­ing chairs, golf put­ter and even a ro­botic dog.

But bitHeads puts em­pha­sis on em­ployee wel­fare as well, with im­me­di­ate med­i­cal ben­e­fits, flex­i­ble work­ing hours and in­no­va­tive ini­tia­tives such as lunchtime boot camps with a per­sonal trainer. More re­cently, teams con­ducted a pe­dome­ter race to Easter Is­land, tracking their steps and dis­tances cov­ered each day.

And this fo­cus on health and shared re­spon­si­bil­ity ex­tends to the com­mu­nity too. The staff is big on char­ity work. From bake sales to book sales, em­ploy­ees or­ga­nize weekly ac­tiv­i­ties to raise money for char­ity of the month – once, a ba­nana loaf went for a re­ported $120.

In the words of one em­ployee: “Not only does bitHeads make their em­ploy­ees feel val­ued … they also con­trib­ute in mak­ing them feel val­ued within the com­mu­nity.”

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