It’s been a surreal year for workplaces as the coronavirus pandemic swept across Orange County.

Offices closed suddenly. Daycare for working parents evaporated. Technology shifted to the home office, sometimes the kitchen table. Virtual meetings became the norm as thousands of bosses managed their teams from afar. Timecards, WiFi, laptops, HR issues and COVID-19 infections.

Thousands of people lost their jobs as the county’s unemployment rate neared 15% in late spring.

Amid the Great Lockdown of 2020, the Orange County Register sought the businesses that rose above for its 13th annual Top Workplaces program. Local companies, awash in their own coronavirus chaos, did not disappoint.

The honorees this year range from data and real estate companies to school districts, hospitals, nonprofits, a water utility and a favorite comfort-food chain. All of them stressed one thing above all: their people.

“When you have amazing people, you can’t help but have an incredible culture,” said Joone Lopez, the general manager of Moulton Niguel Water District.

Lopez put her employees’ safety front and center. She quickly mobilized a color-coded system to keep any potential COVID infections from cross-contaminating staff members working on key infrastructure issues.

Others, like Optima Tax Relief, had to switch from a call-center format to a work-from-home setting. CEO David King and his IT team scrambled to configure 700 laptops — in three days during tax season — for his employees.

In what’s been arguably one of the craziest years in this century, many companies found ways to adapt and thrive.

“We’ve adjusted well,” said Jim Andronaco, co-founder of Sidepath in Laguna Hills. “More importantly, our people adjusted well.”

Through all the work-from-home complications, the tech glitches and the divisive politics, bosses said the pandemic pivot helped them get to know their employees better.

“We see the background at home,” said Trevor Tait, managing director at Tait & Associates in Santa Ana. “We get to meet a lot of dogs. We now know people differently.”

This year, 151 employers agreed to take the survey with Top Workplaces partner Energage. Combined, they employ 54,487 people in Orange County. Of the 28,177 employees who received questionnaires, 18,170 responded, either on paper or online. For this year’s winners list, 105 Orange County employers earned recognition as Top Workplaces based on employee feedback.

In a nod to lockdown restrictions and a first for the program, the annual awards gala held each December at the City National Grove of Anaheim was canceled.

Here’s the list of Orange County’s Top Workplaces for 2020.

Large company honorees

1 Experian North America2 New American Funding3 Optima Tax Relief4 Panda Restaurant Group5 MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center6 American Advisors Group7 West Coast University8 Beckman Coulter Inc.9 BEHRProcess Corp.10 MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center

Medium company honorees

1 Moulton Niguel Water District2 Seven Gables Real Estate3 TAIT & ASSOCIATES4 Ivantis Inc5 theLender6 Prime Choice Funding Inc.7 Blue-White Industries Ltd.8 BluePoint Mortgage9 Americor Funding Inc.10 Orion Lending11 SullivanCurtisMonroe Insurance Services LLC12 AmeriHome Mortgage13 SmartFinancial14 Smart Circle International LLC15 Performance Lighting System16 The Word & Brown Family of Companies17 Marque Medical18 Axonics19 Love 2 Learn Consulting LLC20 Seneca Family of Agencies21 American Career College22 Orange County Rescue Mission23 Nations Direct Mortgage LLC24 Veri-Tax LLC25 Seabreeze Management Company Inc.26 Herbalife Innovation and Manufacturing27 Insperity28 Össur Americas29 United Auto Credit Corporation30 Edward Jones31 Service Champions LLC32 Chipotle Mexican Grill Restaurant Support Center33 Parcel Pending34 HUB International Insurance Services inc.35 Sovereign Lending Group36 Pacific Mercantile Bank37 CBE Office Solutions38 Heritage Pointe39 Astronics Test Systems40 Medical Specialties Managers Inc.41 Western Resources Title Company42 Burns & McDonnell43 Sunwest Bank44 Advanced Management Company & R³ Construction Services Inc.45 Reborn Cabinets

Small company hnorees

1 Sidepath2 Vantis Capital Advisors3 Fenix Consulting Group4 Voit Real Estate Services5 Optimum Professional Property Management Inc.6 Pinner Construction Company7 Kind Lending8 Better.com9 US Alliance Group Inc.10 Helium 1011 PeopleG212 DEB Construction LLC13 Savills Inc.14 FM Restaurants15 ECOS16 Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP17 BigRentz Inc.18 TechMD19 SurflineWavetrak Inc.20 LCPtracker Inc.21 QuestSoft22 Paramount Residential Mortgage Group Inc.23 Murow Development Consultants24 El Toro Water District25 Southern California Illumination26 CPS Insurance Services27 Essex Mortgage28 Vincit29 DreamHost30 H. Hendy Associates31 PlanNet Consulting LLC32 Advanced Office33 Robert Half34 Portfolio35 SACA Technologies36 Directive37 Advantest Test Solutions Inc.38 Orion Risk Management an Alera Company39 IPS – Integrated Project Services LLC40 System Pavers41 Brown & Streza LLP42 Technologent43 Swift Health Systems dba INBRACE44 Kimco Staffing Services/KTimeHR45 Modern Gourmet Foods46 Evolus Inc.47 Girl Scouts of Orange County48 Wunderman Thompson49 American Income Life – Orange County50 Consolidated Contracting

MORE ONLINE: To read more about the 105 organizations named in the Top Workplaces survey, check our online database at ocregister.com/workplaces

To participate in the 2021 program, go to ocregister.com/nominate.

Staff writers Jeff Collins, Jonathan Lansner and Alicia Robinson contributed to this report.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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