Send your staff home


How can I keep my IT staff happy? As CIO, this question should top your list of priorities. Not because you're looking for a Miss (or Mr.) Congeniality title, but because your company simply can't afford to lose its workers. The best way to keep them might be to send them home.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the United States is experiencing "the tightest labor market in memory." According to a 1997 survey conducted by Watson Wyatt, a management consulting firm in Bethesda, Md., 86% of employers claim they are having trouble attracting new employees, and 58% admit they are having difficulty retaining the staff they have. You've got to work harder than ever to keep your IT workers satisfied.

Industry analysts estimate that replacing a senior manager could run more than $20,000. Assuming that a company with a turnover rate of 20% considers itself successful, well, you do the math. Companies are losing a whole lot of money in this arena.

Despite these numbers, Watson Wyatt's survey reveals that only 58% of companies have developed formal recruiting processes. A mere one-third of employers have employee retention programs in operation. Why is there such a disconnect? Because, although it's usually easy to recognize a problem, resolving it effectively is a whole other ball game.

For instance, a large New England manufacturing company has established a workplace task force, which found that the overwhelming majority of IT personnel wanted to telecommute. The task force drafted a proposal for a pilot project, but the CIO suspended his decision on it for a year because he thought the benchmarks on telecommuting were incomplete.

While benchmarks can be an invaluable tool, and this magazine wholeheartedly promotes gaining proof of profitability from every IT venture, the old saying, Desperate times call for desperate measures, seems particularly apt. A pilot project with clearly defined parameters, such as five employees telecommuting two days per week for a three-month trial run, may go a long way toward convincing a staff that management is aware of its needs. What's more, telecommuting projects may actually reduce a company's overhead. With fewer workers in the office, the company would have to pay for less space, fewer phone lines, etc.

Telecommuting is here to stay. Advanced Technology Staffing (ATS), a research firm in Redwood Shores, Calif., recently published "The Virtual Workplace" white paper, which indicates that more than 50% of IT consultants telecommute in some aspect of their job, and 93% want telecommuting contracts. Says Dominique Black, CEO at ATS, "Companies [that] have embraced the virtual workplace are just ahead of the trend [that] will play a significant role in attracting the most highly skilled IT professionals." The study also shows that most IT workers within corporations are considering moving to independent consulting work, and that once they leave the corporate setting, they are unlikely to return to it. Don't lose your staff to your competitors by ruling out this work option. //


The lure of consulting

There was a time when IT professionals turned to consulting because they were "between jobs," but that time has passed. A survey conducted by Advanced Technology Staffing indicates that the IT consulting population will number more than 2 million by the year 2000--a 17% annual growth rate.

Perks like this one might explain why: "[We offer] a competitive compensation and benefits package. This includes stock options and a stock purchase plan, casual dress every day, tuition reimbursement, and much more!" It's not surprising then, that last February, when the San Jose Mercury News asked IT programmers if they had ever worked as independent contractors, most respondents answered, "Not yet."

Illustration by Mike Reagan