Best Places to Work 2021
Sometimes the grass really is greener. Find out why these local employers made our inaugural list.
What does the perfect job look like? For most of us, the ideal includes some combination of meaningful work, competitive pay, great benefits, work/life balance, a cool culture, flexibility and fun. Find out why these area employers made our inaugural list of coveted places to earn a livelihood.
What they do: Home design, remodeling and construction
What’s to love: A foundation built on quality, trust and solid relationships
When you build something, build it to last—whether it’s a custom home or a small business. That mantra is the secret to Bowers Design Build’s longevity. Not only does the 31-year-old company receive high marks for craftsmanship and customer service (as confirmed by GuildQuality, a group that conducts client satisfaction surveys for homebuilders), the warm fuzzies extend to employees, too.
An annual employee survey finds staff citing teamwork, a positive work environment, highly skilled peers, good customers and high standards as the top things they like about their jobs, along with challenging work, the freedom to voice their opinions, strong company values and a culture of trust. They also list opportunities for growth (the company pays for continuing education and certification programs) and work/life balance as reasons to stay.
The link between employee and customer satisfaction “is very purposeful,” says co-owner Wilma Cairns Bowers. The company has a profit-sharing cash reward and each year celebrates its achievements with a gala awards dinner.
What they do: Software development
What’s to love: Employees are encouraged to channel their inner superheroes.
The “cape” in Black Cape is an allusion to superheroes. The company logo even looks like the bat signal. That’s no accident. “It’s fun to keep it lighthearted,” says co-CEO Al Di Leonardo, whose tech firm is intent on recruiting the best software engineers, data scientists, machine-learning practitioners and systems engineers in an extremely competitive playing field. The message: This is not your grandparents’ stuffy corporate office.
Black Cape offers competitive compensation, profit-sharing, stock options and “a safe and interesting work environment where people feel like they’re contributing,” Di Leonardo says. Staff get one day off per quarter to volunteer for the cause of their choosing (recent picks include Black Girls Code, which offers mentoring and computers to underprivileged girls in the D.C. area, and Wine to Water, which builds sustainable water systems in impoverished countries).
As a company, Black Cape has also provided technical support, software development, a computer lab and teams of riders to Face of America, an annual two-day, 112-mile bike ride fundraiser that unites adaptive and able-bodied athletes. Other soft benefits include NBA tickets, escape room outings and an annual charity auction in which employee-made items—ranging from paintings to pickled eggs—are placed for bid, with a company match. Employees choose where the funds are donated.
The emphasis on culture and comedy pays off. While the average annual industry turnover rate is about 25%, Black Cape has a turnover rate of about 5%, Di Leonardo says. And, in a field dominated by men, one-third of the project leads in this Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business are female.
What they do: Law firm
What’s to love: Legal cross-training, cornhole and crazy hat days
Berenzweig Leonard has many practice areas—cybersecurity and data privacy, government contracting, intellectual property, employment, entertainment, sports and media law among them—but it doesn’t pigeonhole anyone, says Jenny Salce, director of operations. All employees are given the chance to expand their professional interests and skills through cross-training, workshops and formal leadership education.
“If the training benefits themselves and the firm, we provide support,” Salce says. “We will dive in.”
The firm prides itself on a program that allows law clerks to explore all of its practice areas, working with attorneys on substantive projects. Clerks provide support at court appearances, attend companywide social events and receive one-on-one mentoring, Salce says. “They get a rounded experience.”
That rounded experience also includes community service—every two weeks, company volunteers make sandwiches for Martha’s Table, a D.C. nonprofit—and a little healthy competition, via office events like cornhole tournaments and scavenger hunts. Yes, it’s a law firm, but not one that’s too buttoned up for crazy hat days and holiday decorating contests.
“We try to keep everyone’s spirits up,” Salce says. “We work so hard, we have to have fun.”
What they do: Restaurant group
What’s to love: Mental health is a top priority.
Happy Endings Hospitality was ahead of the game in recognizing what the pandemic has made painfully clear—restaurant work is mentally taxing. One recent survey of restaurant workers by Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob found 78% reporting that their mental health had been negatively affected in the past year. Many said the stress of the job, coupled with the higher chance of disease transmission, wasn’t worth the paycheck.
While Happy Endings has received blowback for cheeky names that some find offensive—its innuendo-laden restaurant portfolio includes concepts like Chasin’ Tails (crawfish), Lei’d (Hawaiian poke) and Teas’n You (milk teas)—its mental health benefits are no joke. Employees seeking therapy have access to an online counseling service (the company covers the first month and then pays half the cost thereafter).
