Location: 149 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
Number of employees: 31 full-time; 5 contractors
Number of years in business: 10
What they do: Ai is a web design and engineering firm.
Why they are great: In the jeans and T-shirts world of Manhattan web design firms, it is difficult to stand apart as a great place to work. Foosball and pool table? Check. Weekly in-house happy hours? Check. But what sets this firm apart is their recognition of work/life balance, communication with employees, and their Morgan Freemans.
Ai’s leadership has created a workplace that supports balanced employees. Ai has a paid-time off policy that can be used for vacation, sick days, personal days, medical appointments, or emergencies—employees decide how they want to use their time off. Employees also get their birthday off to share with their friends and family. Staff members with kids may leave two hours early at the end of the day on Halloween, with pay, to allow time to help with costumes and go trick-or-treating, and the company tries to close the office each year between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Ai has a summer Friday schedule from Memorial Day to Labor Day allowing employees to take every other Friday off if all of their work is complete.
Employees are also entitled (and encouraged to use) one personal volunteer day per year. Ai is committed to community service, and they want their employees to have time to help an organization they are committed to in their personal lives. Ai also participates in philanthropic work as a company. In the past, Ai has mentored inner city youth with Urban Assembly, cleaned up Rockaway Beach with the non-profit action sports organization Stoked, distributed food to seniors through Meals-on-Wheels, hosted a holiday toy drive, and donated 564 cans of food and 10 computers to Urban Pathways to help homeless New Yorkers transition into housing, among other philanthropic activities.
Employees at Ai say they appreciate the open-door policy company founders Alex Schmelkin and Josh Levine have put in place. Ai’s physical space is completely open, promoting communication and collaboration. The company also has a more formal communication process. Employees have performance reviews (or “check-ins”) twice a year for direct feedback, to air any concerns, ask questions, and set goals. Employees are integral in coming up with their individual goals— how they can improve, skills they want to learn, and improvements they’d like to see at Ai. Managers meet with employees in biweekly one-to-one meetings. These meetings are opportunities for managers and employees to talk about any issues, ask any questions, share praise, and share company news about upcoming business opportunities, projects, or changes in the business. “I feel the most important thing that any employee needs to enjoy their job on a day-to-day basis is to know what’s expected of them,” says Schmelkin. “The single greatest contributor to satisfaction is, when I come to work, do I know what my boss, my coworkers, and my clients expect of me? And this concept helps us to be very emotionally aware of client, and of coworker expectations.”
An essential part of maintaining the culture that Schmelkin and Levine created at Ai is the people they hire. “Over the years, people have asked Josh and I to define what we’re looking for in an employee and what makes a successful employee at Ai, beyond just doing spectacular work,” says Schmelkin. “How do we quantify and define what it is that makes an awesome coworker? So we set out to identify those attributes of good people and a good Ai citizen. We defined a few tenets and called them the Morgan Freemans. Why? Because who better in his roles embodies all that’s great in this world, and especially great in life, other than Morgan Freeman? So that’s how Morgan Freeman kind of got introduced to the company culture.”
Examples of those tenets are to “always be a merry craftsman” (be focused on out- putting great work, but do it with a smile on your face) and “demonstrate intellectual curiosity.” Schmelkin says, “We encourage people to push themselves outside the realm of just what they work in. And we celebrate it. If you want to learn a new area of the business or if you are interested in a client that you’re not working with, we want you to pursue it. And we want everyone to open up so much that others feel very open to be curious about things and have discussions about them, even if it’s not what they’re assigned today.” According to Schmelkin, they put as much effort into the company culture as they do sales, marketing and delivering their products. And, he says, it has paid off.
Daria Meoli is the Executive Editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org