Originally featured on ocregister.com - December 10, 2021
Jim Andronaco says he’s rarely bothered when life and work collide.
“I like it when the dogs or the kids jump into the picture” of a company video call, says the president of Sidepath. His 70-pound Labradoodle has been known to make cameo appearances on Zoom.
“That’s all part of our culture,” he says. “It’s a different environment from corporate America. It’s a personal touch that will never change.”
Laguna Hills-based Sidepath and its 48 employees provide corporate computer services. It’s also a seven-time winner in the small business category of the Orange County Register’s annual Top Workplaces program. This year marks the sixth time Sidepath has been named the small-business champ.
The latest award comes after 18 months of trying times for Sidepath and many other companies.
Andronaco admits “everybody was freaking out” initially when the pandemic first hit in the spring of 2020. His first major initiative was “making everybody feel comfortable, spending one-on-one time.”
Like others, the company quickly scrambled to learn how to operate remotely. Yet Andronaco says getting the work done wasn’t necessarily their top priority — though he did worry some major clients might not be able to pay their bills.
His workers’ well-being was a key focus — from team members juggling family responsibilities, a new work environment and kids schooling at home, plus singles battling loneliness.
“It was the mental part I was most concerned with,” he says.
He credits the workplace culture he and co-founder Patrick Mulvee created more than 15 years ago at Sidepath for giving the firm a better-than-average shot at surviving the pandemic’s business challenges.
“If you asked me two years ago, ‘Could we all work at home?’ I wouldn’t know the answer,” he says. When coronavirus struck, “it was sort of ‘Do you have a disaster recovery plan?’ Let’s see if it works.”
He’s thankful that from the company’s first days he’s preached that good managers be good listeners.
“That’s the secret sauce,” Andronaco says. “I 100% believe in getting feedback from all my employees.”
Sidepath has a true open-door policy. No question or comment, big or small, should be held back. Part of that dialogue includes quarterly one-on-one exchanges with every employee.
His employees in the Top Workplaces survey commended management for giving them room to be.
“I have the freedom and direction to always ‘do the right thing,’ ” wrote one employee. “There has never been a time where I felt that the company cared more about their bottom line than my personal well-being or what is right for the customer.”
In other words, it practices what it preaches.
“Sidepath doesn’t just say they care about employees and our clients,” wrote another staff member. “Sidepath demonstrates that they care in every aspect of their actions every day. I am proud to be a part of a company that genuinely operates on a ‘people first’ agenda in everything they do.”
In the pandemic era, there were plenty of questions from the team. And when there were major decisions to be made, Andronaco solicited as much advice as he could get — though, he still makes the final call.
“I want everyone to feel they are part of the solution,” he says.
Of course, the talk is nice. Salary is important, too.
Andronaco thinks compensation should reflect more than a worker hitting some number.
You won’t find sales quota boards at Sidepath that gauge who gets quarterly bonuses. Instead, those goals are set by the employees themselves. And that extra pay is available to all workers, not just the sales force.
“They know they are getting something because of this or that,” he says.
All this personal touch is doable because of a curious company goal: No more than 50 employees.
That’s good for senior management who can actually know every team member. It also forces the business plan as specialists with a narrow product line to be relatively concise.
It’s also good for workers who are not treated like cogs in giant machines. The limited product offerings allow the company’s engineers “to be masters at a few things rather than just average at many things.”
Of course, he acknowledged that keeping Sidepath small means saying “no” to various business opportunities. But even in the pandemic, the company grew sales for its 15th consecutive year.
“Slow growth is the best way to keep your culture,” he says.
That culture includes few corporate titles because Andronaco believes in trusting workers to get the job done.
The company does have five “leaders” who are “kind of player/coaches,” he says. “They lead, but they still do real work.”
It was a perfect fit for the past 18 months. Empowered employees were critical to surviving the pandemic — especially when they’re all working remotely.
Now Andronaco was one of those bosses who, pre-pandemic, was skeptical of work-for-home. But when forced to retool his thinking, he was impressed with the results.
He now thinks his firm will never go 100% back to the office. It’s good for workers, clients — and the bottom line.
“My team flourished,” he says. “They might even work harder from home.”
Andronaco thinks Sidepath’s workplace is better for the pandemic challenge — with new skills and an even more can-do attitude.
Plus, he adds, “it’s nice to find out a pandemic doesn’t damage the need for technology.”
Headquarters: Laguna Hills
Industry: Information technology
OC employees: 48
Quote: “If you asked me two years ago, ‘Could we all work at home?’ I wouldn’t know the answer. My team flourished. They might even work harder from home.” Sidepath President Jim Andronaco