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August 31, 2015

Social networking: How Washington's Best Workplaces create a great company culture through some unique bonding experiences

Puget Sound Business Journal

Becky Monk

Building a great culture at work, typically means that companies enable employees to have terrific social bonding experiences. Most companies have picnics or holiday parties, some invite family and friends, some make it a company affair.

We asked our Washington's Best Workplaces to tell us about their favorite social events.

Columbia Bank (Nasdaq: COLB) hosts a day for all of its employees at the Washington State Fair. Tableau Software (NYSE: DATA) brings employees from around the globe to Seattle and rocks out to local Seattle musicians and its own company band for its annual all-staff meeting. Sweeney Conrad employees head to Hood Canal and get treated to an annual party at the founding partner's home.

Here are some of the company answers that made us crave and invitation.

Add3:It's just called "Kelvin." It's actually an annual yacht party and the name of the captain of the boat we use every year is "Kelvin." One day every summer we take a day off work, have Kelvin take us on a tour of the lake, and then stop and jump in the water for some swimming and fun in the sun.

Allison+Partners: Allison University is an intensive education event that brings staff from around the company together for workshops and team building. The semiannual event is targeted to specific levels of staff (by title ranges) and includes hands-on learning with senior team members and founders serving as faculty.

Applied Technical Services Corp.: Our company Family Picnic/BBQ is complete with pony rides, bouncy house, face painting, volleyball, gift raffle and more near a lake and playground.

Apptentive: The monthly meet-up we plan, called Appy Hour, is consistently a great social event for the Apptentive team and the mobile community as a whole. Appy Hour is a monthly meet-up that focuses on building a community within the mobile technology space in Seattle. The events are not about seats, pitches, presentations, or an agenda. Instead, they always feature a cool location, free drinks, and the prospect of meeting some new people working on interesting mobile applications. There is a ton of talent and development in Seattle, and our team at Apptentive is always happy to foster and support such a vibrant tech community.

Base2 Solutions: Our vinyl events are social mixers centered around the record player. The workday winds down at 3 p.m. and the music picks up. Employees take turns playing their favorite vinyl in the office and food and beverages are provided. Each vinyl event has a theme. For example, "Kids Night" where employees bring their kids for some fun and games.

Board & Vellum Architecture and Design: Our annual holiday party is a blowout! We include spouses/significant others. Last December we had a red carpet arrival, cocktail hour, white elephant gift exchange (that got out of control), Skillet Food Truck dinner, and ended with Karaoke into the wee hours. Plus Uber rides so that everyone got home safe.

Camber Collective (formerly SwitchPoint LLC): The fully-hosted Camber Winter Whistler Weekend is an amazing event that brings together everyone at Camber and their families for a long weekend of fun in the snow for both avid skiers and everyone else.

Columbia Bank: Our annual "CB Family Fair Day" is held on a Saturday during the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. Columbia employees and their families receive free admission, can enter drawings for ride ticket packages and even box seats for a concert. Employees also get pictures taken with their co-workers and family on the famous blue couch that is used in our commercials. Those photos are posted on the company intranet and Columbia Bank Facebook page the following week for everyone to view and share. After their picture is taken, employees head out with their families to enjoy the fair, easily recognizable with their commemorative t-shirt.

Conenza Inc.: Annual Montana Retreat where each year the entire company makes a pilgrimage to High Meadow Mountain Ranch in Montana for a four-day weekend. This year we have formed teams (tribes) to prepare meals for each other and compete in games. The agenda is simply fun. The bonds we make each year in Montana carry over into our day to day work life. The tribes work together during the event and everyone contributes to serve and care for each other.

Decisive Data: The Decisive Data team always looks forward to our annual paint-ball event. It is a great opportunity for people to have fun, be active, enjoy the outdoors, and take our office Nerf wars to a new level!

Guild Mortgage Co.: Our summer kickball tournament.

Harbor Wholesale Foods: In 2013, Harbor started a new tradition and held our first annual HarborFest. Team members are able to bring their entire family for an afternoon of family, fun, and food at our Lacey Distribution Center. This event has something for everyone! We open the warehouse for tours, let the kids (and adults) crawl through a truck and trailer, set up a frozen yogurt machine with all the toppings, have bouncy houses, water balloon fights, and craft tables for the kids, serve up mouth-watering BBQ with all the fixings, provide cold beer and local wine in the beer garden, have music and live karaoke, and encourage lively competition for pingpong tournaments and bean-bag tosses. To top off the fun, branded swag items like t-shirts, bracelets, hats and toys are handed out to guests.

Hydrogen Advertising: Hands down, the best social event of the year is our annual Crabfest, held at one of our founder's homes on Vashon. The key activity for all employees, spouses, partners, kids and dogs is focused on all things crab - from organizing the event around prime low-tide days, catching the crustaceans (wetsuits provided for those who must), cleaning them, to chowing down on the all-you-can-eat feast. Of course, we throw in some amazing menu items, beer and wine, sunbathing and surf-related antics -and that's just the icing on the crab cake. We love our Crabfest so much that many friends, clients and vendors have caught wind of it, but only Hydrogen employees and their select guests receive this coveted invite. We're now in our ninth year of Crabfest!

INRIX: We have also rented out a theater so the entire office could see the "Avengers: Age of Ultron" movie, as well as had an afternoon of pizza and Whirly ball. In the second half of the year we'll go to at least two more company-wide movies.

Kidder Mathews: Big Hitter Awards and MVP (most valued player) Awards are held annual in the summer to honor top producers and employees. We have golfed, bowled, sailed, and cruised on Lake Washington.

M. A. Mortenson Co. (dba Mortenson Construction): The best social event hosted by Mortenson Construction's Kirkland Office is the annual Salmon Bake and Crab Feed. The Salmon Bake and Crab Feed is held in mid-July on a Saturday on Whidbey Island at Deception Pass State Park and Mortenson families are invited to camp for the weekend or just attend for the day.

