Best Places to Work in IT 2009: the winners

The Best Places to Work in IT Awards 2009 were celebrated in London on 22 May. Here we profile the winning workplaces.

The Best Places to Work in IT Awards 2009 were celebrated in London on 22 May. Here we profile the winning workplaces.

In Photos: Best places to work in IT 2009


Denplan

Best of the best (>200 employees)

Category winner: Business and professional services

IT staff at dental payment plan firm Denplan rated it highly in achieving its formal goals of treating employees fairly and encouraging teamwork.

The firm achieved top scores in both the business and professional services category and overall among organisations with 200 or more employees.

According to Denplan, the staff survey is one of the most important benefits of taking part in the Computer Weekly Best Places to Work in IT competition.

Staff feedback is clearly important to the firm, which conducts its own survey each year to ensure it is doing all it can to keep employees happy.

This internal survey has led to all sorts of changes, from toasters in the kitchens, and hand cream in the loos, to extra holiday, the firm says.

The holiday benefits are indeed generous, with 28 days’ leave after five years’ service and five additional days on the fifth, tenth and fifteenth anniversaries.

Staff praised the "excellent" benefits and incentives, but it is the encouraging and challenging working environment they value most.

Management support in a culture of openness and honesty with fair treatment and flexible working featured prominently in the questionnaires completed by staff.

The focus on quality of projects rather than delivery and the culture of goal-oriented collaboration were also highlighted.

Most felt there was nothing or very little that could be done to make Denplan a better place to work.

However, it seems that space and resources are sometimes an issue, with one employee commenting, "The department is growing but the building is not."


IDIS

Best of the best (<199 employees)

Category winner: Health, social care, not for profit

Weybridge-based IDIS sources and supplies medicines to UK hospitals and pharmacies. With customers in over 60 countries worldwide, it supplies 600 different medicines a month to medical professionals.

The company encourages staff by awarding "Bright Stars" to recognise outstanding performance or commitment from individuals and teams. Half of the IT team members have been recognised in this way.

"We work hard and at the same time know how to enjoy ourselves. We have a social committee dedicated to organising regular events, from go-karting, to theatre trips, to day trips to Brussels," the company says.

Its staff agree, saying they value the friendly environment, stimulating projects and freedom the company offers.

One employee said, "The work is interesting and varied; I feel I add value to the business. The people are very pleasant, full of enthusiasm, professional and cooperative at all levels of the business."

Another said staff are given "clear direction on what has to be achieved by when and why" and the workplace offers a "relaxed and friendly environment where you can express your feelings and opinions knowing they will be valued".


Happy Computers

Category winner: IT service suppliers

London-based computer training company Happy Computers believes that learning should be fun.

The company describes work/life balance as "Life Balance" and makes it integral to the culture and ethos of Happy.

"Life Balance is part of our induction process, part of our appraisal system and part of our company-wide feedback system. It is a key reason why staff externally are attracted to apply for jobs with us and one of the key reasons that staff give us for staying at Happy."

More than half (65%) of its staff rate flexibility and life balance policies as one of the main reasons they stay at the company.

Commenting on work/life balance at Happy, one employe said, "I am able to support my children in school and work away from the office. We are trusted and given freedom to do things the way we want. We are judged on results, not on time spent doing [the job]."


Network Rail

Category winner: Government and public services

Network Rail information management carries out some 150 IT projects every year. It provides services to over 35,000 people and over 20 different train and freight operating companies.

The organisation prides itself on offering flexible working. There are opportunities for job sharing, part-time work, and compressed hours through a nine-day fortnight. Staff can also apply for sabbaticals and paternity leave.

Network Rail encourages mobile working. This year it has bought 1,100 data cards for staff across the company, and 50 for the information management team.

The company makes rooms available for prayer meetings and offers weekly yoga classes on site. There is a stress awareness page on its intranet offering advice for managing stress at work.

Staff say that working in the organisation offers great scope for variety.

"The organisation is large enough to be able to take up employment in convenient locations and obtain a variety of career moves in different departments," said one employee.

"There are so many challenges to get stuck into, and the company is doing all the right things to escape from its under-achieving past," said another.

There are also the benefits of "great work colleagues" and a "sense of being part of an organisation that is delivering significantly important solutions for the UK".


Data Connection

Category winner: IT software and hardware suppliers

Data Connection, the network protocols software division of MetaSwitch, came out on top in the fiercely contested IT software and hardware suppliers category. It triumphed in this category in 2007, and its in-house IT Support team won in the SME category in 2003 and in the "more than 250 employees" category in 2005.

