NZ companies sweeten the deal for talented techies

New Zealand is facing a shortage of highly skilled IT workers, with companies vying for the best talent.

But while it used to be a case of ‘we want you’, companies are now realising it’s more a case of ‘do you want us?’ 

According to the Deloitte’s ‘Global Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the New World of Work’ survey, worldwide the majority of organisations are failing to move with the times by improving their culture – and potentially jeopardizing future growth.

Employees’ lack of engagement is of major concern with HR and business leaders, with 87% citing it as their top issue.

While the Googles and Apples of the world are making their employees more than engaged and comfortable with chunky salaries and awesome perks, the Kiwi tech sector is stepping up its game.

In the heart of central Newmarket sits the Vend office, and chief people officer Kimberley Gilmour says the company works hard to create an office space that reflects their values.

“Our office has a mixture of the practical and the fun to create a productive, collaborative and enjoyable work environment. This includes shiny new Mac hardware, different spaces and set-ups so people can choose how and where they want to work, fruit and snacks, ping-pong and pool tables, a keg full of NZ craft beer, and dogs in the office.”

Gilmour says that people need to feel valued, and that having fun extras are part of that, but the perks that really matter are more pragmatic.

“We’ve learned that the ‘perks’ that make a real difference are practical, like having reliable technology, areas for quiet thinking and for collaboration, having a car park, and being near to public transport and great places to eat. If you can make your employee’s working lives a little easier, a little more fun, and give them the freedom to do their best work however that might be – plus a constant supply of coffee – that’s something they’ll really appreciate.”

Xero literally offers it employees a piece of the company, with an incentive plan with shares as its currency. Other attractive elements – that seem to becoming ever more present in the IT sector – are the relaxed attire, free fruit and soft drinks, and pool and ping pong tables.

Moa Group, the craft beer company, has launched its ‘Moa Employee Share Option Scheme’ to reward and incentivise its staff for their contribution to the company and stay with it on its journey. Moa employees are issued up to 1.2 million share options, representing 2.5% of the company’s shares.

TradeMe’s Jeff Hunkin says that the company looks to attract those who are a good fit with the company’s culture and are passionate about what they do, inside and outside the office. They adopt an ‘informal but serious’ work ethic – Stubbies, jandals, bare feet and hoodies may make an appearance – but it’s still all heads down and tails up when it comes to getting the work done.

Dual-purpose perks mean while the office landscape looks entertaining, it’s also efficient.

“We have a bunch of slides in our Wellington HQ – including a three-storey beast that connects the top and bottom floor,” says Hunkin.  

“Yes they’re fun, but they’re also a great way to connect three floors of people together. We also have pool tables – we play pool on them, but also use them regularly for stand-up meetings as we make a decision on a curly issue or what to do next.” 

For those techies looking for a social calendar that extends past the water cooler, TradeMe has the bases covered.

“We run organised events for staff throughout the year including a couple of annual All Company get-togethers called TradeMe Good Times,” says Hunkin.

“We also put on fortnightly staff lunches. But most of the things organised around here are by staff getting off their butts and making things happen – like our involvement in the KidsCan Santa Run, the Special Kids Christmas Party, donating blood and a Red Cross clothing collection that is currently under way.”

Cold ones are shared on a Friday arvo around the keg in the staff café, and ‘Club Soda’, the staff-led social club, organises regular events like quiz nights, ski trips, and fundraisers.

Giving employees the power to make changes also aids engagement says Hunkin, with many of the ideas and traditions that have emerged over the years steaming from staff ideas and input.

Yet there’s so much more to it than just funky offices, although they do make a good first impression. While the culture of a company is not a tangible asset, its lack of presence is soon felt.

Gilmour says that the biggest benefits at Vend are the more intangible things. 

“Like the talented and fun people we get to work with, the amazing culture that’s been built, feeling supported and trusted, the ability to truly be yourself (including wearing whatever you like to work) and the opportunity to learn, contribute, and be part of a disruptive company competing on a global stage. These are what attract and motivate people and make Vend a great place to work."

Of course, the next step is to see – and measure – how all of these great ideas are really making a difference, both from a recruiting and retaining perspective. The local IT market looks set to impress, but with such a competitive market, staying ahead is going to mean being a bit creative and clever.