CEOs Talk Workplace – Interview with Social Tables’ Dan Berger

An open plan space paired with ample meeting rooms, and a fully stocked kitchen are the keys to success at the Social Tables headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Dan speaking at a Social Tables Press Conference.

Back in January 2016, we hosted a Work Design TALK at the then brand new Social Tables HQ in Washington, D.C. With flexible desks, an open floor plan, and a dedicated events space, the vibrant office served as the perfect backdrop for a panel discussion on exploring choice in the workplace. We also decided to feature them in a project profile Q+A!

Bob Fox recently caught up with Social Tables CEO, Dan Berger to check in on how the space is continuing to help the company grow while also communicating their “outrageous” vision.

For someone not familiar with Social Tables, can you explain what you guys do?

Social Tables is a cloud-based software company serving the hospitality industry. Our value proposition starts with our vision which is a world where every face-to-face event is successful. We think technology, especially software, can help us get there. In other words, if people who plan or host events use the same software, then the events that are executed can be exponentially better. Our software is used by hotels and venues all over the world – over 5,000 of them – to sell and market event space. Our software is then used by event planners and event service providers to operate and execute those events.

Can you give us some insight into what people do in your space and the type of work that’s being done?

We have 120 employees, with 97 percent of employees working here in our 31,000 sq ft D.C. headquarters. Our teams range from marketers, to product managers, to customer support, and everything in-between. Our largest team is engineering with about 30 employees and the second largest is our sales team with 17 employees.

Photo by Erin Kelleher.

You have a very unique culture to your organization. Can you describe it to us?

What is culture? Culture is really the embodiment of values. Our core values are really unique because they’re not B.S.! For example, one of our core values is, “hospitality matters”. When you walk into our space, you walk into a kitchen – an inviting space – not a receptionist and a boring lobby. Another example is that we use our space to host events. A quarter of our office space is actually event space and we give any member of our community the opportunity to host events here for free. Our space has been used to host events with more than 10,000 people. Another one of our core values is “it takes a village”, which is why we do not have a receptionist. Everyone is a roaming receptionist, everyone is a greeter, and everyone is a concierge.

Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you strive to have everyone work in the office. How does the space help you to connect your people?

My position actually continues to evolve on this topic. About a week ago, I actually took an office for the first time in seven years. I was always adamant about staying on the floor and having an open space, but I think I’m in a unique position where I’m frequently having one-on-one meetings.

Our office is unique in that it is all open space, with all desks being on wheels and are height adjustable. The thinking behind it was to create a collaborative space, but there are some issues that pop up with this including, terminal silence, or an uncomfortable environment for introverts, but we have found ways to deal with that. To address the terminal silence issue, we have played music throughout the office area so that people don’t feel the need to have whispered conversations. We also have a ton of meeting rooms. Our ratio is for every three employees, we have one meeting room which provides plenty of room for people to have private conversations and changes up their work environment.

Photo by Erin Kelleher.

So, people do have a fair amount of choice in where they work?

They have a ton of choices! They can work anywhere from a cozy corner with a couch, to a hammock, to their standing desk, to a coffee bar, to a yoga room with balls instead of chairs.

I’m curious about you moving into a private office. Can you share a little more about your thinking and what motivated you do that?

Basically, I found that I was spending two-thirds of my time in meeting rooms, either taking phone calls or holding one-on-ones and that I needed a space that I called my own because I didn’t want to violate our open plan concept. I also feel that I cannot wear headphones as a CEO to be more approachable. My office is actually a converted meeting room. It has one wall with a TV, another with a whiteboard, and a standing desk. It’s about a 10×10 space with a glass wall that allows people to see in. There’s no soft seating, just a table for small meetings.

You obviously have a vision for this company and know where you want to take it. How do you communicate that vision to your people?

Our vision is everywhere. We try to remind employees all the time. We’re also super transparent and run an open book management style company where we share everything including revenue, cash-balance, and more. We like to stay open about what we’re doing so we have a roadmap of what we’re building next and why. People are very opinionated about this so we need to constantly check-in on it.

Photo by Erin Kelleher.

How does your event space promote the brand?

I think it’s very important to align the space with the brand. Many companies probably don’t think about this and it’s a missed opportunity. Our space, for example, engulfs you with our shade of pink. Our meeting areas encourage face-to-face. We have a museum that tells the brand story. These are all the ways that our space promotes the brand.

Can you see the benefit of aligning you space with the brand in the work that you do?

We have been able establish ourselves as thought leaders in the event industry because we don’t just offer event software, we also host events in our space. Many of our events have led to lowering our recruiting expenses because people see the space, get excited, and ultimately apply for a job.

Does the space help you innovate the things that you do? Are you learning from the space?

The idea of our community event space being a ‘lab’ is a good one but we haven’t been able to do that just yet.

Where do you get the biggest value out of office space?

Probably the kitchen! People love that we offer snacks and coffee. The kitchen is a hospitable, open concept space where people congregate. Every time you go to the kitchen, there’s someone there. It’s a space where people can meet, get to know each other, and exchange ideas.

Photo by Erin Kelleher.

Where are you most willing to invest in your office space?

I would rather invest in people. We really haven’t invested much in the space since we moved here. Our game room is getting a facelift though to make it more welcoming to all employees.

When people walk into your space, what is the story you want them to tell?

It’s a vibrant company full of passionate people who are hardworking and care about one another – stranger or colleague. One of our core values is “be outrageous” – which is embodied by our pink hallway. We also have a museum in the office that displays all the ‘artifacts’ from when we first started the company. Our game room is inspired by Tim Burton and really brings employees together. All of these elements are part of being outrageous and vibrant, and that’s what I want people to think about us.

Tell me more about the game room. How do people use that?

The game room gets the most use during the day. People can go play a game of ping pong whenever they want and we think it’s an important way for them to unwind. Our employees love it so much, that they are asking for a second table!

How do you measure the performance of the space and the organization? Are there any key metrics that you look at?

We look at a few things. First, the number events planned in software. We’re averaging about 80,000 events per month. Another is the number of venue listings that are searchable in our software, which is about 12,000. We also measure employee happiness every other month to make sure we’re on track in strengthening engagement.

Photo by Erin Kelleher.

How do you measure happiness with your employees?

We use a tool called TINYpulse, an employee survey tool, which asks all sorts of questions but every two months always asks, “how happy are you?” We are doing really well with this and have been on consecutive two-year highs for the last three surveys.

Is there something you can attribute to that success?

We are clear about our goals and make sure people feel like they have an explicit plan. We strive to react to their requests. Our happiness was actually at its lowest when we first moved to our new space and I think that’s just proof of how important change management really is.

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