Arvig, which started as a phone company back in the 1950s in west-central Minnesota and has grown to nearly 900 employees in several states, hasn’t sat on its laurels but instead continues to look to the future.
The company – like technology – has come a long way over the past seven decades. Where once it was concerned about getting landlines to customers, now it is focused on staying on top of its game as the world becomes increasingly more connected through bandwidth and broadband services.
The market competition is heavy, with many smaller companies vying for space in the digital communications world. Few stand out as key players, and Arvig is one of them.
Much of the success it has achieved to date – and that which it likely will achieve in the future – stems from a simple philosophy: to treat customers and employees like family.
“We care about each other,” said Lisa Greene, the company’s marketing director. “We treat each other like family and family comes first in terms of where our priorities lie.”
Arvig provides service in more than half the counties in Minnesota, with its own fiber network that spans more than 10,000 route miles. With roots dating back to 1950, Arvig began as a small phone company in Otter Tail County, Minn., and has since become one of the largest independent service providers in the nation. Arvig provides business and residential solutions for internet, television, phone, security, Hosted PBX, wholesale and fiber transport. The company serves more than 20,000 businesses, including around 700 medical facilities, 350 plus schools and libraries and more than 47,000 internet customers. The growing Arvig-owned network reaches rural counties throughout Minnesota, as well as having fiber density in major metro hubs in Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Cloud and Rochester. With speeds of up to 100Gb, the Arvig network serves homes, businesses, telecommunications companies and wireless carriers.
That family treatment comes in many fashions for its employees – having a strong work-life balance, for one, but also creating a positive culture in which everybody is acknowledged for the part they play in the business.
And when it comes to customer relations, it is making sure they are served promptly and efficiently.
Even though the company has evolved, it hasn’t lost track of its main values. And as Greene said, it hasn’t stopped learning.
One of the more recent things managers learned was how prepared the company was when they sent their employees home to work during the coronavirus pandemic.
Greene said that within 36 hours the company had shifted seamlessly to remote work, with few to no hiccups along the way.
“I think we were more prepared than any of us thought we were,” she said. “I think we even surprised ourselves.”
The company, however, didn’t escape without laying off some employees and furloughing others – a “very difficult side effect” for the company, Greene said. But at the time she spoke with Prairie Business in early June, she said most of the furloughed employees had returned to work. Its field crew, of course, continued doing their jobs outside, digging trenches and installing lines.
Summer is the busiest time for the company, when lines are easiest to install instead of trying to hack through winter’s frozen ground, even though that ground is not all in the upper Midwest. Arvig also has an office in Utah, with some 850 employees in all scattered across four states.
Greene said while most of the remote employees will likely return to the office when things are safe to do so, the company will be more flexible with those who want to work from home more often. Flexibility, one of the appendages of a cultured work environment, is something the pandemic has reinforced. Or, as Greene said, another teaching moment for the company
“We have employees who are dying to get back into the office and we have employees at home who are happy where they’re at,” she said. “Right now, the stance that we're taking as a company is to wait until the governor says it’s OK and people feel comfortable getting back out and behaving as normally as the new normal is going to allow. … Even so we're going to have employees who still have preexisting conditions or family members who are high risk and we're going to have to deal with that, make some decisions around what they want to do. … I think it's going to be different than we ever thought it would be. I don't think that everybody will end up coming back but I know we have a lot of decisions to make. And they haven't been made yet.”
For those who work remotely, however, the culture of the company has been at work.
Greene said one of the things department managers have done is hold virtual meetings that allow employees to discuss with their colleagues whatever it is that might be on their minds. She calls these meetings 20-minute water-cooler events.
“The first couple of times was a little awkward, but like everything else it got better when it became a routine,” she said. “When you're at work, part of the culture is the friendships that you create and you don't talk about work the entire time, you create a relationship. These meetings are an effort to keep that going on a holistic basis, and then there are smaller groups that have virtual happy hours or virtual lunches, virtual coffee breaks, that sort of thing.”
Hiring might not be at the forefront of the company’s plan right now, but Dave Schornack, the company’s director of business development, said it is always on the lookout for potential employees who can and want to make a difference.
The company says it does all the traditional things to attract potential hires, including ads in newspapers and the internet, but it also actively recruits and joins job fairs and visits school campuses.
As for retaining employees, Greene and Schornack both said it comes back to the company’s culture. A positive yet challenging work environment helps employees want to stay. It also helps that each employee is invested in the company in another way, Schornack said.
“Everyone who works here is an owner of the company,” he said, explaining that Arvig adopted an employee stock ownership plan in 2002. “It’s been a huge positive, reinforcing the work they do every day. … We are a family-oriented type of organization.”
Greene said retaining employees “has to do with culture and making it a great place to work,” noting the future of the company depends on its leadership as well as its dependable and savvy staff, both those behind the desk and those out in the trenches.
Looking ahead, she believes the digital communication industry will continue to grow and that Arvig will be right there growing with it. Also, because there is a lot of competition, Greene said, many of the smaller players will likely have to consolidate. Arvig, however, plans on continuing to be a main player and one of the industry's influencers.
“We're not stagnant. We're not going to be left behind,” she said. “We're always looking at what's new out there and what else we can do for our customers. We've got a customer-first mentality. Our goal is not to make things as easy as possible for us, but easy for our customers.”
Prairie Business Editor Andrew Weeks may be reached at 701-780-1276 or email@example.com