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7 Ways We Created (and maintain) A Culture of Innovation at RS21

As a rapidly growing data science and AI, we have the responsibility to empower everyone on our team so they can innovate and discover ways to solve the world’s toughest challenges.

We were recently named a Best Workplace for Innovators by Fast Company. RS21 came in at number 43 for our employee-led innovation and creation of the Urban Health Vulnerability Index, which our team created in just 5 days to help public health officials identify neighborhoods at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.

We’re thrilled to be on the global list — proud to be representing New Mexico and ranked alongside other notable technology companies, such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Intel and IBM.

“This honor is all about our employees — the dreamers, the disruptors, and the doers — who aren’t afraid to tackle humanity’s biggest challenges,” said Charles Rath, President and CEO of RS21. “I’m so proud of the culture we’ve created at RS21, and I am blown away by the team’s accomplishments!”

This is just the beginning.

We’re taking the lessons we’ve learned up to this point and making sure we continue cultivating a culture of innovation.

So what are we doing?

RS21 is a data science and AI company that develops interactive, big data analytics and visualization products that connect people with the insights they need. Through our journey from 2015 to now, we’ve grown from a one-person start-up to a company of more than 80 employees.

Over that time, we’ve learned there are seven things we do really well that make RS21 a best workplace for innovators.

1. Hire Great People

RS21’s philosophy is simple: hire smart, passionate people, give them space to innovate and learn, and listen to them. With that mindset, we encourage people to take risks and learn by doing.

The leadership team provides guidance and resources when appropriate and accepts responsibility for unforeseen issues that may arise when new methods and approaches are applied. This culture empowers employees to push themselves and their work in innovative directions. More often than not, the risks pay off. And when they don’t, we learn how to better approach challenges and solutions together as a team.

2. Work on Meaningful Projects

RS21 was born from the idea that there’s a smarter way. We are driven by two realities: first, the world has more data than ever before, and second, people are not using it — still relying on instinct to make critical decisions. There’s a statistic that estimates that 90% of data has been produced in the past two years, but people use less than 1% of it.

Through our data science and visualization tools, RS21 bridges the gap between data and decision-makers. We have built big data analytics tools and platforms to predict the impacts of hurricanes to critical infrastructure, quantify the social and economic impacts of greenspace in cities, and identify better healthcare interventions based on the social determinants of health.

Our work is inherently innovative, fast-paced, and inspiring. We choose to be part of teams and projects that people care about and want to engage in. Most recently, in light of the pandemic and the impact of COVID-19, our team saw an opportunity to offer our skills and capabilities to the broader community and developed the Urban Health Vulnerability Index in just 5 days.

RS21 Urban Health Vulnerability Index Dashboard

3. Align Around Values

People want to work for a company with a healthy culture and well-defined values. We have nine core values that empower a supportive culture of integrity, learning, taking risks, making a difference, and helping each other grow. On top of that, they guide everything we do — from hiring to employee growth plans to incentive programs. Our values also play a key role in choosing which organizations we partner with and deciding on the work we execute.

4. Invest in Your Community

RS21 is headquartered in New Mexico because we believe deeply in the state and made a commitment to contribute to its creative and technical capabilities. This includes creating highly skilled, rewarding jobs and helping develop career pipelines for STEM students through partnerships with the state and local organizations, like Cultivating Coders. We also participated in the inaugural 2019 New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge, sponsoring The ASK Academy — A STEM Innovation for their fully functioning radio-frequency identification system meant to identify anyone unaccounted for after school crises. A very cool project.

Beyond investing in New Mexico talent and career pipelines, we also walk the talk when it comes to buying local and sourcing services from New Mexico companies. Furthermore, we seek out projects that benefit New Mexico, from the creation of an opening video for the University of New Mexico Lobos basketball team to the design of a healthcare tool intended to improve physicians’ knowledge of community health trends and access to resources. We also make charitable contributions to nonprofits to support a strong, healthy community — the foundation for innovation.

RS21 By the Numbers

5. Value Your Employees

We have established people-focused benefits and support a flexible work environment. This is a key aspect of our business strategy and culture that allows us to attract and retain the best talent and maintain high employee morale.

Complete flexibility of where employees work and flexible schedules enable people to work when and where they do their best thinking and creating. The policy also promotes trust and autonomy, helps people achieve a healthy work-life balance, and contributes to an overall supportive culture.

In addition, we offer benefits intended to support our employees and their families. These include 401k profit sharing, lunch and learns, professional development PTO and reimbursements, office snacks, values-based shout-outs, family and friends day, birthday gifts, open pet policy, regular interaction with the Chief Dog Officer, healthcare, life insurance and disability, an employee assistance program, parental leave, and paid time off and holidays.

6. Listen Up

Some of the best ideas at RS21 have come from people who aren’t in leadership positions. To ensure everyone at RS21 feels empowered to share their opinions, we do our best to create as many “open door” systems as possible. We use a variety of digital communication applications, hold bi-weekly staff meetings, work side-by-side when we’re in the office, and encourage open, honest communication at all times. In fact, that’s one of our core values: Be Real.

Employees have also developed three internal working groups. They focus on our Values, Employee Wellbeing, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. These employee-led initiatives operate as advisory groups to C-Suite — providing recommendations, feedback, and insight on an ongoing basis.

7. Be Transparent

Communication is a two-way street. We share as much information as possible with employees so we can move forward together. If something is confidential, we’ll say so. Otherwise, we’re open to discussion. In fact, we hold quarterly town hall meetings, during which employees can ask questions, or submit them in advance, and receive answers from C-Suite.

We value the culture of honesty, trust, support, and innovation that we’ve all built at RS21. And we’re very excited to continue this journey together!

Want to help us address some of the world’s toughest challenges? We are hiring, and we always like meeting people interested in working or partnering with us. To join our team during an important time for RS21 and data analytics, find opportunities at rs21.io/careers.

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RS21 is revolutionizing decision-making with data + AI. We believe the power of data can unleash human potential and make a better world. Visit www.rs21.io.

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