Bob Speltz, Senior Director of Community Relations at The Standard

Bob Speltz

Bob Speltz is the Senior Director of Community Relations for The Standard. In this episode, host Blake St. Onge sits down with Bob to learn how The Standard's deep roots in Portland and their culture of philanthropy helped them support their 3,000 employees the past 15 months.



How a Culture Rooted in Philanthropy Supports Employees through Uncertainty with Bob Speltz of The Standard (Full Transcript)

(We use an audio transcription service so please disregard any errors below.)


Bob Speltz, The Standard  00:03

Over the course of the last 15 months, we've had three or four really significant, interconnected events that have completely changed the conversation about who we are, who we want to be. The kind of conversations people are having. Just take COVID-19 what that's what that's done. It's completely up ended how we think about work. Yeah. Where we work when we work, how we share and make space with each other.


Blake St. Onge  00:36

Welcome to think beyond space, the PDX workplace insider podcast. I'm your host, Blake St. Onge, Principal for the Portland Office of Cresa, a global corporate real estate firm. From the people, the culture and their thoughts on the future of work, we sit down with leaders from Portland's most respected companies to learn about what makes their workplaces tick. We also dive into the commercial real estate markets and workplace trends that will help shape the future of business in Portland for years to come. Suscribe at, or wherever you find your podcasts. Welcome back to the podcast, I am really excited to have Bob Speltz with me today, Bob is a Senior Director of Community Relations for The Standard. Bob, welcome to the show.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  01:15

Thank you very much. It's good to be here.


Blake St. Onge  01:17

So, we have crossed paths, maybe not physically, but in the past from all the community work that you do Habitat for Humanity and some other things that you've done for the Rotary Club as well, that I'm part of. I'm just excited to sit down have a chance to get to know you better, get to know what you do for The Standard, what The Standard is doing in general, from a company standpoint. So why don't we start there start maybe give us a little bit of background of who you are, what you do for The Standard. And then we'll we'll get into the conversation.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  01:46

That sounds great Blake, and thanks again for having me on. Just a high level kind of introduction to The Standard for listeners that may or may not know us. We're a financial services company that was founded and has been headquartered in downtown Portland since 1906. We've been around a long, long time. And our purpose really is to help our customers achieve financial well being and peace of mind. And we are a provider of employer provided benefits. So think about the things that that an employer might provide and pay for their employees, Group Life Insurance, for example, group disability insurance, we're also in the retirement plans business. So we help employers of any and all sizes, manage 401k programs and other retirement plan devices. So we've got a really nice different mix of businesses. We're also a provider of commercial mortgages, in other product lines as well, including individual annuities and some some voluntary products I would call which means that the employee, if you will, typically pays for those like, accident insurance and critical illness. Yeah. So that's a little bit about who we are. We have about 5000 employees, correction 3000 employees, got that one wrong, and are privately held but have been publicly traded at one time. And we were a Mutual Insurance Company before that. I love my work, because it's a nice portfolio of really different things, most of which is external facing, right. So it means I'm outside the buildings engaging with a broad cross section of stakeholders. So I oversee and manage corporate PR, and that specifically, would be PR that is sharing public corporate information. also work on all of our community related PR, our philanthropy, our employee volunteerism, any way that we engage positively in the community, and also respond to and manage crisis PR. And thankfully, that's probably the smallest piece of my job, because we don't have a lot of crisis PR to manage, but it's an important set of skills and and tools to have on hand in case you need it. Yeah, the biggest piece and the piece, I think that that people might be most familiar with would be our community facing work, our philanthropy, the giving and the sponsorships that that our company does, as well as our employee directed giving. We have a fantastic, very generous group of employees who who donate every year to 1000s of charities and the company matches that two for one. It's a really wonderful program. We raise, you know, last year, more than $5 million with that program.


Blake St. Onge  04:47

That's, I mean, that's substantial.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  04:49

Yeah. Yeah. It's a really, it's a really wonderful program, more than 70% of our employees participate. It's really one of the cornerstones of our culture here. So that's my job in a nutshell. I have a lean and mean team. It's a team of two. And then we recruit volunteers inside the company for all kinds of different things that we do. And and it really is a job of influence. And providing strong actionable counsel to different parts of the business when needed.


Blake St. Onge  05:26

So you've got the call it 115 years, and then you think about the last 15 months about the craziness that's been going on the last 15 months. Has it been a heavier load on the shoulders? Through that community work? Walk me through a little bit of that?


