The Des Moines Register Reports: The secrets behind Ames company rated as having one of top tech workplace cultures
"The Secrets behind Ames company rated as having one of top tech workplace cultures," by Tyler Jett, first appeared in the Des Moines Register, Tuesday, March 11, 2020.
An Ames software company continues to have one of the best workplace cultures in the country, according to Fortune. The business magazine ranked Workiva, Inc. 12th on its annual "Best Workplaces in Technology" list, released Wednesday. Workiva has been on the list since 2018 and ranks alongside household names like Adobe, Dropbox and Zillow.
It is the only Iowa company to make the list.
Fortune ranks companies based on surveys of employees that ask whether they trust the company's leaders, whether they feel the company is inclusive and whether there is camaraderie among the workers.
Workiva, which launched in 2008, provides cloud-based compliance software. Companies use the platform to fill out documents required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, along with other government agencies and auditors. The software cuts down on the number of times a company has to answer the same questions.
Workiva says the majority of Fortune 500 companies now use the software. The business employs 580 workers on its Ames campus next to the Iowa State University Research Park. The company boasted $298 million in revenue in fiscal year 2019.
Speaking with the Des Moines Register, Workiva CEO Martin Vanderploeg says he believes the company's high workplace workplace culture ranking is no accident. He says Workiva's executives thought hard about how to build a business where employees are happy to come to work.
Among principles Vanderploeg says are foundational to the company:
Office amenities are overrated. To be sure, Workiva's campus offers plenty of activities and perks for employees. They include pool and pingpong tables, a basketball gym, bikes to borrow and a cafeteria with a $4.95 lunch.
But Vanderploeg says he does not think these perks improve workers' happiness, calling them "window dressing." Instead, he says, he thinks employees are longing for a sense of purpose in their work.
In Workiva's case, he says, he sells workers on the idea that filling out paperwork impacts thousands of people in concrete ways. It may be boring, but without it, companies aren't transparent, investors lose money and lives can be ruined. Vanderploeg says he invokes Enron and WorldCom, companies that collapsed in the wake of accounting fraud scandals.
"The shocks for our economy brought people into poverty," he says. "People were homeless, and it's all because of transparency."
He says the company mission statement for its employees is "keep the economy stable".
"People are proud they work for our company," he says. "They take great pride in it. It's an ongoing process."
Communicate often: Vanderploeg hosts meetings with all employees four times a year. He sets up in the gym, with workers filling the bleachers. Employees also follow along on Workiva's intranet.
Vanderploeg says he takes all questions, both submitted in person and online. He encourages his managers to meet with their employees in between those quarterly sessions as well — especially when there is company news. The meetings aren't the key, though. Vanderploeg says the most important thing is to give honest answers, even to tough questions, because employees know when a boss is dodging.
"People understand we’re trying," Vanderploeg says. "We’re really trying hard to do the right thing, at all levels. When people think you’re trying, and you admit mistakes, it just builds a great bond and great rapport with employees."
Trust the employees: Workiva does not set specific hours for its employees, who have access to the office at all times.
"We trust them to make decisions on their work-life balance," Vanderploeg says. "When they leave the office, we want them to feel they’re away. We expect them to do their jobs, and they do. We build a culture. People feel empowered. They feel entrusted. And because of that, they work very hard."
For the latest news and information, visit the Workiva Newsroom.