Matisia Consultants: Matisia hosts an annual networking and music event called Matisia Music. This event highlights local bands, artists, wineries, and food trucks. In addition, we raise money for local nonprofits (e.g. Seattle Children's and Communities in Schools). Having fun and connecting with our community is at our core.

Osborn Consulting Inc.: One of the most popular events is the annual all-staff Strategic Planning Retreat. With the company growing rapidly in recent years, finding time to devote to overall strategic company goals can be difficult. OCI sets aside the time and absorbs the cost of all the non-billable hours. While the retreat is focused on internal and external goals, the retreat also has an element of fun and team-building. The retreat is held at a location away from the office. For example, this year's retreat will be in Leavenworth. This event in particular is a staff favorite because we stay at a resort and include team building and time to interact together while planning for the overall well-being of the company. Staff families are also invited to attend the Strategic Planning Retreat every other year. Once the planning sessions are finished, the time is spent having fun and enjoying the location together. OCI's leadership doesn't want to dominate employees' weekends, so every other year the retreat is kept to business hours at a local venue, but still provide lunch and host a happy hour afterwards.

Parker Staffing Services: The yearly company picnic at CEO Debbie Crandall's home where we connect with our co-workers, family members and their pets. Debbie is a wonderful chef and always prepares a feast, while her husband Jack tends the bar. It's a summer day spent while enjoying a great view of the city, a friendly game of badminton, and plenty of relaxation on the deck enjoying the company of friends.

PipelineDeals: We are hosting our 4th Annual Company Summit in Santa Barbara this July. Prior Summits have occurred in Aspen, Colorado, Tamarindo, Costa Rica and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Summit provides a time for our remote and bi-coastal company to get together for a healthy mix of fun and work. These summits provide a great time of team bonding and a group reward for a job well done.

PitchBook Data Inc.: Every year PitchBook invites the London and New York offices to Seattle for a fun-filled day at Safeco Field, watching the Mariners. We love any excuse to give some love to the Mariners, but it's especially fun to have the entire PitchBook team in one place. This catered event starts in the morning and goes all day.

RealSelf: Our quarterly poker nights are a social event enjoyed by all, complete with appetizers, drinks, and a cash prize.

RootMetrics: Our best social event happens every single week - our Friday afternoon "Root30" catered happy hours, complete with craft beers on tap, food trucks, and lots of happy employees.

SME Inc. of Seattle: Casino Night. We rent a venue, bring in a band, and have a casino night. We provide food and drinks. Employees and their significant others, along with some of our key suppliers and industry partners, are invited. There is a silent auction at the end where everyone can bid on items with their gambling winnings.

Sweeney Conrad PS: Hood Canal Day. One summer day every year, we close the office and we make the trek (including a quick ferry ride) to one of our founding partner's house on Hood Canal. Our "Fun Team" (made up of employees at all levels) creates events and we split up into teams. Each year we have themes that the teams dress up for. The themes vary from the Olympics to Minute to Win It. One of the highlights of the day is a lucky young staff member gets to throw a pie in a manager or shareholders face. We all have an absolute blast, we get to know each other better and it really brings us all together.

Synapse Product Development: Beer:30 is every other Friday at 4:30 p.m. when a new batch of kegs gets tapped in our custom kegerator and employees, friends, clients and families are welcome to share a beer and snacks before heading off for the weekend. It's a dynamic event that often acts as a platform for employees to host their own themed event, which has included a Guac-off - Who's Guacamole Reigns Supreme?!, No Talent, Talent Show, Craft Cocktail Night, Office Mini Golf (the Synapsters Masters), and more.

Tableau Software Inc.: Each year, we host a company party in Seattle. Employees from all of our offices worldwide come to this event which is held the night after our annual company meeting. There's food, drink, entertainment (DJ and local Seattle bands or our very own company band), photo booths, and games. The event is held at fun venues in the Seattle area such as The Crocodile and Fremont Studios. It's a great way for our employees to stay connected and enjoy each other's company.

Tangerine Travel Ltd.: Our Christmas Party, in which our CEO Angie Lepley takes the staff and their companions on a three-day trip with a Saturday night dinner, program, drinks, casino, etc.

West Monroe Partners: Our Annual West Coast Retreat is a multi-day, off-site summit for all Seattle and West Coast personnel. It encompasses both strategic planning and social and team-building events. Over two-plus days, we set goals and develop our plan for the coming year, allowing everyone on our team to play a role in crafting strategy. At the same time, we build in a variety of fun activities -from arm-wrestling tournaments to group-cooked meals to the annual Slosh Ball game (an event combining kickball with beer) -that promote team bonding and collaboration. This year, we will travel to the Suncadia resort in Cle Elum and will incorporate a semi-formal dinner and recognition awards.

WongDoody: WongDoody Day celebrates the spirit of our company, honors our founders, and is intended to be a fun day of celebration for our entire office. This year, we celebrated off site at the Georgetown Stables. We competed in a number of events including corn hole, shuffleboard, and beer pong. Our catering included local favorite, Dicks burgers, as well as a mix of libations.

Zillow: Zillow goes all-out for its annual holiday party at the end of the year. The week starts with every employee flying in from all of our offices across the country, and we spend the week together, culminating in a true all-hands meeting. The holiday party that follows is a chance for everyone to celebrate the year. This event gives everyone the chance to mingle with employees they don't get to see or work with on a daily basis, and celebrate another incredible year together. Each event has a centralized theme (like 1920s, Wizard of Oz, etc.) and is hosted at a beautiful local venue with dancing, music, entertainment, and great food.

For the full story, go to Puget Sound Business Journal.

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