Bob Speltz, The Standard  05:41

Yeah, I appreciate that question a lot. Anyone that's been doing this work over the last 15 or 16 months will tell you it's been a period of time unlike any other that most of us have experienced or lived through. Typically, we may have one sort of major event or a series of interconnected events, to manage through like a recession, for example, in a decade. And you know, over the course of the last 15 months, we've had three or four really significant interconnected events that have completely changed the conversation about who we are, who we want to be the kind of conversations people are having. Just take COVID-19 what that's done. It's completely upended how we think about work, where we work, when we work, how we share and make space with each other. it's totally sparked conversations about collaboration, creativity, and there's been a lot of hard stuff around it to isolation, depression. You know, we're in the wellness and behavioral health business, and mental health issues have really, really skyrocketed during this pandemic, substance abuse disorder, people being cut off and disconnected from family, coworkers, support networks. It's been a lot. And, of course for folks that had COVID or have it, and the folks with long haul issues that may suffer long lasting effects. You know, this, you can see the long, long tail we've got. So philanthropy, and companies, as employers, and as corporate citizens, if you will, have had to figure out how to navigate and how to respond, how to communicate who they are. The racial reckoning in particular was really a unique and very important moment for people and for organizations, to figure out who they were and where they were going to be in these conversations. And we certainly had those conversations internally. And it's been amazing. I feel like it was kind of like going to grad school getting an MBA, you know, in 15 months.


Blake St. Onge  08:15

Yeah, the school of hard knocks!


Bob Speltz, The Standard  08:17

Yeah. And I'm really proud of a lot of the things that we did, we dug really deep as a company, to really push, push harder for additional philanthropy, but also to be a great employer. And we can get into some more of that if you're curious in the conversation.


Blake St. Onge  08:40

So as we sort of think about the last year, let's just say, and the challenges that organizations, companies, people, employers and employees have had, and trying to keep that relationship strong with everything being virtual, and then certainly here in Portland, with all the challenges that we've had, not only with COVID, but then with the challenges downtown, and then other things beyond that. You know, The Standard has been sort of a standard and making statements or doing things. And so, just curious if you could walk us through some of the things that you guys from a leadership perspective, I mean, obviously, you now have a new CEO as well that's taking helm, but maybe the last year, there's sort of, you know, context around The Standard getting out into Tanasbourne and leaving downtown, not permanently, but for a period of time to get some things settled out. So just curious about what you guys a couple of different questions to the to the question, but did you have a robust remote or policy pre pandemic, considering your century old company and sort of a stallworth in industry wise? So that's one thing. And then what does that look like now, as we're looking, hopefully with COVID, not fully in the rear view, but maybe in the partial review as we go, you know, for years to come


Bob Speltz, The Standard  10:04

Absolutely. And just, you know, briefly about managing through COVID. Some of the high points, leadership really prioritized employee safety. That was the number one priority was, let's operate in a manner that keeps our people safe. And, you know, adjacent to that, of course, would be serving customers. And, and running our business the way we need to run it and taking care of the business as well as taking care of ourselves. One of the things that started, you know, communications became really important, right, because people were at home. I'd never worked from home before. You know, I've been driving to an office or commuting to an office for 30 years. I've never done it before. And I will tell you those first weeks in March were really disorienting. Yeah, massively. First of all, I didn't really have a space to work. I was at the dining room table.  And, you know, it looked like it was a mess in there. Yeah. Monitor on a box cords all over the place. You know, half eaten meals sitting around. I mean, it was, it was a mess. And then of course, the camera comes on, and people can see that chaos. So we all we all had a lot of for those of us that really don't have offices where we where we live. Yeah. chaotic time. But yeah, our corporate communications team just did a really fantastic job of pivoting. And there was, as you remember it, there was great uncertainty about what was happening, what was going to happen, who was going to get sick, how many people were going to die? What kind of disruption would there be to supply chain grocery stores? Oh, my God, toilet paper, right?


Blake St. Onge  11:52

I mean, for a period of time it was really really bleak.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  11:55

