Five to Shine

Benefits from Bikes to Beer Found at Best Places to Work

By Karen Gardner | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 08.06.19 – Lifestyles

In a discussion about best places to work, national names like Southwest Airlines or Google are frequently mentioned. But for those who would rather forgo travel or a horrendous daily commute, there are many local companies that are also known for being great workplaces.

The Frederick County Best Places to Work Awards recognize companies that offer many of the same benefits as larger employers based around Washington, D.C., says Donna Goff, economic development specialist for the City of Frederick. The five winning workplaces offer their workers benefits including flexible hours, telecommuting and domestic partner healthcare, Goff says. They also offer healthy snacks, time to volunteer and personal development.

Representatives from the City of Frederick Department of Economic Development, Frederick County Office of Economic Development, Frederick County Chamber of Commerce and Frederick County Workforce Services selected the winners.

Small Employer: Jim Bass Group of Real Estate Teams

“We have one of the most tenured teams in the industry,” says Jim Bass, who founded his namesake real estate business in 1993. Agents frequently jump around between real estate offices, but Jim Bass agents tend to stay put. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Many employees in the 16-person office, which includes nine real estate agents, three employees in brokerage and three in settlement, have been with the company for 12 years. The company’s transaction specialist has been with the firm 20 years and the firm’s lead sales agent has a history of 24 years. “We treat people the way we want to be treated,” Bass says.

Beverages, healthy snacks and sweets are kept in the fully stocked kitchen. Treadmills and exercise bikes are available for a quick workout while waiting for a client. Motivational wall hangings and daily emails keep the staff upbeat. “We’re all in different lo-cations, and I want to keep the team connected,” Bass says.

Theme days and quarterly celebrations add to the fun. Bass’s wife, Cheryl, the company’s chief relationship officer, keeps the firm grounded, he says. “The real estate industry has one of the highest divorce rates, but she keeps us balanced. We can only be as good to our clients as we are to ourselves.”

Small/Medium Employer: Orases

This family-owned software company offers employees the chance to make a difference with their skills. “Many of our clients fulfill a huge purpose for people in need,” co-owner Amy Damoulakis says. One is the NFL Foundation, which funds youth sports programs for families in need. Another is the American Kidney Fund, which used Orases to redesign its grant management software.

The company’s number one workplace benefit is flexibility for its 35 employees. “That includes your work schedule, how you work, where you work,” Damoulakis says. “Things happen, and they don’t always happen outside office hours.” Whether you have a doctor’s appointment or need to be home for the dishwasher repair person, the company is flexible.

Employees can choose to work on PCs or Macs and they can sit or stand at their desks. “If there’s a certain software that makes you more productive, that’s fine. There’s no one way of functioning,” she says.

Monthly happy hours are scheduled along with quarterly events, as well as good vacation packages. Some employees leave mid-afternoon to meet their kids at the school bus, and then log back on sometime in the evening. “I joke that you’re going to come to Orases and end your career here,” Damoulakis says.

Medium/Large Employer: RoosterBio

RoosterBio is a homegrown biotech company that produces clinical-grade stem cell banks, saving pharmaceutical and biotech firms the time, effort and expense of producing them in-house. The company’s 50 employees work in a light-filled space with large work areas. Employees are surveyed frequently to give leadership a snapshot of their wants and needs. “People are not so much focused on compensation,” says CEO Margot Connor. “It used to be all about money. For me, personally, that’s only one part of the story.”

Besides competitive pay, employees want good benefits and a good work-life balance, Connor says. Those are three of the six elements the company offers employees. Employees also want a sense of purpose, a good culture and a chance to grow and advance, she says.

“A good portion of our lives are at work,” she says. There are “all-hands meetings” during and after hours. They might take the form of potlucks, meetings to celebrate company milestones, or a fun get-together to celebrate a cluster of upcoming marriages. “We’ll have offsite happy hours, sporting events and picnics,” Connor says. Volunteer events also bring employees together. “We want to make it a pleasure to come to work.”

The six elements helped the company grow from a two-person startup in 2013. “These aren’t just words on a paper,” Connor says. “We focus on really living the six principles, nurturing and investing in them.”

Large Employer: Asbury Communities

Asbury Communities is the nation’s 16th-largest nonprofit senior living organization. It has six continuing care retirement communities and also provides in-home services. “The nature of the work we do motivates people differently,” says Manny Ocasio, chief human resources and compliance officer.

“When we moved to Frederick a couple of years ago, we designed a workspace around our principles of values,” Ocasio says. “None of us have offices. The CEO, Doug Leidig, has the same workstation as the other employees.” Corners are open with comfortable furniture and room to collaborate.

“Every one of our shared spaces has writeable surfaces,” he adds. The company’s 80 employees abide by the company values of purpose, family and caring. Leidig started in the nursing home industry as a certified nursing assistant, while Sue DeCamara, COO, served as an activities director.

“We have people who are experts in providing care, and people who serve those people,” he says. Employees are treated with respect. “We took some risks,” Ocasio says. The refrigerator is stocked with beer from local breweries and employees have embraced the perk. “We have not had even a hint of an issue,” Ocasio says.

“We come from a conservative environment,” he adds. But employees have embraced the new vision. “Now it seems natural. We’ve attracted different talent.” The employees share in the company’s philosophy of accountability, trust and higher purpose.

Major Employer: AstraZeneca

Three philosophies guide this biopharmaceutical giant, which employs 675 people in its Frederick manufacturing center: Competitive wages and benefits, continuous learning, and opportunities to engage with the local community.

“Our leadership spends a tremendous amount of time engaging with staff,” says Pran Patel, vice president in Frederick. “We have a great amount of trust of our workers.” The company invests in continuing education for staff. “We have a promote-from-within policy,” Patel says.

In addition to a competitive rewards package, family-friendly policies provide four weeks of paternity leave for new fathers, four weeks of parental leave for adoptive parents and six community rooms for nursing mothers. The company was named a 2018 Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace from the Maryland Breastfeeding Coalition.

The company also promotes a fun environment, says Marybeth Leibig, director of people services. “Our green team built benches out of recycled plastic,” she says. There are monthly fun events, like an international potluck, where employees make their favorite ethnic food, and a car show, where auto aficionados get to show off their restored classics. The company’s Ambassador Program sends employees into local schools to support STEM education and judge at science fairs.

“It’s a very positive environment here,” Leibig says. “We’re constantly innovating, adapting and changing.”