In May, it launched Mental Health Moooves, a program in which team members hold one another accountable for practices such as meditation, journaling and sleeping well. Roughly 30-35 employees signed up.
Recognizing the mind-body connection to wellness, the restaurant group also pays up to 50% of an employee’s gym membership or a portion of the fees for fitness classes such as yoga or boxing. Other benefits include Bonusly, a peer recognition program in which points (accrued via shout-outs from colleagues) can be redeemed for prizes and gift cards. The company covers 100% of health care expenses for its general managers, and half of its executive team is female.
Location: Ballston (headquartered in Westminster, Colorado)
Employees: 3,900; 37 in Ballston office
What they do: Space technology and intelligence
What’s to love: Remote work, massages and a commitment to equity in hiring
If you’ve seen satellite photos of recent hurricane damage, you’ve probably seen Maxar’s work. Satellite imagery is just one of the specialties of a tech company that bills itself as driving “the latest and greatest in space technology advancement by staying curious. We believe diversified minds drive better innovation.”
In keeping with that commitment, Maxar has a Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) steering committee that provides support and resources for employees who are women, Black, Hispanic/Latinx, LGBTQ+, military veterans and those with differing abilities. When hiring to fill roles at the director level and above, the company requires consideration of at least two candidates from those underrepresented groups, with interviews conducted, in part, by hiring managers who are also minorities.
During the pandemic, Maxar introduced an equipment stipend (for desks, chairs and technology) for employees working from home and implemented a pilot program—WH@M (Work Hybrid at Maxar)—that traded conventional offices for collaborative spaces and “hoteling” workstations that employees can use on days when they are on-site.
Maxar offers an employee stock purchase plan, spot bonuses for staff who exceed customer expectations, and International Traveler Medical and Security Coverage for employees who live abroad or travel internationally for work. Its executives anticipate a future in which remote work is common, but for now there is still one perk luring staff into the office: monthly massages by a professional masseuse.
What they do: Law firm
What’s to love: They care about protecting the planet.
Tucked inside a LEED Gold building near the Courthouse Metro station with sweeping views from a rooftop deck, Bean, Kinney & Korman thinks a lot about its environment. Having a modern office in a prime location helps with hiring and retention, says Tim Hughes, the firm’s managing shareholder. “It’s an attractive place for talented folks in the information economy.”
But there’s also a larger eco-mission at play. The building is green by design, and Bean, Kinney has a sustainability task force that sets procurement guidelines for everything from planet-friendly cleaning supplies to office equipment. The firm reduces trash by using glassware and ceramics in lieu of disposable dishes, and offers filtered instead of bottled water. Employees receive financial incentives to use public transportation.
Another guiding principle that sets the firm apart, Hughes says, is that “we are very entrepreneurial. People can find their own way within the different practice areas”—such as e-commerce, government contracting, construction, real estate development, and commercial and civil litigation.
Fifteen of the firm’s attorneys were selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America 2022 Edition. Bean, Kinney offers flexible hours, an onsite fitness facility, weekly happy hours and group activities, such as kickball tournaments and donation drives for local charities.
What they do: IT consulting and cybersecurity
What’s to love: A family-focused culture that embraces kids
When schools closed due to the pandemic, working parents everywhere had to figure out how to juggle the demands of their jobs with distance learning for their kids. Karen Vasquez, director of marketing for C3 Integrated Solutions, says her company embraced the new normal. “As we were having Zoom meetings, kids and pets became special guests.”
Taking the idea a step further, the IT firm ceremoniously presented employees’ children with T-shirts proclaiming them C3 interns. Though it was a small gesture, the kids felt like they were a part of the team, playing an important role as everyone weathered the crisis together, says President Bill Wootton.
That family-friendly vibe—“it’s in our DNA,” he says. In recent years, C3 has been growing nearly as fast as those kids. In August, the firm landed the No. 1,225 spot on the annual Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies. Among U.S.-based IT management companies, it ranked 34th.
C3 offers flexible scheduling, plus one or two “emotional health days” per year in addition to regular paid time off. “We know that everyone on our team has a life outside of work,” Wootton says. “It’s important to have a balanced life. It makes people happier, healthier, more productive. Everyone wants to work in a place where people care about them.”
What they do: Residential homebuilding
What’s to love: Paid sabbaticals
If Focal Point Homes employees start to feel burned out, they know relief is in sight. “Everybody here gives it their all,” says president and founder Scott Murray, aware that the nature of the work (building custom and semi-custom new homes) sometimes requires staff to put in long hours and weekends.
