CEO’s Talk Workplace: Interview with SIG’s Richard Silberstein

SIG President Richard Silberstein created a flexible and healthy work environment where employee-input is greatly valued.

SIG’s president, Richard Silberstein, gave up his personal office so the Harbor conference room is one of his favorite places to work. Image courtesy of SIG.

Tell us about the work that you do.

We are experts in the employee benefits business, helping clients solve whatever problems they have in that area. We’re also part of a group of 30 firms around the country who create an amazing plan experience through our scale and try to bring more resources to clients. The main thing we work on is core benefits. We recently hosted one of our monthly HR roundtables featuring a panel of three of our clients who are the HR people at the Best Places to Work.

Tell us about this company’s background.

We started in downtown Baltimore, back when that was the financial district. We then moved to a new space but as we grew, we noticed that employees were being divided up into ‘neighborhoods’ where people at opposite ends of the room didn’t know each other existed. About seven years ago, we really started to focus on our culture and got to a point where we knew we outgrew our space again. One of the things that I’ve learned over time is that everyone should feel like they are one team, so I engaged the whole office in the concept of moving the office by asking for their input. Our space now is actually above one of our clients and is more of a corporate campus. The area is surrounded by a walking path around a quarry lake as well as affordable food options.

How many employees do you have?

We have 55 employees and are getting ready to hire a few more. SIG is part of the Alera Group which hasover 1,000 employees.

A few SIG employees enjoying a delicious lunch in the SIG Lounge! Image courtesy of SIG.

Can you give us some insight to the people that make up your company?

As we’ve grown, we’ve brought on a lot of younger employees. Part of our success is that we bring people in and then help them understand their career plan so that they are able to grow and be here for a long time. One of our key people has been here for 29 years.

You touched a little on your culture earlier, but could you give us more background?

One thing that is unique to us is our flexible work environment where we allow people to work wherever, whenever, and however they want to work as long as they get their outcome done. So, if you’re an hourly accounting person, you might need to be in the office because you’re putting together proposals. If you are a marketing person, you might want to work remotely sometimes. There’s a high level of trust, a high level of focus on outcomes, and a high bar for excellence. We’ve won Best Place to Work nationally from Business Insurance as well as from some local publications. We also have an active social committee, wellness committee, and a community service committee.

Does everyone get to participate in the flexible environment?

When we moved to the flexible work environment, we gave all salaried employees unlimited PTO. I was tired of everyone leaving unused days of vacation, so I think this helps people not worry about taking time off and get the chance to take a break. It’s really about getting your job done and learning to manage yourself. While the hourly employees can’t legally have unlimited PTO, they have a flexible work environment and can come in when they need to and leave when they need to. Monday through Thursday, we have trainers come teach boot camp classes for employees. One of my employees recently did yoga at lunch time and then was at boot camp at 5 p.m. with me. An employee from another company in the class asked when we have time to work. It isn’t about working a certain number of hours, it’s about managing your energy and getting stuff done. That’s sort of our philosophy here, that you manage your energy and not your time and you get done what you need to get done.

How do you measure how people feel about the culture?

We review the detailed survey analysis from all of the awards we win and see where we excel and where we could do better. I highly recommend that companies pay for these detailed reports. We also do an annual health and well-being survey. We have open discussions and seek feedback from every single person on the team. When there is high trust, people share how they feel and what they think. Plus we do frequent HR check-ins to make sure everyone is doing well and if there are any issues that need to be addressed sooner versus later.

You mentioned the importance of your social committee and having a fun work environment. How is this reinforced in your space?

We have several committees and they all work together. We have a wellness committee, a social committee and a community service committee. We try to make sure that many of their events all integrate with each other’s mission. The overarching feedback that we had is fun is very important. Our space reinforces this with our lounge where we hold a lot of events and activities. We also have writeable walls. Some of the events that occur within our space are: an annual Easter Egg Hunt, pumpkin painting, cake decorating, and 3:00 Pop with our popcorn machine, among others. We feel that we have a great space for work and a great space for fun.

Do you have spaces where people get together to socialize and collaborate?

We have a lounge area where we often host lunch and learns, conference rooms, and huddle areas. We participate in fitness challenges and many people will have walking meetings and often meet outside when the weather is nice. Since we share the building with one of our clients, we have a really great meeting space where once a month we hold our AllHands Meeting where everyone comes together to get updates and reports.

SIG’s welcoming reception area. Image courtesy of SIG.

When you set out looking for the space, what was your most important priority?

We had outgrown our previous space, so when we saw this one we really liked the energy, natural light, and how it was modern and new. Ultimately, we were looking for a corporate campus. We could have saved money by moving north, but we really wanted to something where people had the option to walk and get lunch and have the opportunity to get outside. We also did not want to move too far away from the old space – we only moved three miles away.

What are the characteristics of a corporate campus that are valuable to you?

We are surrounded by nature and can see a lot of green from the office. There are walking areas for people to get outside and go for a run. Our corporate campus is also nearby many reasonably priced food options. We have vendors in the area that will sponsor happy hours for us, and fitness trainers that come in four days a week.

Where is the biggest value that you’re getting from your office space?

The people that are here want to be here. It’s a space that we feel proud of and enjoy working in.

What about your space is helping to grow your business?

The space as a whole. We’re really active on social media where we can showcase our space and also give tours after our monthly roundtable events. When people see that our space is a fun and professional environment, we think it helps attract and retain good people.

Since you are involved in the wellbeing industry, have you applied that to your space?

You need a space where you can provide employee education, training and development in terms of managing your energy, and fitness opportunities. It’s a balance of mental, physical, career, finance and training and development and we have a space that depending on what we want to do, we can facilitate that. Our wellness committee is always looking for ways to help people be healthy and get up and move around. We have a weekly fruit delivery and also have a popcorn machine with coconut oil.

When someone walks into your space, is there a message that you are trying to convey?

I think we’re just trying to let people feel the positive energy that occurs within SIG. There are bright colors, lots of natural light, and the sound of happy people. With our white noise in the work areas, you’re not hearing a lot of voices. In the lounge, you definitely hear a lot more laughter and interaction. We want people to just get a sense of the great vibe that occurs within the walls of SIG.

How do you communicate with your staff?

Every week, I leave an office-wide voicemail where I recognize birthdays, anniversaries, etc. We also have our All Hands meeting and I participate in our workout classes where I have the chance get to know our younger employees. I don’t have an office or a cube – I’m either in a meeting or floating.

What motivated you to work like that?

I’m in and out of the office so much, that I don’t really need one. I also wanted to set an example to the senior people who have offices that you need to have an open mind in terms of flexibility.

How do you measure the performance of the organization?

We’ve won many awards for best places to work. We also send out surveys every year and do culture audits. We are always looking for ways to help our employees and become better.

Is there anything else about your space that you would like to highlight?

I think it’s really important to engage your workforce in the decisions when creating a new workspace. No one wants to move into a space that they don’t want to be in. The best ideas are the ones that come from your people.

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