At William Raveis Real Estate, Mortgage & Insurance, employee cubicles are rapidly being replaced by shared workspaces. Computers of all sorts — laptops and tablets — are being added, and digital networks are being ramped up for speed and volume.
For the third straight year, the Shelton-based firm is the Courant/FOX CT Top Workplaces winner among large employers. And innovation is at the core of the firm's success as a workplace, leading to consistent praise by employees and through national awards.
"I have the tools that give me power in my business and know new advanced tools are coming as Raveis sets the bar for other companies to emulate," one agent wrote in this year's Top Workplaces survey by Workplace Dynamics.
In Connecticut, Raveis is in the middle of its 15th office conversion, in West Hartford, and soon expects to upgrade Farmington. Some of the open, shared workspaces have low, glass partitions. Conference room space is being added with large, flat-screen televisions so that agents can compare properties for clients, especially when trying to determine asking prices.
"We need that 'wow' factor," said Kathie Spencer, vice president of sales and manager of the West Hartford office. "It's what our clients expect of a high-tech company."
Bill Raveis, the company's founder, chairman and chief executive, said that the company is spending millions of dollars investing in new technologies. Raveis agents have long talked about a supportive environment, and this round of upgrades is part of that.
"The mobile technology platform is changing the work environment," Raveis said. "There's no work day, work week. The workplace has to adjust. We have to stay ahead of the changes in technologies."
He adds: "You have to create a culture of opportunities and make sure you deliver the tools for success."
Raveis said that providing the technology is only one part of nurturing a successful workplace. The other, he said, is getting to know the employees.
"You have to spend some time with people out in the field, you have to know who they are," Raveis said. "Without them, you have nothing."
Agents who work for Raveis aren't actually employees but rather independent contractors who set their own schedules. That might give Raveis and other real estate firms an advantage over employers whose people must work a regular shift, or more, when it comes to measuring workplace satisfaction.
But, Raveis said, the arrangement makes it even more critical that agents have all the most up-to-date tools to do their jobs, Raveis said.
"They can walk at any time," he said.
The company apparently hasn't had that problem in Connecticut, where Raveis employs nearly 2,200 people, directly or as independent contractors. That's double the number from five years ago, growth that has come even during a severe housing downturn. The largest portion of those working at Raveis — 2,000 — are agents.
Raveis predicts further growth in the coming years. In West Hartford alone, Spencer expects the number of agents to increase from the current 92 to 150 in the next few years.
Spencer said that shared workspaces will help ease the space needed for such growth, aided by the reality that digital technology has made it far less critical for agents to work in the office. But the technology is a major factor in what makes the company an attractive workplace.
"My job here is to help people build their careers," Spencer said.
WILLIAM RAVEIS AT A GLANCE:
Business: Home sales, mortgages, insurance
Town: Shelton headquarters; many branches
Employees in five-county area: 621
Every Fall, CEO Bill Raveis opens his home to let sales associates and employees bring their families to pick apples from his orchards.
At the company's annual awards ceremony, Bill Raveis has entered the ceremony on a Harley Davidson, been dropped in from the ceiling and has starred in skits.
First office in 1974 was above Mercurio's Grocery Store in Southport.
Why It Won:
Agents say Raveis offers them superb support including updated technology.
Company has had consistent growth and a culture of innovation.
"Every day is different. We help people make their dreams come true. I love the flexibility. We don't have to sit in an office all day."
"I feel empowered to manage my branch with little to no interference, while fully supported by our management team with technology, business strategy, and company mission."