Building Employee Satisfaction from the Ground up

Jan Bitner describes how she crafts blueprints for a SolarWinds office around her employees’ needs

The employee-first mentality is increasingly prevalent in today’s workplace, with companies hoping to stimulate a friendlier and more positive environment for everyone.

Jan Bitner, director of facilities, worldwide corporate services and travel for SolarWinds, champions this way of thinking for the Austin, Texas-based IT company. She and SolarWinds CEO Kevin Thompson recognize that their employees make their technological world spin, and Bitner’s design efforts ensure that all possible requests are fulfilled.

Since Bitner started her career with SolarWinds, she has helped create offices in Texas, Utah, Virginia, Ottawa, and Vancouver, and influenced other SolarWinds offices around the world. Each building is unique in its own way, drawing inspiration from the city and what its employees need.

Of particular note to Bitner is the company’s Austin headquarters, which she deems her proudest career achievement and a model for other SolarWinds offices.

“We insist that people have a nice work environment; that’s what SolarWinds wants for all employees,” she says. “I think about what makes me happy here, go talk to the people themselves, learn about what they like, what makes them happy, and work from there.”

Bitner and her team achieve this mission in various ways. First, they bring the outdoors into the office with the help of inviting color palettes and plenty of natural lighting. SolarWinds’ IT experts may have desk-based jobs while providing support for their programs and customers, but they never feel trapped in a cubicle. For example, SolarWinds’ Lehi, Utah-based office is near Twin Peaks and South Mountain, so using alpine textures and colors make those entities feel closer to home. Austin employees have received similar treatment.

“They love it because there is so much light coming in and they tell me it feels like they’re working outside. They can see the trees, sky, and lots of sun,” Bitner says.

Another element that contributes to employees’ enthusiasm is an office’s geographic location. After building its first SolarWinds location in Austin, the company learned heavy traffic and inconvenient travel times negatively impacted its employees’ overall satisfaction with the location. This influenced moving the headquarters to South Austin, which is far less congested and has easier commutes home and to the airport. Austin employees also have access to walking trails right outside the office if they need an escape.

All of these efforts have left a lasting impression on every department at SolarWinds, leading Thompson to coin Bitner’s team’s work as “SolarWind-izing.”

“What he means is that we make [an office] a part of the SolarWinds family and give them many of the same things we have at our headquarters,” she says.

Much of Bitner’s work involves company acquisitions, where she is responsible for transforming an existing office into the best work environment, and one that matches SolarWinds as a whole. While some fear that change may impact their work, she makes an effort to earn their trust.

“I try to eliminate any worry immediately; we’re not trying to turn their world upside down,” she says, adding that none of the company’s projects could be realized without her construction and maintenance partners. “Your success will be based on your relationships. [Your collaborators] are the ones who are going to make you look good and work very hard.”

Bitner gives her highest praise to designer Manuel Navarro, who has worked with her on numerous projects, and says she will use him anywhere she can by virtue of the fact that he understands the company’s culture inside and out.

She also extends praise to Eric Carville, vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, whom she met when the buildout of SolarWinds’ headquarters began in Austin. She says that Carville is the best when it comes to project managers, and is grateful for the mentoring and effort he puts forth for SolarWinds, making him another collaborator she continues to work with whenever possible.

Bitner’s work has helped her to become part of SolarWinds’ overall success, and she wears her passion for the company on her sleeve.

“I own this job,” she says. “I give SolarWinds my full effort. I want to be really proud of my accomplishments, and I try to convey that to the people outside of this company.”

You don’t have to look too far to see that. The SolarWinds employees show it without even trying.

GIVING BACK

Geeks that Give, SolarWinds’ employee-driven team focused on charitable giving, is consistently active, striving to strengthen local communities through investments in organizations that support healthy neighbors, healthy minds, and healthy spaces.

In Austin, Texas, where SolarWinds is based, the company partners with organizations including the Central Texas Food Bank, Breakthrough Austin, and Lifeworks. Participation is not enforced, but Jan Bitner says SolarWinds employees simply do so out of the kindness of their hearts.

“Some companies insist that their employees give,” Bitner says. “They want to be a top-10 company that reaches some goal. We don’t do that. People want to give to these charities. We know we have it to give and are grateful for the opportunity.”