Virgin Airlines focuses on being a great place to work

Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work competition ...

Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work competition is a great way to get recognition for IT departments, says Mike Cope, IT director at Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

The company won the travel category in 2008's competition, and the award has stepped up his team's focus on how important it is to have a great place to work.

"Quite often, IT projects will get recognition because they have achieved something for the business. This kind of thing does not usually get the same level of recognition.

"The award helped us to recognise people's efforts, which is very important. A lot of people work very hard on making it a great place to work and it is good to have their work appreciated."

Judges were impressed by the company's commitment to motivating its staff. It runs job shadowing and secondment schemes, and all IT staff can experience working on the front line at airports. Flexible working is normal for most staff, with some who commute long distances working compressed hours for four days a week, and others being able to work longer hours, then take time off in lieu for family commitments.

Judges said these flexible working arrangements allowed staff to balance work and life commitments with minimal disruption. Making flexible working the norm, rather than an exception, showed the airline's commitment to providing staff with a good work-life balance, they said.

"We want to motivate people," said Cope. "We are trying to make it a fun place to work, so that people come here because they really want to come here, rather than just because it pays their salary. That way, they are more likely to do a great job."

He added getting, and acting on, feedback from staff is important for the department. "It is important to take feedback on how we can improve things, we have a very open culture around taking comments, suggestions and even criticisms."

The airline industry is likely to be one of the worst hit by the recession, with the high price of oil and declining passenger numbers hitting profits hard. But Cope said this will not stop his company investing in staff training.

"We have a real focus on training," he said. "The airline industry is very difficult right now, profits are very thin. But we are still investing in training, because we know that if we don't, staff will not have the skills to do everything they need to do."

The culture of a department, which can be hard to pin down, is what really makes somewhere a great place to work, said Cope. Every month the IT team has departmental meetings, where staff talk about what is happening at the moment, and are encouraged to communicate and ask questions.

Individual parts of the IT department, such as the airport team, or the team which oversees the website, go out for team meals once a quarter, so they can get to know each other better in a more social environment, said Cope.

Since winning, the department has redoubled its efforts to be a great place to work. "We have not changed very much, but we have given more attention to lots of things. People now appreciate more how important it is to make a company a great place to work. The team were all very honoured to win the award, and it has helped us to give the issue even more focus."

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