by Sarah J.F. Braley, Lisa A. Grimaldi and Allen J. Sheinman | April 01, 2017
Each year, Meetings & Conventions profiles industry companies and organizations that excel in delivering outstanding employee environments and experiences. For this sixth installment, we selected a global hotel chain, a large incentive house, a mid-size event-management firm and a destination management company with fewer than 15 employees, along with special mention of travel suppliers that score high when it comes to diversity in the workplace.

The modern enlightened workplace -- sporting a solid philosophy, supporting professional growth for all, fostering a playfully creative atmosphere -- starts from the top. At Etouches, an event-management software provider, president and CEO Oni Chukwu's drive to help his people and his company succeed is simple: "People should wake up and feel like they want to come to work."

Founded as an event-management firm in 1998, the company now has 211 employees in seven countries and is headquartered in an old brewery in Norwalk, Conn. Just knowing they'll come to the building and experience the soothing exposed brick walls and presence of games like ping-pong, darts and foosball helps get employees out of bed in the morning.

Other perks of being in any of Etouches' offices include fully stocked kitchens with drinks, snacks, lunch meats, cereal, bagels, healthy options and more. Need a quiet break? The main office's "clocktower" is an inviting lounge space with large foam bags for comfy seating. Old bar areas from the brewery have been turned into standing desks, and the company is transforming the former tap room and cellar into a gym and another quiet area.

Since Chukwu was hired in September 2013, the company has grown exponentially, and he has been careful to nurture this open culture across all Etouches outposts. "If you walk into our headquarters in Connecticut or the offices in Sydney [Australia] or Pune [India], once you're inside, you won't really know which town you are in," he says. This applies to the other four global offices, as well, in Dubai; Ghent, Belgium; Reading, U.K.; and Singapore. "The energy, the way the people go about their work, is almost exactly the same. It's a great testament to our culture."

Employees not only feel the care the company has for them in the office, but also on team outings. The CEO hosts a quarterly event called "cocktails with Oni," inviting someone from each department for a night out to discuss what they are working on, changes they would like to see implemented and new ways to work together. An annual boat trip into the Long Island Sound from the Connecticut office includes fishing, games, food and drink. Fridays in all Etouches offices end early for socializing at a local watering hole; there's a company softball team, a quarterly foosball tournament and company-paid food trucks that bring lunch on some summer days. Skiing, volleyball and more have occasionally taken place during the workday.

All the fun is in the service of supporting a creative and focused workforce. "Our culture has to be nurtured to keep from going stale," says Chukwu. "Good culture equals good business. Where people feel included and know what's going on, you don't have to push them to do the work. I want everybody to feel super-included in everything we do."

Community service also is a big deal at Etouches. The company matches many employee donations to their charities of choice, and there are recurring organizationwide efforts such as working with the Connecticut Partnership for Children, which supports low-income families in the state by providing food, children's clothing, baby supplies and more. Etouches has participated through clothing drives, holding donation rallies, joining in races to support CPC and installing a giving tree in the office during the holidays.

"For me as CEO, it's important that we cultivate that the world doesn't start and end with you," says Chukwu, a native of Nigeria who established his own foundation, Africa Plan, which helps underprivileged people around the world. "We encourage employees to bring the charities they love to us. When an organization looks outside itself, it forges a strong bond."

Movement within the company is encouraged laterally as well as upward. "Somebody can express an interest to move to another department or to another country," says Chukwu. "Those are things we encourage often. It allows our people to feel they are working in two or three different companies over a longer time. It helps us with retention. We listen when people ask if they can move." Employees also are welcome to attend events that will benefit their jobs, and the sales and professional-services teams are offered regular training opportunities.