It was very bleak and chaotic. And if you let it could be incredibly distracting. Yeah, I had to turn the alerts off on my electronic devices, because I would just be so distracted by those headlines. And they were not good headlines. But back again, to communications, employee communications, in particular, our CEO started doing a series of videos about every other week, just talking to people looking right in the camera and talking about, what he was feeling and thinking, changes and benefits and other flexibility that we were putting in place for employees. And there's a long interesting list of things that we did just to make it easier for folks to do their job, you know, dollars & resources for work at home equipment. Like I said, most of us didn't have anything at home to really work from. So the company provided dollars for that. Taking PTO was hard. So giving people the ability to carry over more PTO. You know, those are just two things that came to mind. But these videos were really, really popular. And our CEO, Greg Ness was very, very authentic. I mean, he was really himself on these videos, he shared stuff that still makes me laugh, I mean stuff that was very vulnerable. And I'll share this hopefully, he won't be listening. or his wife, but he opened a video, we were quite a ways in and it was a very hard, difficult time. But he said, You know, I had to color my wife's hair this week and that was really hard. And I was really scared that I was gonna, you know, not do a good job. And then get the wrong hair color. And I was so struck by him sharing that it really spoke to me and about the things people did to help each other. Because guess what, you know, people who my gorgeous hair is the same color. I don't color it. But I know a lot of people that color their hair and you couldn't do that. You couldn't go to a salon or to a business to get your hair colored.


Blake St. Onge  14:23

It's just like anything else, you've been doing something for so long. Well, it could be the most my new thing. It could be the most, you know, deep thing, but even still, there's that disruption, which it is it's an internal, you know, challenge and it's those are tough things to manage through and have that vulnerability from a leadership perspective to sort of share out with the 3000 people like you know, that's a I think that's one of the questions that how do you balance leadership and having a strong backbone of leadership through this challenging time, but also with a little bit of that softness of vulnerability, let people know, oh, damn. Even though they're leading this is tough time for all. Yeah, that's hard.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  15:04

And he really, really struck that chord. And there are other just smaller things that yeah, I think, you know, all of us saw and experienced, like, his his dog, you know, would sit down with him on the couch. You know, he just was instinctively in a lot of those videos and that was really nice, because you could see, oh, he's got a dog, you know, your dog, too. Can't remember his name.


Blake St. Onge  15:28

The personal connection of that


Bob Speltz, The Standard  15:32

Yeah, absolutely. In those videos, you know, he conveyed a lot of really important information in them things that people were concerned about and cared about. And also, it was just, it was almost like, you know, I wasn't around for, for FDR, or Winston Churchill. But you know, the fireside chats that Franklin Delano Roosevelt did during the war. And we were not in a war, but it certainly had some of the stressful feelings.


Blake St. Onge  15:59

Definitely had some, you know, for an employee base, saying like, Hey, what are we doing? And it was like this looking for a captain and a leader and the team to say, Okay, this is how we're gonna steer that, you know, as you're working through it.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  16:10

Absolutely. You know, and those videos, you know, always look forward to them. Sometimes, as a communications person had the was asked to help work on the content. Yeah. And, you know, we went through some really, really hard, difficult times on those videos. You know, I think about the murder of George Floyd. Yeah. And remembering a video that came out about about that, from Greg, and the responsibility about how do you want to talk about this? How do you want to frame this? What message what what, you know, what are you going to say? How are you going to say it? And are you going to give? How do you give people a sense of hope. And when, when something so horrific has has, has happened that words can barely, barely describe in. So it's been, it's been really something. The the safety issue really, really popped up last summer. And downtown, you know, we were we were, gosh, 70, maybe 80 days into nightly protests. And by this time, the peaceful protest portion of those demonstrations was was beginning to fade, or there would be multiple groups of people. One group that was mostly just interested in breaking stuff and doing property damage, graffiti, lighting, fires, that sort of stuff. That coupled with some assaults on our on our own employees, daytime assaults, I might add 730 in the morning, so this is not like, you know, 10 at night, right, right. Morning, assaults on employees and contractors, led us to take a pause on folks who were working. We have small number of folks in these buildings that had to be for their work. And we had them working from our Hillsboro Oregon campus for a few months. Yeah, that was really hard. And it got a lot of attention in the media globally. I was quoted a story and on the Daily Mail in Britain, which just cracked me up because I happen to read it every day you ever dreamed would be? Yeah, it was like, it's crazy. You know, they have like, 14 million readers a day. So it's, it's it's nutty. But the good news is, is I think those hard days are behind us. You know, our, our our buildings were ringed with with fences. Yeah. And boarded. Many of the windows were boarded up after after they were shattered. We we lost tenants. You know, if you know, our building on Sixth Avenue here we have a Starbucks that used to be in the lower level than I was in three or four times a day is it's gone now. other businesses on real estate we own downtown have left that's been really hard. I think it's 10 or 12 tenants that that we've lost. We certainly gained some tenants. Yeah. But all of us has taken a toll. Yeah, on downtown. But our intent is to be back. We'll be bringing people back starting Tuesday after Labor Day, so nice Ember, yeah, it's very, we're, we're excited. And what is the warranty?


