Atmosphere of trust and independence is crucial in workplace

Any definition of a 'best place to work' has to take into account a list of disparate ingredients. Some of these apply only to IT professionals, and some could be applied to any place of work.

Any definition of a 'best place to work' has to take into account a list of disparate ingredients. Some of these apply only to IT professionals, and some could be applied to any place of work.

For Margaret Smith, chief executive of IT directors' organisation CIO-Connect, who is one of the judges at this year's Computer Weekly Best Place to Work in IT Awards, the ingredients are highly varied, but all essential.

"The key differentiators of an IT department that make it a best place to work include great and challenging work, career opportunities and supportive bosses who speak with their staff and are receptive to their ideas and input," she says.

For Smith, an atmosphere of trust and independence is crucial. IT professionals, highly trained and each with their own specialised skill set, want freedom to act. "They shouldn't have to be subjected to nit-picking sign-off processes for insignificant amounts of spend or decisions that have limited implications."

A best place to work should be managed with a light, but sure touch.Too much bureaucracy or heavy-handed management can be a complete turn off. For that reason, Smith cautions against becoming excessively constrained by current concerns over IT governance. "Governance is vital to do and comply with, but it needs to be pragmatic," she says.

The role of the head of IT is critical in creating and maintaining a supportive, challenging and productive working environment.

"Their role is to set the culture and make sure that what they believe is happening actually does happen," says Smith. "They need to listen out for being told what people believe they want to hear."

While it is easy to see why an employee prefers a good place to work, what is in it from the employer's point of view? Plenty, says Smith - and there is never a time not to ensure staff are happy.

"In good times you need to ensure happy staff so they stay, or you will face big recruitment costs and projects being impacted. In bad times you need to ensure happy staff, otherwise, although they will stay - because they have to - they will be disgruntled and productivity will dip."

Having a satisfied workforce also helps an organisation to carry out change programmes with the least disruption. To give that necessary confidence in their management, "you'll need to talk to staff to help them through the change, and help them see it is good for their careers and their CVs," says Smith.

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