Like many tech startups, Signal Advisors is no stranger to the challenges that come with growing a remote team. While some companies are bringing all of their employees back to the office in droves, Signal Advisors is doubling down on their bet that remote work is best for the company — and its employees.
Founded in Detroit in 2020, Signal Advisors is a growing software company helping revolutionize an outdated financial industry: financial advising. To help financial advisors be more successful in helping clients do important things like save for retirement, Signal has built a software platform that takes the busy work out of running their business.
Signal Advisors founders, Kevin O'Hara, Jake Cohen and Pat Kelly
What started as an effort to provide a better IMO offering (IMOs are independent marketing organizations, which many financial advisors use to run their business), Signal Advisors is now reinventing the traditional tools and services to provide the best offering to their advisors. In 2023, the company launched a new product around wealth management.
“It’s one of the first platforms to integrate both services for financial advisors,” says Kevin O’Hara, CTO at Signal. “Normally, those are separate platforms or companies you’re working with. We’re the first to bring it all into one place. It’s a big initiative for us.”
In order to keep pushing forward and grow the business, Signal has made strategic hiring a huge focus for the company. One of the biggest decisions for the team was deciding to stay remote-first.
When Signal came out of stealth mode right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote hiring became a necessity.
“Building a company remotely hasn’t been easy, but it’s been vital in recruiting new team members with the highest level of expertise and knowledge, in our industry, and outside of the industry, mainly focusing on tech,” says Chad Nieswand, Senior Recruiter at Signal. “We’ve realized that remote work is the future.”
Making Remote Work Work
There’s no doubt that remote work can be challenging. Of course it has its advantages. From a recruiting perspective, it’s been a huge advantage to attract and hire the best candidates. The team can source top industry specialists from Kansas and Iowa, a hotbed for insurance businesses.
And of course, there’s the employee satisfaction. Both Kevin and Chad, as well as Kristina Oberly, Signal’s Head of People, enjoy the flexibility that comes with remote work. For Kevin, it’s being able to coach his son’s baseball team and attend his daughter’s dance competitions, which would have been impossible with his long commute. For Chad, it’s also spending time with his young daughter at home. Kristina loves the flexibility to get in a good workout and focus on her health.
But building and scaling a remote team isn’t easy. Signal’s leadership is constantly trying to make the experience the best it can be for everyone. (Being “obsessed with a better way” is one of their core values, after all.)
“We always make sure we’re hiring really collaborative people who would work well in a remote environment,” says Kevin.
So how do you screen for those employees? The recruiting team has built intentional, candid questions into their structured interview process that can get a sense of a candidate’s ability to work well in a remote-first environment. They suss out their experience with remote work, cross-functional communication, and they even host a session on remote startup culture and communication during the in-person final interview round.
Chad says that the team leans heavily into communication technologies like Slack and Notion to make sure everyone is on the same page. They have a structured company-wide meeting cadence and one-on-one meetings. Monthly manager check-ins, employee check-ins and a continuous feedback model keep the communication flowing.
“It’s important to have an emphasis on transparent communication. It doesn't always work, and we’re not perfect, but we’re making great progress,” says Chad.
Transparency can sound great on paper, but having a culture that encourages feedback is another thing. At Signal, the team takes its company values and culture very seriously, and it’s something they really celebrate. They call them their “Coins,” or the common vernacular that are northstars for the organization. Each month, they host a Coin Ceremony where the founders review and select nominations for team members who have exemplified a specific value. They choose winners and give out coins during an all-company ceremony.
“This recognition and feedback from our leaders has been incredible in establishing a remote culture. It comes from the top down, and it’s something our leaders truly believe in,” says Chad.
Building a remote-first workplace for the future
Committed to building a remote-first workplace, Signal also understands that in-person connections provide real value for the entire team and company, and it can help keep a remote culture healthy.
For the team in Detroit, Signal recently implemented in-office Wednesdays, and they will be rolling out some new initiatives in 2024 to bring together more frequently the people who are located near each other.
“In-person connections truly cultivate a better remote experience and build stronger relationships,” says Kristina.
That’s also why they fly candidates into Detroit for final-round interviews. Candidates have a chance to ask questions, and meet directly with the leaders.
“Changing jobs is a huge life decision. When you don’t bring people together it can lead to a lack of alignment, lack of purpose, or disengagement,” Chad says. “Giving candidates a tangible understanding of Signal’s mission and culture, straight from our leaders, has been an incredible process and experience for our local team to get involved with building Signal, but most importantly candidates.”
Another way Signal brings people together is through Camp Signal and team retreats.
“Once a year, we put out a great event for the whole team to get together. We give an update on the business, hear from team members, host a keynote speaker, and then there’s team building events,” says Kevin. “Camp Signal is something we really look forward to every year. We’ve grown so much over the past year, and it’s a great opportunity to meet new team members.”
That’s really what it’s all about: getting to know the people you spend so much time with.
“You have to be intentional about one-on-one relationship time. It doesn't happen if you’re just working on work. Being in-person gives you those interactions on a personal level,” says Kevin. When the team isn’t together in person, they try to recreate those moments for personal connection through Donut on Slack, game nights, or virtual social interactions.
Building a remote team is tough work, but for Signal, it’s all about putting people first and building the best team — and employee experience — they can.