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Best Places to Work: Apply for the job, stay for the culture

How Knak created a workplace that employees don’t want to leave


When thinking about what makes a great workplace, we often hear things like free gourmet food or on-site gyms and arcades, but those who work at a great company know it runs much deeper. Culture, trust, and the people themselves become the foundation of happiness for employees. Just ask the team at Knak, one of Ottawa’s 2021 Best Places to Work. 

Knak is a software as a service (SaaS) company that provides a codeless email and landing page creation platform for large companies. It’s an enterprise-level platform built to give marketing teams agility and creative freedom. Knak currently has more than 40 employees, with about half of them living in Ontario and the other half spread out across Canada. 

At Knak, people work how they need to work – and that doesn’t always mean in the office. 

The company was well prepared when the COVID pandemic hit in 2020 from a communication, culture and social standpoint, as its operations were already mainly virtual. Zoom was always a widely used platform within the company, which minimized the remote working learning curve for employees. 

“Knak has been a flexible workplace since the beginning,” says Pierce Ujjainwalla, co-founder and CEO of Knak. “We’ve always worked remotely quite a bit. So for us, we were prepared and comfortable adapting when COVID came around.”


Company values start at the top

Knak’s 10 core values – which include “Respect,” “Go Above and Beyond,” and “Get Sh*t Done,” are embraced from the top down and are posted on a pillar in the office for employees to see, and be encouraged by each day. 

When it comes to those values, it’s about leading by example. 

“You can say work-life balance is an essential core value, but if the leaders are working all night, or sending emails at all hours, that’s not promoting a healthy work style,” says Chris Davies, chief creative officer. “Balance starts with the bosses.”

Right from the interview process, new hires are considered on how they would not just fit – but add – to these values. It’s more about culture addition than culture fit, and with each new hire, Knak’s culture grows.

Everyone is on the same bus, heading in the same direction

knakThe leadership team also prioritizes transparency, giving the team updates on the wins and losses of the company. That way, employees have a sense that everyone is on the same bus and headed in the same direction.

There’s also an alignment between teams – even those who don’t directly work together. Employees are encouraged to pair up in weekly “donut” meetings to talk about anything but work, creating a level of comfort among team members. 

That makes weekly all-hands Zoom meetings more relaxed and open, with everyone feeling equal and safe. 

Peers are also encouraged to reward and acknowledge each other with a weekly “Knakolade” award. Each week, the previous recipient awards the Knakolade to someone new based on how they exhibit the company’s core values.

Scheduled on-site meetups are also a priority for the company as it allows employees from across Canada to come together in person. While Zoom is amazing for communication, having in-person bonds solidifies those relationships and provides employees with a real-time connection to the company they work for. 

At Knak, employees are hired because they positively contribute to the culture and core values of the company, but they stay because the people surrounding them create a welcoming and accepting environment, says Kelly Rigole, director of operations.

“There’s support among the team that you really won’t find anywhere else,” adds Rigole. “Sometimes just finding a team who you can be yourself around and have your hard work appreciated by is all you need.”

For those who work at Knak, regardless of where they happen to live, it’s more than just a job. Together, they’re part of something bigger.

This article originally appeared in OBJ’s fall newsmagazine. Check out the rest of the Best Places to Work winners below: