What Small Businesses Can Learn from Tech Companies

When Google won the most attractive employer award in a list released by Universum recently, the company wasn’t cited for its pay rate or great management abilities. It was, as CNET reported, a sign of a growing trend of college graduates preferring companies with relaxed, casual environments.

Stressed employees can head on over to the company’s rock climbing wall, available for free use to all Google workers. The company offers free food in its cafeterias for employees, as well as free laundry service as a reward. While the latter two perks can be expensive for a small business, the point is that Google is appealing to college graduates because the company seems like a fun place to work, according to these studies.

Granted, roller-blading around the office and having a pool table in the center of your meeting room may not be conducive to daily business. However, the overall point of perks like laundry service is that it encourages employees to stay at the office longer. But it’s just one of many ways IT companies are keeping employees happy while attracting the best new talent.

Small businesses often find it hard to compete with larger companies, who are able to offer better benefits. One thing small businesses can learn from IT companies is that the most attractive perks to young up-and-comers aren’t necessarily health benefits and huge paychecks. A laid-back environment can be very appealing to a recent graduate, who may love the fact that he or she will be encouraged to listen to mp3s through headphones while working or who may choose the luxury of working on an iPad rather than a traditional desktop. In fact, some tech companies, afraid of losing the best talent to competitors, are luring employees with iPads as hiring perks.

Equipping a traditional office can be expensive, and the old cubicle arrangement isn’t too appealing to young, creative types. Some companies are choosing to be more creative with office spaces, knocking down boring cubicle walls and opening up communication between staff members. Companies are using docking stations and laptops to make workers mobile and tooling with software that allows employees to share information more easily, such as content management systems.

One major perk IT offers is the ability to work from home. In fact, in a survey earlier this year by Dice.com, more than one-third of the country’s tech workers said they’d take a pay cut of up to ten percent to be able to work from home. Businesses–technology-related or otherwise–can see significant savings in desk space and electricity by making this one adjustment. While many companies are still reluctant to trust employees with telecommuting, software like Time Doctor can monitor an employee’s productivity during the day. In fact, when employers take into account the amount of time an employee spends commuting, “settling in,” and dealing with interruptions, telecommuting isn’t such a bad solution. One time management expert found that office employees are generally interrupted once every eight minutes. Using modern technology, an employee can be set up at home with a desktop or laptop, a network connection, and remote management software and be working in his or her pajamas instead of sitting in traffic on the way to work.

The number one thing small businesses can learn from big tech giants is how to make the workplace more attractive to young workers. They aren’t looking for the same things that their parents sought 30 years ago, and the business should not reflect 30-year old ideals and values. Big tech is hip, savvy, and fresh, and small businesses can be that way too.

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Stephanie Faris

Stephanie is a freelance writer and young adult/middle grade novelist, who worked in information systems for more than a decade. Her first book, 30 Days of No Gossip, will be released by Simon and Schuster in spring 2014. She lives in Nashville with her husband.

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