When CoWorkers Become Family - A Different Corporate Approach

As my internship this summer rapidly draws to a close, I was tasked with writing a final blog that would address the topic of “family” here at RF-SMART.

I’ve been working here for 3 full months, putting in 20 hours a week helping out the marketing team.  In the beginning, I felt I didn’t belong here – after all, I was just a sophomore at Florida State University, pursuing a double degree in Marketing and Fine Arts. I was convinced the only reason I “made” it was because of my dad, Aaron Ellinger, the Vice President of People. I didn’t have any office experience and my only previous sources of income were babysitting and working at a local frozen yogurt store.  I was immensely nervous that I would show up and suddenly everyone would realize how under-qualified I was and send me right back out the door. My dad comforted me by telling me that this office is different. “These people are a family,” he told me.

The company is filled with a vast array of personality types, outlined by the PI Assessment results that are taped outside everyone’s door. Despite so many different personality types, I never once felt disrespected, put down, or patronized. Every single person has a genuine warmth in their heart that I could never have expected in the corporate setting. I thought that being an intern, I’d be looked over. Why would someone from Customer Support need to talk to the lowly Marketing Intern? Despite my preconceived notions, everyone I met cared about me, my story, and my future – just like what you expect from family. 

VP of People Aaron Ellinger with his PI

That word “Family” can be seen a hundred times around the office, you just have to look at all the nameplates.  Every office door and cubicle space has a nameplate with an employee’s name, but right below that, it reads “Family Since” followed by the year they started working at RF-SMART. Some are recent, but some date back to when the company was founded in 1982. Since my Dad is the VP of People, I asked him to explain the emphasis on family on the nameplates. Of course, he pulled a classic Aaron Ellinger move and pulled out our company’s Performance Principles, pointing straight at number 7: “We are compassionate.”  

“Everything we do, both for our employees and our customers, are rooted in compassion. We strive as a company to make everyone feel important, from a single employee to an entire business. By putting “Family Since” under everyone’s names, it’s just another step towards making everyone feel appreciated. This goes for our “veteran” employees all the way to our new hires,” said Aaron.

What Employees Had to Say 

I was encouraged to talk to two employees that have been with the company for a while and ask them about their perspective on what family means here at RF-SMART.

Chris Bak began his career at RF-SMART as an intern in September 1998. By December, he was offered a full-time position. During his 19 years of work, he’s moved through the ranks as a PC Technician to a Network Administrator, and now he is RF-SMART’s IT Director. When asked if there was anything specific about his job that made him know he wanted to stay long-term, he mentioned the various ways that RF-SMART takes care of its employees. The company provides many opportunities to grow, offers great benefits, and is just generally a fun and challenging place to work. In his own words, “there’s not a boring day” here in the office. Reflecting on his time here, the best advice Chris could offer new hires is to take advantage of the opportunities to grow and advance your knowledge.

When asked what “family” means to him here at work, Chris says, “The sense of family here is ingrained into the company culture, it is just who we are. Coworkers treat each other not just as friends but as family, and when times are tough and someone is in need, our family has gathered together to help numerous times throughout the years.”

RF-SMART Employee Chuck Wolfe

Chuck Wolfe started working at RF-SMART in June of 1996. That’s 21 years of being part of the family! He started out as a consultant for RF-SMART’s World product, then moved to Quality Assurance, and after a stint consulting for E1 and AX, he is now a Support Tech/Consultant. Similar to Chris’ response, Chuck mentioned that one of the things that made him love the RF-SMART family was the challenges that he faces on the job because he never has to face them alone. His fellow employees “had his back,” which is another performance principle.

Family, to him, represents comfort and stability, something that he appreciates from his coworkers here at RF-SMART. “In a chaotic world, I get comfort from my ICS family," Chuck said. The advice that he would give new hires is to consider getting a mentor, but mainly to treat challenges as opportunities to grow rather than something to be avoided, and most importantly, to have fun! 

Opportunities to Grow

The concept of “opportunity” seems to be a common denominator for both Chris and Chuck, as both of them appreciate the opportunities for growth they’ve experienced throughout the decades they’ve been a part of the RF-SMART family. That being said, there wasn’t much they shared that I didn’t already know.

This company lives and breathes its mission statement, which is to transform customers and change lives. I was so afraid that my first office job would be met with deadlines, boredom, and the occasional scolding if I slipped up. Instead, I was met on all sides with encouragement, warmth, and constant validation for the work I did. Despite being a short-term employee, I truly felt like I was part of the RF-SMART family – if only for the summer.

The experiences I had and the people I’ve met will be carried in my heart forever, and I will never forget the lessons I’ve learned during my time here at RF-SMART. 

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