Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Prestwick House Helps Its Employees Find Balance

This week, Prestwick House was featured in the Wilmington News Journal's feature on the Best Places to work in Delaware. Check out the full story written by Dan Shortridge here, or read more below.

Prestwick House CEO Jason Scott stands in the Smyrna warehouse where there are over 200,000 books ready to ship to schools throughout the United States.

A visitor walking into the offices of Prestwick House might be forgiven for thinking they've entered through the wrong door.

Instead of a reception desk, etched-glass logo or waiting area with magazines, you're greeted by what appears to be the interior of a comfortable coffeehouse, with wooden tables and tall chairs ready for people to lounge, lunch, brainstorm or banter.

Even the "work" areas are different. Cubicles are colored maroon instead of an antiseptic gray or green, and posters and fully loaded bookshelves abound.

The relaxed, comfortable atmosphere is all intentional, said CEO Jason Scott, as are the flexible work schedules and self-managed projects. .

"Sometimes people aren't sure what kind of business this is," Scott says with a chuckle.

Prestwick House, which employs about 30 workers at its Smyrna-area offices, publishes books, resource materials and teachers' guides in English and the language arts, targeted at 7th- to 12th-grade classes. Its team of writers, editors, artists, designers, marketers and distributors produces about 130 new products a year, in both printed and digital formats.

One of the best things about working for the company, employees say, is the flexible work system that's in place. Some employees can work -- within reason -- whatever hours they want. If a writer wants to start the day at 7 a.m., or an editor at 10 a.m., that's fine.

Even those who have specific tasks to do during specific hours praise the work-life balance the company allows them.

That moved Prestwick House into the top ranking this year for the workplace providing the best work/life flexibility in the News Journal's annual Top Workplaces survey, conducted with Workplace Dynamics.

Mandee Watts, 23, of Smyrna, has worked at Prestwick for eight years, starting as a temporary teenage warehouse worker for the summer shipping rush. If she needs to take off early to be with her daughter, she says, it's fine.

"As long as your job's done, it's no problem at all," Watts said. "It's the best place in the world."

Some employees on the creative side have the flexibility to work from home two days a week, if they're disciplined, Scott said.

"Our writers and editors have found that to be a very productive time for them," he said.

Employees also are responsible for setting their own annual and monthly goals, and many of the company's project ideas come from within -- at times from the bottom at one of the many meetings held in the main entrance area, with tables pushed together and everyone having a voice.

"If you propose a project, there's a good chance you're going to be heading it up," said general manager Keith Bergstrom, who worked his way up after being hired out of the University of Delaware in 2001 for a customer service job.

Other benefits include:

» A common "time off" pool, instead of divisions between sick time and vacation time. "If you need to take off, you can take off," Scott explains. "You don't have to call in" -- pretending to cough -- " 'I'm sick.' "

» A company-paid graduate education program, which has helped three employees so far earn their MBAs.

» A Christmas break when the entire company is closed down for a long holiday period, mirroring the shutdowns of most of the schools they serve.

The company still feels like the family-owned business it is, though it has grown substantially from its early days in the Scott family garage on Prestwick Court in Dover.

These days, the family includes all 30 employees, whose faces adorn goofy "class photos" in the main area, mimicking the Sgt. Pepper album cover one year, or dressed up as pirates to mark an edition of "Treasure Island" being put out.

"There are a lot of good people here," he said. "We have a good time together."

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