Search ends for Australia's best IT employer

The scores have been tallied and the results are in.Over the next three days, ZDNet Australia&nbsp will unveil Australia's top employers of tech talent.

Best IT Employer Award winners unveiled

The scores have been tallied and the results are in.

Over the next three days, ZDNet Australia&nbsp will unveil Australia's top employers of tech talent.

In July, we asked readers to nominate Australia's best IT employer for 2004. The votes rolled in from all over the country and by August, ten companies were shortlisted based on the number of votes each received, given their size.

However, it didn't end there. To really identify the IT workplaces of choice, we required each company to survey a number of its IT staff. The results came directly back to ZDNet Australia&nbsp to ensure privacy and confidentiality.

What did the winners have in common? Big or small, those companies that consistently polled the best were those that provided high levels of flexibility to staff, especially when it came to balancing work and family issues.

The survey looked at everything from the sorts of career paths and professional development opportunities companies provided, to each organisation's work practices, and management techniques.

Getting a surprise nomination was fine, but allowing their employees to respond to a survey they had neither designed nor vetted was too risky for some. EDS said it was happy for its employees to participate, but weren't about to hand out any of the surveys on our behalf.

Other companies such as IBM, Alcatel and Acer embraced the challenge enthusiastically, and their willingness to participate spoke volumes about the extent to which they support their employees.

The surveys covered three broad categories; career and development, atmosphere and communication, and technical environment. Finally the employees were asked how happy they were overall, and asked to provide some comments about their employers. Each of these areas were given a similar weight in the results.

And while previous winners have included some of Australia's largest IT companies, the strong performance of smaller companies this year showed that you don't have to be working with a big brand name to achieve job satisfaction.

ZDNet Australia&nbsp would like to thank all employees and employers who participated in this year's Best IT Employer Award. The winners are as follows:


Third runner-up
This company is one of the top storage vendors in the world.

First runner-up
Two companies tie for this spot.

The grand prize winner is ....

ZDNet Australia's Best IT Employer Award is supported by the Australian Computer Society and SEEK IT. Entry conditions can be found here.


EMC Australia: Third runner-up

The third runner-up for the 2004 Best IT Employer Award is storage vendor EMC Australia.

When ZDNet Australia&nbsp asked some EMC employees to rate their company they gave it an 8.1 for the developmental and career opportunities it provides, an 8.7 for atmosphere and communications, and 8.6 for the technical environment and extras. When asked how happy they were on a scale on 1 to 10, EMCs employees gave the company 9.1.

It was this overall approval rating that pushed EMC into third place, with a score of 8.6.

With 350 staff across Australia and New Zealand, and offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth, EMC slotted neatly in between the very small and very large companies which made it into this year's top ten employers list.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback from EMC employees seems a tribute to the extent to which leadership, and positive work practices are generated at the top.

When he took on the position of managing director in 2001, Steve Redman came with a vision of the sort of work place he wanted to create at EMC. Success at EMC had traditionally been measured purely on sales figures, and overall morale was low.

"I don't want to get in the lift in the morning and have people complain that they have to come to work," Redman says. "We spend a third of our lives at work, and a third of our lives in bed, so it is important to get a good bed and get your work place right."

Redman's first move was to bring in management consultants Hewitt Associates, and to develop a program designed to inspire and motivate EMC employees.

"It's not rocket science, we needed to go back to the basics and focus on our core values," Redman says. "The four areas we identified were, the setting of clear goals and values, recognising and rewarding good work, providing staff development and above average remuneration."

When filling out the ZDNet surveys EMC employees pointed to a range of factors which make the company a great place to work. In one instant senior staff sacrificed their office views to create a "staff space" behind the reception area.

"A large amount of money was spent refurbishing the office in North Sydney to create a 'staff space' behind reception, which enjoys the best views in the building and the most natural light," explained one EMC employee. "[It has] couches, a great coffee machine, drinks and magazines. We have staff sporting teams, supported by the organisation, a social club which puts on balls, BBQs and family days, which is also supported by the organisation, and we have trips for R&R."