Blake St. Onge  19:38

What's the plan for that as it sort of hybrid work? Is it all in the office what's what's what's the sort of policy or plan as you guys move to the next phase?


Bob Speltz, The Standard  19:49

Yeah, that's a it's a great question. And we've we've learned a lot from how other companies are approaching this and everyone is doing it a little bit differently. Yeah.


Blake St. Onge  19:58

Which encourage You know, 12 months from now even right? I mean, it's just, absolutely it'd been open to that change again, like cuz it's now you may not have it exactly right, that Tuesday coming back, right, but it's like being opened, okay, we're still sort of figuring out what the longer term play is gonna be.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  20:16

I think there's, there's, there's a general acknowledgement, by leadership here that that the the nature of work has has been changed by what we've experienced over the last 15 months, what leadership asked managers to do people managers to do was with an eye past the pandemic, to look at each job, each and every job in the company, and classify it sort of in one of three categories. The first is 100%, work from home, this is a job that can successfully be done from home or anywhere. And the second classification is hybrid. Right? And that would be two to three days a week in the office. Yeah. And if you've got a dedicated office space and want to come back, please, please be here three days a week. Yeah. And then jobs that are 100% in the office that really cannot be done successfully. So all that classification is taken place. Yeah. The second step in the process was a survey, an employee survey that just wrapped up about maybe a week and a half ago, just asking employees, what their preferences were. Yeah. And sort of cross tabulating that survey with those job classifications? Yeah. So we don't have any, any hard or fast numbers to share with you yet. But I expect that there will be people working from home. Yeah, full time. Yeah. We don't know. You know, what percentage of our workforce will be back full time or hybrid? And it will be, you know, we'll be we'll be figuring that out. Yes. We start to bring folks back in September. Yeah. But, you know, for folks that want to come back in now. The offices are essentially open and open. It's okay to do so. And we're here. Yeah, having this conversation today. Yeah. You know, on the office. Standard, pleasant. Yeah. Really, really nice to have you all here. And, and it's nice to be back in this conference room myself where I've spent, I don't know, 10,000 hours, people.


Blake St. Onge  22:26

So my guess is you're not going to clean up the dining room and stay working from home, you're going to be you know, you're going to be here. And yeah, in the community, like you've always been doing.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  22:35

That's right. My job got was was classified hybrid. So yeah, a couple days at home and a couple days here in the office. Yeah, that sounds great to me. I really appreciate the work from home for days when I need to write something. Yeah, or edit something that is something that I really need to focus on. Right. And want to minimize the amount of sort of interruption or casual drop bys. Yeah, that happened when you're in this building. So yeah, it's gonna be behavior to relearn. Right, like, you're just driving down here today. I mean, I've got pants on. Yeah, not that anyone noticing God? Yeah. So I got pants, and socks and shoes and the whole, you know, the whole thing. Yeah. And relearning, you know, learning to, to kind of socialize with folks. And shake hands. Yeah. And sit next to somebody in a chair. Yeah, yeah. And not be in a mask or in a scuba suit. Right. So


Blake St. Onge  23:34

yeah, it feels good. It does. It


Bob Speltz, The Standard  23:36

It does. It feels really, it feels really good. And I think I'm, I'm excited. I think, you know, one of the things, one of the lingering issues for employers, we are, you know, we're we're not requiring the vaccine, we're strongly recommending it. I mean, strongly recommending it and incentivizing folks to do it. I think one of the lingering issues for employers is is for vaccinated employees in particular, how do we, how do we get comfortable with our fellow employees? Not knowing whether or not they're vaccinated? Yeah, I don't have a great answer for that. But that is, that is an issue. I know, on the minds of a lot of folks in the RTO office world. Yeah,


Blake St. Onge  24:21

that'll be a big topic. You can do a whole podcast series on on that and also, retention and recruitment of employees. Now, it's all the I'm sure you've been reading the news, too, on that sort of exodus of companies, or people or employees from different organizations, depending upon what it is that they're returned to Office policies are and it's like, you know, it's just, that's a whole other whole other can of worms that we can get into at a different time. But you know, yeah, so


Bob Speltz, The Standard  24:48

one bright spot I will mention for us in particular, has been it information technology, we we compete against a lot of amazing employers in industry. Freeze. And, you know, because of COVID, we've, we've been able to hire a lot of really incredible, smart, talented people and have them work remotely. People who, who we might never recruit here successfully. Yeah. for all kinds of reasons, family or otherwise, yeah, they want to stay put. So we've got, you know, new folks in our IT teams working from all over the country. And that's been a huge, that's great.


