Ivan Seselj shares his blueprint for creating a strong and appealing workplace that attracts the best IT talent.
Ask people in the technology industry to describe their ideal work environment and you’re likely to hear stories of pool tables, free canteens and flexible hours. Popularised by Silicon Valley giants such as Google and Facebook, these places tend to have more in common with a university campus than a conventional business office.
But creating a truly appealing and productive workplace takes a lot more than futuristic fit-outs and subsidised food. It’s important to think much more broadly about what your organisation has to offer and why people would want to work there.
Such considerations are particularly important in a market like New Zealand. This is a beautiful part of the globe, but we’re also a world away from recognised technology industry hubs like California, Israel and Ireland.
To attract and retain the very best talent, we need to take a holistic approach to the work environments we create.
At the heart of a truly successful organisation must be a set of values that guide its activities every day. They must embody the goals of the organisation and those attributes that make it truly stand out in the market place.
Initially I didn’t buy into the fuss about values. But as our business has grown, their importance as the compass for our business behaviour has become increasingly clear. Today they form the backbone of who we are and how we do what we do.
The five Promapp values are: ‘love simplicity’; ‘be passionate and over deliver’; ‘we win as a team’; ‘trust and respect: we’re in it together’; and, ‘may the fun be with you’.
Clearly understanding and communicating your values – anywhere from the boardroom to the mailroom – will ensure staff feel passionate about what they do.
Rather than simply going through the motions, they’ll understand how they fit into the bigger picture and are making a real difference.
Successful workplaces also tend to be managed by people with a particular leadership style. Gone are the days of rigid hierarchies and top-down communication processes. Instead, successful companies opt for flatter structures that encourage more open communication and exchanges of ideas.
Management should also encourage the formation of strong teams, often comprising people from different parts of the business. A fresh pair of eyes can bring a different perspective to a challenge or issue, and cross-pollination can deliver benefits in unexpected ways.
Everyone in the company should be encouraged to give feedback and suggest how things could be improved. Managers of successful companies are always in listening mode.
Maintain a start-up mentality
This can be challenging to achieve as a business grows, but companies that manage to maintain a start-up mentality make themselves attractive places to work. Employees love the buzz of working somewhere where things are moving quickly, and if this atmosphere exists they’re more likely to come on board.
Maintaining a start-up culture also means letting staff know that it’s okay to fail. New ideas should be encouraged and people given the flexibility to try them out.
If something doesn’t work as planned, it’s a matter of dusting yourself down and starting again.
It’s also important staff don’t feel as though they're constantly getting bogged down in tedious processes and bureaucracy. Stay true to your nimble start-up beginnings and good morale will be maintained.
While strong culture and clear values are critical, they don’t negate the need for an appealing physical workplace. Pleasant, well-equipped surroundings where people can feel both comfortable and productive are important for attracting and retaining the best talent.
Pool tables and bean bags have their place, but so do stand-up desks, meeting spaces and quiet zones. You expect your staff to constantly give 100 percent to their jobs, and creating the best possible work environment will help this become reality.
In some cases, making workplaces pet and child-friendly can also pay big dividends. Removing some of the barriers between work and personal life can go a long way to keeping staff happy and productive.
Having an attractive workplace is great, but you also need to find qualified staff to fill it. Increasingly, IT companies are thinking beyond the traditional job advertisement and using other avenues to find the best candidates.
This can include tapping into networks such as LinkedIn or using the social contacts of existing staff members. Personal recommendations are a powerful force and can be used to communicate your strong company culture and reasons why it’s a great place to work.
It might be tempting to think that the best and brightest talent can only be found overseas, but it’s a mistake to discount the large number of local prospects.
It’s also important that your recruiting processes ensure chosen candidates are the right fit for your company’s culture. Ensure your business values are communicated early and those selected feel aligned to organisational goals and objectives.
Creating a strong and appealing workplace doesn’t happen overnight. But, by following these strategies, one can be created and nurtured as your business grows. The benefit will be a workforce that’s enthusiastic, productive and loyal.
Ivan Seselj is CEO of IT company Promapp.
How Promapp created a winning workplace
- Twice-yearly get-togethers: Every six months, all staff worldwide are flown to a central location to meet colleagues and be informed of the company’s plans.
- Values endorsed by leadership team: Values are guiding principles for behaviour, and are prioritised and referred to regularly.
- ‘Moondays’: In each month where there’s no public holiday, staff are given the first Monday off work, rewarding them for the extra time they’ve put in above and beyond rostered hours.
- A commitment to recruit for culture: People are critical to success and are intentionally hired for how well they fit with our culture.
- Beers on Friday: Everyone downs tools and grabs a beer at 4pm each Friday. It’s a great way to relax and socialise after a hectic week of work.
- Fun activities that create a relaxing environment: Productivity drops when you focus on a screen all day, so table tennis and Sega rally cars are great ways to reboot.