About six years ago, Focal Point began offering four-week-long paid sabbaticals to employees hitting the five-year mark. “It’s a break—an extra month off,” Murray says. They can do whatever they want; they are not supposed to check in with the office.”
Murray says he initially worried that the return to the grind after all that time off might feel like a letdown, but that hasn’t been the case. “People said they found it rejuvenating. They were more excited about work” when they came back. He practices what he preaches. Two years ago, he and his family took a monthlong trip to Asia.
In addition to those sabbaticals, employees look forward to a few days of company-sponsored fun each year during an annual retreat in Miami Beach. Come summer, staff also get six (paid) half days off on Fridays. Other choice benefits include flexible scheduling, mentoring, a wellness plan and support for community service initiatives.
What they do: Software development
What’s to love: Creative exploration is sanctioned and encouraged.
Helping organizational leaders make tough decisions is all in a day’s work at Decision Lens. Clients use Decision Lens software for budget planning, strategic prioritization and resource allocation, explains CEO and co-founder John Saaty. The tech company has worked with the United Network for Organ Sharing, for example, to create tools that determine who gets organ transplants, and with the Commander, Naval Installations Command (CNIC) to prioritize military construction projects.
Employees “get to be front-row participants” in the planning, Saaty says, creating algorithms that help leaders make serious, data-driven determinations. But they also get paid to geek out. During the company’s annual or semiannual DL Labs, staff are encouraged to “explore the art of the possible,” Saaty says, working on projects of their own choosing to enhance their skills and generate breakthrough ideas. Recent lab projects have involved gravatars—globally recognized avatars—and artificial or simulated neural networks, a subset of machine learning.
Meaningful work drives retention, says Saaty, who launched his start-up in 2002 with only a handful of people, and still has some of those original employees. Perks such as office snacks, ping-pong, bowling matches, a chili cookoff, winery trips and company outings to Nats games offer stress relief and build camaraderie. At the start of the pandemic, the entire company went virtual. Now the office has reopened on an optional basis for most employees.
Location: Columbia Pike
What they do: Real estate
What’s to love: They’ve been a pillar of the community for more than a century.
When an employee had to be rushed to the hospital from one of BM Smith’s properties, the company vice president’s reaction was instinctual. “It was close to the end of the workday,” recalls Tina Vandivier, director of real estate & HR systems. “Our V.P. knew her kids would need to be picked up from school and offered to bring them both home and took care of them until she returned.”
Helping has been part of the Arlington real estate firm’s work ethic ever since its founding in 1908. That culture of caring extends to the larger community, too. Through its volunteer program, “BM Smith Gives Back,” employees donate an average of 300 volunteer hours every year. Since 2016, they’ve helped orchestrate programs such as a casino night fundraiser for the Arlington Free Clinic, Bridges to Independence’s Kickball for a Cause, a back-to-school drive with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, and food packaging at the Arlington Food Assistance Center.
Last year, the company launched “Find Your Passion,” a program in which two employees are chosen annually to receive $1,500 grants to spend as they wish. One winner used her grant to purchase an at-home boxing gym that kept her family active during the pandemic. Another used his grant to support a local nonprofit.
What they do: National defense and homeland security services
What’s to love: Fun is fundamental to wellness.
Homeland security is serious work. Strategic Analysis seeks to counterbalance that solemn duty with moments of levity, says president and CEO Lindsay Samora, via events such as ice cream socials and ice-skating outings.
Last year, the company celebrated its 35th anniversary with a virtual Oscars-themed ceremony, producing a movie about its history and sending out gift cards to buy everyone lunch. “I was dressed up. There were swag bags,” Samora says of the pageantry. “I’m creating a director’s cut,” she adds.
In addition to competitive health and retirement benefits, SA offers elder care assistance and wellness challenges, such as company-sponsored 5K races. An annual employee survey helps determine which benefits are most appreciated and what improvements can be made.
SA is especially tuned in to the needs of employees who have active-duty spouses. The ability to work remotely has allowed one staffer to stay with the company for more than 18 years, through more than five military moves and deployments.
Arlington Magazine partnered with the Best Companies Group to identify companies with locations in Arlington, McLean and Falls Church. To be considered for the Best Places to Work designation, organizations had to also have at least 15 employees and be in business for a minimum of one year. Winners were identified via an in-depth analysis of each company’s workplace policies, practices and demographics, plus an employee survey that measured the employee experience inside each organization. Arlington Magazine was not involved in the research or selection process.