How Pilot’s Dana Altman Creates a Workplace Her Team Loves
“Work should not be something you dread,” says Dana Altman, Manager of Office Operations at Pilot. “When you really consider what employees want, from entry level to CEO, everyone wants the same things. You want good communication, to feel heard, and to be supported. You want to get the opportunity to work with different departments and get to know other people. But there aren’t always people around who can dedicate their career to making that happen. And that’s why it’s so important for companies of any size to focus on people and create people departments that focus solely on employee experience.”
Dana has always had a love for working with people. After she graduated with her bachelor's degree in sociology, an interest in music led her to a marketing position at an independent record label, and then to Def Jam Records. While she worked in marketing and artist development, she was interested in hearing from her team members about what made them excited to go to work, as well as their frustrations in the workplace. She started taking on ad hoc work in people operations, and assisted with projects such as advocating for her coworkers get standing desks and for healthier snacks in the kitchen.
“It didn’t seem that complicated to me to make small adjustments to someone’s employee experience, because in return they’ll feel their voice matters, and that they can perform better, which is a total win for the company,” Dana explained.
She realized that, if employee experience was her true passion, there were full-time roles where it could be her main focus. She took a new role as Office Manager at Main Street Hub, an Austin-based company with an NYC office and sales presence. There she got to hone her office management skills working with the many different personalities on the team. Making the leap from working in the music industry to an office manager didn’t seem so drastic for Dana because in both she held what she described as a “rubber band role” where she had to work with different departments and juggle many different peoples’ needs.
Dana joined Pilot in February 2017 after learning about it from a colleague at Main Street Hub who joined their team. The company provides fiber optic internet for businesses and are working to be a “people-first” Internet Service Provider, a process they believe starts internally. The company wanted to create an employee experience that embodied the brand’s vision. As Sarah Bartley, Director of Brand and Experience explained, “We wanted to ensure there was no disconnect between what Pilot shares publicly and how it feels to be inside the company.” They needed someone to lead their internal culture building efforts and Dana was the perfect fit.
As the first Manager of Office Operations at Pilot focused one-hundred percent on the employee experience, Dana has had the opportunity to think deeply about how employee culture can mirror the brand values and how to ensure that the culture scales as the business grows. “There’s so much a company can do to genuinely express care, consideration, and values,” Dana said. As she has rolled out culture building initiatives, she has ensured that they feel collaborative and employee-driven, rather than mandated from the top down.
One of Dana’s first big projects was to roll out a wellness program that complemented the company’s full medical, dental, and vision coverage. The program includes time for meditation, flu shots at the office, and a wellness reimbursement. “Wellness often falls to the wayside, especially emotional wellness,” Dana explained.
Another factor in fostiner emotional wellness is creating a work environment where team members from diverse backgrounds feel supported and celebrated. This is especially important to Pilot because the company believes connectivity is a crucial value for our culture. To help build a connected workplace Dana launched open-door, employee-led resource groups, such as Women of Pilot and an LGBTQ+ group. Post-launch, employees have been empowered to run the meetings and organize their events with Dana’s support. Dana explained that including team members in activity planning strengthens the company’s collaborative culture and helps create programs that can grow with the company while responding to employees individual needs and ideas.
In addition to the resource groups, to ensure employees feel feel safe, are aware of the resources that are available to them, and the channels through which their voices can be heard, Dana worked with the People and Human Resources teams to update office policies. They created a non-retaliation policy, a sexual harassment policy, and HR Anonymous, where employees can report incidents that didn’t sit right with them without including their name. The goal is to create different opportunities for communication so that everyone knows that no issue is too small to address when it comes to creating a welcoming place to work.
Dana said of her job, “The employee experience should mirror the values we express as a company through action.” To put that philosophy into practice, Dana asks these questions when planning for new initiatives: Will this program work when our headcount grows? Will this work for all departments? Will this work for employees of all backgrounds? She also proposes initiatives a year in advance in order to incorporate the company’s growing headcount and changing needs into her planning and budgeting.
Dana also works with Craig, a daytime porter from Managed by Q, to enable her to achieve a people-centric office on a daily basis. She had worked with Managed by Q at her previous company and felt Q’s and Pilot's policies were well aligned, so she advocated for bringing in a daytime crew member from Q to help keep Pilot’s office operations running smoothly. Dana explained that Craig serves as an essential component of the Pilot office team, and crucially, he can be another feedback outlet for employees. When there is an issue with the office and Dana or another member of the people team is not accessible, employees can let Craig know and relays this request to her.
“Craig will pro-actively go out of his way to look for something that could run smoother. And he’s been responsible for a lot of add-ons we’ve had for our employees,” says Dana.
When Dana plans social events for the office she ensures they are experiences that there are options that feel inclusive for all and bring disparate teams together. “The driving force behind the success of our events is combining people from different departments,” says Dana. A major testament to Dana’s ability to organize and bring together the team at Pilot was organizing the 2017 weekend-long company retreat, which was held at at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. Dana chose this location because it enabled Pilot employees to choose from nearly 100 different activities in the area, ranging from hiking and kayaking to spa treatments and recognized that employees have different interests. Dana balanced unstructured time with opportunities for everyone to come together, such as for meals and a company-wide kickball game.
“It was so rewarding to see my team members from all departments get together and actually enjoy being together,” says Dana. “Sure, it’s great to go on a trip your employer pays for, but not everybody would be as excited about that if they didn’t actually love where they worked.”
Like Pilot itself, Dana’s vision for the company’s employee experience continues to grow and evolve. Building on the wellness program, Dana is working on rolling out a mentorship program. Her plan is to pair new and experienced employees who work in different departments in order to create collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas from the beginning of a team member’s time at Pilot.
In the upcoming year, Dana plans to focus even more on Pilot’s construction employees who work the field installing and maintaining Pilot’s fiber network. These team members work in a separate space in the New York area and Dana wants to ensure they have an an identical employee experience to their team members who work at the company's Manhattan-based Headquarters. This includes the same policy training, but also making sure they feel included in the fun, cultural aspects of the company including holiday celebrations and happy hours.
Ultimately, the vision of a people-first ISP guides every aspect of Pilot, from how they engage with customers to how employees are treated internally. As a workplace that champions transparency, feedback, collaboration, and communication, Dana is there to champion the employees’ voices and experience. As Pilot continues to scale, so do the company values, and Dana is at the center, helping to guide that evolution.
“Seeing people happy is the driving force that makes me happy,” she said, “to see people at the company supported and safe is my purpose.”