EMC also managed to sustain the early gains made through the annual Power of One Award, given to two or more employees each quarter, and recognising a commitment the new work culture the company was attempting to create.

"A lot of the ideas we are using now didn't come from the management consultants in the first place, they came from our staff in lunches I have with all the nominees for our Power of One awards," Redman says.

Such ideas include a kid's day where everyone is encouraged to bring their children to the office.

"We organise lollies and a clown as well," Redman says. "My son is always asking to come in to work with me because he thinks it is like that everyday."

EMC employees also have access to subsidised books and are encouraged to participate in industry groups like the Women's Leadership Forum.

"I'm not doing this so we're a nicer place to work, I'm doing this so we're a better place to work," Redman says. "We are doing 25 percent growth in a market growing at 5 percent annually so we must be getting something right. People are happy and it is paying off for the business."

As for taking third place as Australia's Best IT employer award, Redman says he reluctant to consider his program as a success.

"We turned a company which had average practices when it came to dealing with people, into a place people actually want to come to work at," Redman says. "But we're still going, I really would love the staff to think this is the best place to work, next time around I want to be first."

ZDNet Australia's Best IT Employer Award is supported by the Australian Computer Society and SEEK IT. Entry conditions can be found here.


WestNet and Techex tie for silver

Scraping ahead of EMC with an overall score of 8.7, Perth based ISP WestNet and communications specialists Techex Communications share the podium for the first runner-up position.

WestNet employees gave the ISP an 8.1 for the developmental and career opportunities it provides, a 9.3 for atmosphere and communications, and 8.2 for the technical environment and extras. When asked how happy they were on a scale on 1 to 10, WestNet's employees gave the company 9.3.

While their overall approval rating was high, it was company's capacity to create a good workplace environment carried it into the top three.

Having earned his stripes in the family business while growing up, WestNet managing director Peter Brown says he bases his management approach on common sense rather than specific policies.

"There are no formulas, I've never been one to follow a textbook, I think you should treat staff the way you'd want to be treated. I always try to thank the staff and walk around the office all the time," Brown says.

Interestingly Brown's commitment to getting out and about in the office is not being lost on his employees, and it seems to have permeated the culture of the company as a whole.

"I think the best thing about working for WestNet is the team environment," one WestNet employee wrote in ZDNet Australia&nbsp's employee survey. "I can pretty much walk up to any employee, the managing director, the general manager, any of the board of directors or even the new guy/girl on helpdesk or accounts and have a conversation with any of them. How many companies have over 150 staff where the MD walks in the kitchen and has a bit of chin wag with you and knows what you probably got up to on the weekend or the name of your girlfriend or kids?"

What's more, as the company faces continued growth, Brown is keen to maintain the environment created thus far.

"I believe as long as we have that culture the rest will take care of itself," Brown says. "Sometimes the employees here take such pride in the business, it is as though it belonged to them."

Talking, walking and parking spaces
Also on an overall score of 8.7, Sydney-based broadband and communications specialists Techex Communications scraped ahead based on its high overall satisfaction score.

From its beach side location in Manly, Techex's tiny headcount gave the company 8.5 for the developmental and career opportunities it provides, an 8.8 for atmosphere and communications, 8.3 for the technical environment and extras and a 9.1 for overall satisfaction.

Techex managing director Chris Collinge is a fervent believer in finding the right staff in the first place, and then keeping them happy.

"I always look for a person with less technical qualifications, but the right attitude," Collinge says. "If they can demonstrate an interest in the customer, then we can teach them the rest."

And while other finalists put their success down to a strong HR team, Collinge believes his capacity to directly address any work-related issues is appreciated by his staff.

"Larger companies have a dedicated HR department, here I look after it, and I'm always looking for a win-win situation, because that will be the best for the company," Collinge says.

