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Best Places to Work: When Recognition Doesn’t Tell You the Whole Story

Dawn Mitchell, Senior Vice President, Human Resources
June 25, 2021

The pandemic forever blurred the line between work and personal life. But the most successful companies are finding new and better ways to connect with employees and stay relevant in the post-COVID world, which is precisely why Appian won recognition from The Washington Post as a Top Workplace in the Washington, DC area in 2021.

As Senior VP of Human Resources at Appian, I could go on and on about the significance of making the “Best Places to Work” list, and how Appian did that for eight consecutive years. But I’d rather put the award in context and talk about workplace culture as a critical success factor for businesses in the age of COVID. 

I’m a culture-first HR leader with a mindset rooted in over 13 years of HR leadership experience at Appian, Opower (now Oracle), and Red Hat. Based on that experience, I know how easy it is for skeptics to roll their eyes at the mention of company culture. But that can spell doom for any organization trying to pivot from in-person to remote work amid the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, the importance of company culture has zoomed from back-office chit-chat to C-suite conversations and the data reveals why:

  • 37% of U.S. workers feel less connected to their teammates than they did before the pandemic.
  • 31% feel less connected to their managers.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 workers say their firms aren't doing enough to make employees feel connected to one another.

Yes, the skeptics discount workplace culture as overrated. But it’s hard to ignore the news reports of CEOs, corporate boards, investors, and employees demanding ever more flexible workplaces. Some companies prefer employees to work from home, others want workers on site, and a growing number of companies offer the flexibility to do both. Long story short, the pandemic accelerated the evolution of workplace culture. Before COVID, just 20% of employees in the U.S. worked from home. Today, 70% work remote, and more than half want to work remote after the pandemic ends according to data from the Pew Research Center.

On the business side, research shows over half of business leaders think employees are more productive than before the pandemic. But 68% want employees in the office at least three days a week to sustain company culture according to recent data from PwC.

At Appian, my team led the transition of our 1,500-person global workforce to all-remote status in 2020. But we also focused on investing in our employees and the people in the community that sustains Appian. We doubled down on our commitment to stay local and be a good citizen of the DC area, even though we’re a global company. This culture of community was a critical factor in our “Top Places to Work” success story. 

Operationally speaking, we leveraged automation to make it easier for employees to communicate and collaborate in a remote work culture. We took hallway and across-the-cube conversations, automated them, and made them sustainable in an increasingly digital workplace. We instituted bi-weekly, CEO livestreams. We updated our intranet to improve employee communications. And we leaned heavily into chatroom technology to sustain our sense of community. 

Beyond the walls of Appian, we created free applications to help other firms protect employees from coronavirus spread. This extended sense of community flourished through numerous success stories like the DC Central Food Kitchen, which deployed an Appian low-code application to safely bring their 200 employees on-site to sustain meal preparation and food delivery within the DC community during COVID. 

On a related note, Appian also built and deployed a free Workforce Safety application to help other companies keep employees safe from COVID. This technology is now being used by top companies around the world—including Volkswagen and the University of South Florida—to keep employees and students safe. 

Looking ahead, I expect HR to continue to play a key role in business operations at Appian in 2021 and beyond. Ultimately, we want to automate HR in ways that enable our HR professionals to spend more time with Appian employees and less time dealing with systems and spreadsheets. That all comes down to building trust. And you don’t win trust by asking for it. You have to earn it.

The reality is that just 14% of employees across industries trust senior executives to lead them back to the office according to an Edelman survey. In a recent Forbes’s article, I talked about the importance of connecting with and validating employee concerns as they return to the office. Why? Because how companies choose to communicate, the words they choose to use and the messages they choose to send can make or break employee trust. The thing is to be transparent about business processes, work expectations and the overall health of the organization. Communicate these things with clear and concise messaging—even if you don’t have all the answers. 

Rewind to the Appian Top Workplace award for 2021. It’s a meme for staying relevant in the post-COVID world. When people come back to the office, things will be different. After working from home for much of the last year, employees everywhere will reevaluate what work-life balance means to them. And businesses that fail to live up to employee expectations will lose out to companies that do.

For more about Appian being recognized among The Washington Post’s Top Workplaces visit