As Discovery Benefits Vice President of Marketing Stephanie Schroeder begins to show us around the benefits administrator’s expansive South Fargo offices, the question just can’t wait.
“How often do people really use the slide?” I ask.
“You’d be surprised,” she responds, without missing a beat.
The slide, if you’re unfamiliar, is the two-story-tall indoor slide that occupies both the literal center of the building and the figurative center of Discovery’s approach to workplace culture. It’s become the defining and best-known feature of the Fargo-based company’s 21st-century workplace, which Schroeder says is proof of their “work hard, play hard” mentality.
“The Employee Portal,” as the slide is officially called, is named for the site where Discovery clients log in to access their benefits and was agreed upon after an employee naming contest around the time the slide was unveiled.
“It’s about letting people know that you can be in a technical industry without taking yourself too seriously,” Schroeder explains. “Life’s too short to not have a little fun.”
Schroeder adds that the company hosts an annual competition in which the goal is to slide down and run back up the stairs five times as fast as you can. The current record is 33 seconds.
While they’ve been around since 1987, Discovery has seen explosive growth over the past five years—doubling in size every three years for some time—as they’ve shifted their focus to include a significant national presence (they now have clients in all 50 states).
With an employee headcount now at more than 600, the company decided it needed more space to house its constantly expanding team and cut the ribbon on a nearly 30,000-square-foot expansion in spring 2015.
They also have a second location in Brookings, S.D., which at the moment primarily serves as a call center, Schroeder says.
In the vein of Google’s policy that employees never be more than 100 feet from food, Discovery has its own self-serve market with a selection that rivals that of a small convenience store. Employees can load funds onto a card and grab a pick-me-up without having to leave the building.
Any company can tell you how great they are, but only a handful have the hardware to prove it. Honored by Business Insurance magazine as a “Best Place to Work” for six consecutive years, as well as three separate times by Inc. magazine as one of America’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies, Discovery has garnered national recognition for their employee-centered approach to growing their business.
With two treadmills, two ellipticals and a stationary bike—and some free weights to boot—Discovery’s in-house gym offers a convenient way to break a sweat before, during or after work. And if yoga’s more up your alley, they bring in an instructor periodically to teach on-site classes.
Continuing with the theme of “outside things that Discovery Benefits put inside” is an open-flame fire pit area that employees can use to either relax during their break or host more formal meetings with coworkers.
Whether it’s the middle of January or the middle of August, the flame burns year-round and is one of the more popular amenities in the office, Schroeder says.
“The other cool thing is that it’s just kind of the centrally located part of the office,” Schroeder says. “Employees pass through to basically go anywhere they need to go. And it really helps build that interaction. You get to know people from completely different departments just by sharing a communal space.”
If someone wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of the more centrally located downstairs lounge areas, there are a couple other getaway spots upstairs that employees can use.
With neon-colored beanbags, a Nintendo Wii, and laptops available for personal use, you start to wonder if you’ve wandered onto the set of Silicon Valley.
If you caught a glimpse of the northwest side of the building from the street, you might think Discovery shared a space with a trendy bar and grill. That’s their own patio, though, and it gets used pretty much every day in the summer, according to Schroeder.
And with one of Discovery’s team members heavily involved with what’s known as the Hammock Initiative, they’ll sometimes set up free-standing hammocks and sway the day away.
The Discovery Benefits Culture Book was designed to be kept in all of the break rooms throughout the building in order to, among other things, provide employees with a little back story about the company.
“Whether you’re new or whether you’re a veteran employee, it’s about where we’ve been and what things we’re passionate about. It also has some quotes from our employees in it.”
“These are fun little warnings from our IT department,” Schroeder says. “We are really big on security here. It’s really important that we keep all of our clients’ data confidential.”
Schroeder says that in a company where you’re lucky to know the name of half the people you walk past in a given day, it’s good to encourage team members to add a bit of character to their work spaces.
“People love decorating and celebrating here,” she says. “And those hanging nameplates are really helpful when you have 600-some employees.”