Crystal Group in Cedar Rapids claimed seventh place in the large companies category of the Coolest Places to Work competition this year with a culture that helps employees feel like valued members of a family.

The 112 employees of Crystal Group manufacture rugged computing gear  that military units depend on, particularly in extreme conditions such as hot, sandy deserts, frigid mountain passes and marine environments in which commercial off-the-shelf computing equipment would fail.

Industrial settings prone to stresses such as heat, vibration and dust are also a major market for Crystal Group.

Deb Dirks, Crystal’s manager of human resources, said the vital nature of the work Crystal does is a strong motivator for the company’s staff, which includes many military veterans.

“We work closely with many of the military branches in providing them the solutions they need to perform,” wrote one employee in the company’s nomination. “As a retired soldier, I find this very satisfying. I feel as if I am still contributing.”

Crystal Group’s culture rewards employee involvement with a variety of programs to show appreciation and make work more enjoyable. They include such perks as tickets and parking passes for Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball and Cedar Rapids RoughRiders hockey games (Crystal Group maintains a suite for its guests at Perfect Game Field and at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena).

The company reinforces its emphasis on quality with a rewards program called “Out of Box Experience” that provides cash bonuses for keeping customer satisfaction high.

A full slate of social events helps the company maintain its “family” feel. They include monthly company lunches, pizza call-ins on snowy days and occasional grill-outs.

The social activities also include bigger seasonal activities such as a chili cook-off that brings out a large field of team contestants, a children’s Halloween party and a Christmas party.

Wellness activities include a six-month weight-loss challenge and an onsite workout room. Offsite activities including after-work bike rides with a mid-point beverage or meal at a pub, the latter described by one employee as “fun relaxing times that make you come together as friends.”

-Dave DeWitte