From IT firms to desirable workplaces

Pay aside, brand image, corporate structure and employee empowerment all add luster to a technology company's appeal to jobseekers and employees, say recruiters.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

A competitive pay package is an obvious manpower recruitment and retention strategy, but only one piece of what makes a technology company become a truly desirable work environment--and be ranked among the best organizations to work for. That X factor also takes into account market stature, corporate structure and staff empowerment, according to recruiters.

If an organization has a "reputation of being a good paymaster", there is always an element of desire to work for it, said Niharika Chaturvedi, manager of IT contract division at Robert Walters Singapore.

Gerard Chai, office managing director of Korn/Ferry International in Singapore and Indonesia, nonetheless noted that technology companies considered to be desirable workplaces in the eyes of top talent, "have some common threads that do not necessarily align with compensation and benefits".

Brendan Gregor, human resources director, Southeast Asia at SAS, similarly noted that while pay is a crucial factor in attracting the right candidates, the company makes considerable efforts to appeal to other motivations.

The number of long-serving employees and returnees are testament to these efforts, it said. The business analytics giant has, for the second year running, topped Fortune magazine's list of "100 Best Companies to Work For".

Gregor as well as other recruiters were unanimous that besides pay packages, a variety of factors including its image or standing in the market, innovativeness, corporate practices and culture all contribute to making an organization recognized--and renowned--as an attractive one to work for.

Being well-known or just "cool"
In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Sydney-based Gregor said SAS employees appreciate the benefit of working with the industry's best business analytics solutions as well as enjoy the challenge of serving several successful organizations from among SAS' customer base.

Korn/Ferry's Chai noted that the technology companies that people most want to work for are often "highly visible" either in the public eye or within their industry sector. The profile and awareness of the company, its technology and even its corporate culture and social values, are often attractive to top talent.

Robert Walters' Chaturvedi added that the "cool" factor about an employer can be reflected in a company's attitude of embracing new technologies and being on the leading edge of what's happening in a particular space.

"Brands like Google and Facebook are desirable companies because they are ahead of their peers and leading the technology innovation," she said.

Seven-year-old Facebook was included--albeit informally as an additional entry--on news Web site Business Insider's "25 Best Tech Companies To Work For In 2011". Also on the list was Apple, ranked at No. 16.

Incidentally, a yearly survey by Singapore jobs portal JobsCentral released last month found that, for the second consecutive year, Apple was the company most sought after by graduates here. Apple's cool factor, from its iPhone and iPad gadgets, has had a "positive influence on its image as an employer", JobsCentral CEO Lim Der Shing said in a press statement.

Open environment and flat structure
Hierarchy, or the lack thereof, was also noted as a vital component to making a company a desirable one. Myriam Boublil, head of communications and public affairs at Google Southeast Asia, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that Google is organized into "small flat teams" that allow for interaction between all employees, from interns to executives. "A Googler's value to the company is determined by work product, not by their titles or seniority."

The company strives to make sure that "bureaucracy does not stifle our work", she said, noting that fewer reporting levels ensures that decisions are made quickly.

Frequently cited as one of the top tech companies in the world to work for, Google this year was ranked fourth on Fortune's "Top 100 Companies", and fifth on Business Insider's "25 Best Tech Companies".

According to Boublil, the minimal hierarchical structure also ties with another important element--having a corporate environment that encourages open communication.

Google employees are encouraged to "ask questions even to those at the highest level", including CEO and co-founder Larry Page, co-founder Sergey Brin and chairman Eric Schmidt, she said, referring to weekly meetings where any employer can hear from and pose questions to various country executives.

"The exchange of thoughts and opinions helps bridge the geographical distance between Googlers and at the same time helps them stay connected to our headquarters in Mountain View and other offices across the globe," she emphasized.

SAS' Gregor expressed similar sentiments. SAS adopts an "honest, straightforward approach" when sharing information with employees, he said. For instance, wherever possible, news is communicated face-to-face or via videoconferencing. There is also a quarterly staff forum that is used as a regular communication channel to inform staff of financial results and upcoming programs, as well as celebrate success and present awards.

He added that the company's executive team also has an "open door policy" and sets asides time for employees to make suggestions, discuss issues and voice their opinions.

Employee empowerment
According to Chai, corporate cultures differ among the various attractive companies, but they all generally espouse values such as respect for the individual, empowerment with personal accountability, diversity, entrepreneurialism, teamwork, and recognition or rewards for performance.

Gregor of SAS added: "It has always been a core belief that if you look after your people, they will look after your customers who in turn will look after your bottom line."

According to him, the culture at SAS is built on flexibility, trust and values, with the aim of creating an environment that "integrates the company's values with employees' personal needs" such as creativity and a healthy work-life balance.

Chaturvedi highlighted that a flexible work life in particular is a key characteristic of a desirable tech company, given that it is an "accepted fact" that IT staff are sometimes required to work odd hours. Organizations should offer flexible work hours and options which make it easier to employees to adapt and avoid burn out, she advised.

Google's Boublil highlighted the necessity of empowerment within the company, where every employee is not just encouraged--but expected--to speak up when they have ideas that can translate into products. "Talented people are attracted to Google because we empower them to change the world [and] we are focused on giving them the resources to truly make a difference."

For instance, one initiative that facilitates staff empowerment and flexibility is the "20 percent time" program for engineers, which offers them the opportunity and flexibility to work on independent projects of their choosing and interest for about one-fifth of their time.

"Leadership at all levels" is also upheld, Boublil said. Aside from formal leadership and management training programs, learning and teaching are also democratized, where employees sign up to teach fellow colleagues "anything from how to code in Python to how to write a good stand-up comedy act", she pointed out.

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