Indeed his approach seems to be paying off, with Techex's employees commenting on how the atmosphere at the company encouraged them to think outside the square. This creativity is further stimulated, according to the surveys, by a relaxed environment, which fosters innovation. In fact the only complaint was a lack of Tim Tams on the coffee trolley.

"We have a great environment, everyone's got water views, everyone's got a car spot and a lap top if they want it, and a broadband connection with secure access to work," Collinge explains.

However, Collinge believes employers' responsibilities to their staff does not stop at close of business, and Techex invests in staff education, and provides generous family orientated support for its staff, such as maternity leave.

"We do a lot more than the minimum requirements," Collinge says. "We had one employee who needed to move to Brisbane, so we created a role for her there, that way we didn't have to lose her."

Editor's note: Techex was recently acquired by web hosting company Destra.

ZDNet Australia's Best IT Employer Award is supported by the Australian Computer Society and SEEK IT. Entry conditions can be found here.


APCS bags the gold medal

When Craig Dennis and Scott Coleman founded Australian Project and Consulting Services (APCS) from their home offices four years ago, they weren't sure how big the company was to grow, or how successful they would be in targeting the niche demand for IT project management.

What they did know was that they wanted a company quite unlike any other they themselves had ever worked for.

"Our very first point on the business plan is that we wanted to be family friendly," explains Dennis, a director with APCS. "We had both worked very hard at other companies or in government, and missed out on spending time with our families as a result. We weren't prepared to do that any more, and we weren't about to ask our employees to do what we wouldn't."

As with runner up Techex Communications, APCS offers its employees a secure high-speed Internet connection from home so work can be juggled around family commitments if and when required.

"I didn't see my family for a couple of years, and came out with a philosophy that from day to day it is important to have a pretty good work-life balance," says Coleman, APCS managing director. "We all work long hours, but we give employees the flexibility to choose the hours they operate in because they are senior people, and we trust them to know that they need to achieve. Then we recognise that achievement."

In fact, if APCS employees meet current targets, Coleman has promised to fly the whole office, family in tow, to an island holiday.

Whether it's the holidays or the flexibility, or something else entirely, the approach Coleman and Dennis have taken, has worked. Not only did the company achieve the highest rating overall, it also edged out all other finalists in almost every section.

When ZDNet Australia&nbsp asked APCS employees to rate their company they gave it an 8.6 for the developmental and career opportunities it provides, an 9.5 for atmosphere and communications, and 8.9 for the technical environment and extras. When asked how happy they were on a scale on 1 to 10, APCS' employees gave the company 9.2.

Overall the company achieved a score of 9.1, and snatching the gold medal from under the noses of some of Australia's largest and most successful IT companies.

APCS employees said the company's approach to openness and flexibility begins in the open plan office design, and permeates every aspect of the company's operations.

"APCS is a small company where the directors are very much hands on with the staff. The working atmosphere is very relaxed and the staff understand that the more successful APCS is, the more successful the employee will be," explained one employee. "Many of the staff work off-site from the APCS head office yet Scott and Craig make all the staff feel very much a part of the company. Monthly meetings are held to ensure there is the contact between all staff and that everybody is aware of what is happening in the company."

As with other finalists, APCS also manages to integrate an element of fun into its operations.

"We laugh a lot and get on really well, there are several events per year that recognise our families be they dinners or barbecues," said one employee. "The office is really designed around treating clients well, treating staff well and continuously improving."

In the end however, both Coleman and Dennis believe their efforts to create a first-rate work environment more than pay off in terms of flexibility, staff retention and overall commitment.

"For whatever reason all our staff feel they have a little piece of our business," Dennis says. "And they are very committed to our success."

However, rather than striving for growth, Coleman says the company would rather opt for a long-term business plan which features more of the same.

"We have no desire to rule the world," Coleman says. "We have no intention of growing the company on a large scale, we are more interested in continuing to do what we do, well."

ZDNet Australia's Best IT Employer Award is supported by the Australian Computer Society and SEEK IT. Entry conditions can be found here.