Blake St. Onge  25:29

I mean, it's great to hear to because you've been hearing about the sort of the war on talent, even pre COVID. And now it's just, it's even becoming more challenging. So it's good to hear. So I've given you a hopefully enough time to think about this one now. Yeah, you're supposed to have your, your coffee or cocktail with you. So who would that be? It doesn't have to be someone that's past that it can be someone that's present. I'm not sure you know, anyone in the future. But you know, you never know.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  25:56

I don't know anybody in the future yet. But I've been watching a lot of weird cable TV over COVID. So maybe, maybe I do, I don't know, I thought about that. Somebody would be fun to have coffee with I will be someone that's not here anymore. I miss my father very much she passed away when I was when I was 11. And there's something about that age, you know, that's, it's just so crushing. Like, your parents are your, your world. And they're, they're your, your security or identity. Everything kind of wraps and revolves around them, if you're blessed to have parents that are, are mostly are high functioning, or mostly functioning, right. And anyways, I've just, you know, it's, it was, it was terrible loss. Yeah. It would be fun to sit down and have some coffee with him and, and hear, hear what he's been up to. And, and just hear his voice and see him and, and sort of how have the the father and son moment, if you will, yeah. That that we didn't get to have. So that got all serious all of a sudden, no,


Blake St. Onge  27:11

I mean, that's such a I mean, it's such a real answer. And, you know, my my father passed away when I was 11. And it's just, and now I'm a father, I'm a father of three boys, all this is seven. And to have that, that connection, you know, with your kids, if you just have to have kids, it's just Yeah. It's almost like that realization now as you're older with kids like, wow, like, what you sort of lost in that period of time is a lot, you know, and then to come to terms with that. And then, yeah, it'd be it. That's a it's a really real answer. And I and and I just appreciate, you know, where that comes from.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  27:47

So yeah, you will have, you know, as, as your kids get older, that will have special meaning for you. Yeah, for sure.


Blake St. Onge  27:56

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Yeah.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  27:57

That's interesting that we have that. Yeah, I have that in common. No, real. It's not. To be a no, it's I I always, always I've got a special respect for people in that club. Yeah, that's that. That's a very hard sad club. Very complicated club to be part of. Anyways. Yeah.


Blake St. Onge  28:19

Yeah. Okay, well, lighter note. Yeah. So where can people find more about you? And then more about the standard? Yeah, where can they find find you?


Bob Speltz, The Standard  28:29

Let's see. You can find more about the standard at our at our website. Our homepage is Okay. Gosh, you can find me on Twitter, Bob underscore speltz. Let's see. I'm also easily located on LinkedIn, or Facebook, or the Daily Mail on me, or the Daily Mail. Yeah. Yeah, that's exactly right, man. And the photos, you know, they were not photos that we shared with them. But the story Yeah, oh, they always get photos. They're, they're an amazing news gathering organization.


Blake St. Onge  29:06

I work we're My partner and I was you know, she and I are watching the crown. And it's very interesting that you know, of courses I don't know if you saw this factionalism. It's not whatever but just thinking about like, what the news outlets you know, as my wife and I watched that is just like, yeah, interesting. So now Trent, like you sort of see some of the things that go on, but yeah, huge


Bob Speltz, The Standard  29:28

fan of the round. Yeah,


Blake St. Onge  29:29

yeah, he's really interesting.


Bob Speltz, The Standard  29:31

I hope it I hope that's got an I don't think it's got 10 more seasons, but


Blake St. Onge  29:35

well, don't tell me anything, because we're only through season one. So I won't Oh, we're just starting season two


Bob Speltz, The Standard  29:40

good. Oh, this is season two. It's fun. Now we got we got to get through. Yeah, it's it's awesome. rational. That would be my advice is don't bust through it in one sitting. Yeah. And save it and savor it. Because it's, it's good. It's exceptionally well done. Yeah.


Blake St. Onge  29:55

Yeah. Well, well, thanks so much for the time today. I really appreciate you sharing you know about you. Bye. Your your, you know, your past your sort of career journey and what the standards doing and just thank you for all the work you're doing in our community too. It's just, it's really, really influential stuff. So, Thanks, Mike. This


Bob Speltz, The Standard  30:12

has been a lot of fun. Yeah. Appreciate it.


Blake St. Onge  30:14

Thanks. You bet. Thank you for listening to think beyond space, the PBX workplace insider podcast. To follow along and get additional insights from each episode, visit slash Portland. Please also take a minute to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.