The company, founded in 1981, has a slightly unusual ownership structure. It is privately held by investment firms Francisco Partners and Sequoia Capital, as well as an Employee Benefit Trust (EBT), which distributes a share of the profit to all employees, rewarding them for their contribution and encouraging long-term commitment.

It has four offices in the UK, and two in the US. Its revenue in 2007-2008 was $118m, and profit was $22m.

Data Connection says it is out to make money, but distribute it equitably, do difficult things well, develop people, have fun and evolve. This message is communicated to all new starters and is published on its internal "Knowledge Base".

It said, "At Data Connection the emphasis is on the individual. From involvement in major company decisions, personal tailored training and development, sharing in the company’s success to supportive management, it is all about developing and rewarding employees… Work/life balance at Data Connection is a reality, not a slogan. Employees work hard, but within a supportive and positive environment."

Its employees echo this. "There is an open management style, no bureaucracy, intelligent and capable colleagues," said one.

Another said, "There is a good team atmosphere, everyone contributes to the team effort. We have lots of varied work, and the opportunity to offer feedback and be listened to."

Asked what could be better, another said, "Not a great deal. It seems to be a lot better than where I worked previously. If anything, it has improved in my 11-year term".


Sainsbury’s

Category winner: Retail, wholesale and logistics

Sainsbury’s, one of the big four supermarket chains in the UK, runs over 500 supermarkets and 270 convenience stores. It was the winner in the retail category last year too.

Communications is one of the company’s strengths. "We have weekly huddles and newsletters to share business updates, project news and successes," the company says. "These are supported by quarterly conference events. Feedback is encouraged and is formalised annually with a colleague survey."

Sainsbury’s encourages IT staff to develop retail skills to understand the wider business and impact of IT. They can adopt a store or work at one during peak time at Christmas, for example. The company recognises success and rewards staff with "duvet days" and vouchers.

The IT department organises an annual IT showcase for the business to demonstrate the role IT plays within retailing.

Staff say they value Sainsbury’s openness and its relaxed and supportive environment.

"I have the freedom to influence and change things around me that I feel hold us back as an organisation. To be empowered like this makes me feel as if I, as an individual, can really make a difference," said one staff member.

"The office and location are superb and there are no barriers between management and senior management. Our board director is extremely friendly and approachable and known to all," said another.


Britannia Building Society

Category winner: Banking and financial services

Britannia Building Society is a mutual which puts treating its customers at the forefront of its values.

It also values its IT staff, which is vital because offering mortgages, savings accounts, investment services, loans and insurance requires state-of-the-art IT systems, as well as dedicated teams to support it.

The company introduced a scheme called Mutual Preferences, which enables flexible working for its staff. These include flexi-time and compressed working, which is full-time hours compressed into fewer than five days a week.

Many members of IT staff praised the flexible working as something that made it a good place to work. But the company’s values and the work environment were also seen as major contributors to workers’ content.

When asked what makes the company a good place to work, one employee said that being part of a successful IT team is important. "Good environment and a good track record on delivering IT projects using internal staff to both manage and deliver. We have a good working relationship between all IT support teams."

IT staff are also happy with their future career development opportunities at Britannia. "It gives me a clear career path and training as wanted. It cares about its staff and I am more than a number," said one employee in the IT department.


Shepherd Construction

Category winner: Manufacturing, engineering, construction, utilities

York-based Shepherd Construction came out on top in this category. Among its current projects are those at City Point in Leeds, Walsall College of Arts & Technology, and the Centre for Tropical and Infectious Diseases at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

The company’s values are commitment, honesty and integrity, innovation, customer focus, openness, safety and teamwork and leadership.

Shepherd Construction said, "Working for our in-house team gives the opportunity to get closer to the business and see the effect of the technology on the users. You can feel part of helping the company to achieve its vision.

"We use a variety of technologies, and there is always scope for innovation. The team is small enough to ensure that people get the opportunity to be involved in varied activities, but large enough to give a progression path.

"All members of our team have the opportunity to interact with users at all levels within the business on a regular basis, not only providing support, but also helping them establish the requirements for software we write ourselves, or for solutions that we buy in from outside. No day is ever the same, and there is always the opportunity to learn something new."

One employee said, "You always get the feeling that people in the company want their colleagues to be successful rather than being in competition with them. This works across departments as well as within."

Another said, "There is an excellent working atmosphere among immediate colleagues and those of other departments. Management are supportive and progressive."

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