Silicon Valley. That magical place where employees not only work incredibly long hours but also get access to quirky benefits that create an environment many consider perfect for career development. Gareth Hawkey, CEO at redPanda Software, a local custom software development firm, highlights a few lessons local companies can take to heart to look after their most important asset – their people.
“While many South African businesses might baulk at the idea of unlimited vacation days or even a full year of paid maternity or paternity leave, it is evident by the successes of Silicon Valley that there are merits in rethinking what a work environment is supposed to be,” he explains.
At last count, the famed Valley was home to approximately 2,000 tech companies, the densest concentration of its kind anywhere in the world. With many of those leaders in their fields, differentiating oneself is more than just about the work. It is about the workplace built around it.
“But to simply try and recreate Silicon Valley in other parts of the world will not work. Instead, one needs to take into consideration the ethos of what that environment has created and emulate that within the South African corporate culture.”
In the ICT sector specifically, Hawkey believes this is especially challenging as employees want to work at companies that are unique in their approaches to problems. They see and hear what is happening in Silicon Valley and want to go there and experience it for themselves.
“Traditionally, South African businesses have been stuck in a certain way of doing things around human resources and skills development. Over the years, this has started to change - but the country is still a far cry from the innovative practices taking place in California.”
A management overhaul?
Building good ICT solutions requires good people. And the best way to attract those talented individuals is to offer them support from a management perspective.
“For example, developers want the opportunity to progress within an organisation and be exposed to as many different things as possible. They, like so many others, are hard-working individuals that want to be fulfilled and become successful. One of the biggest lessons to take from Silicon Valley is in how companies there are able to nurture both the professional and personal sides of each person, ensuring sustainable and balanced growth of the individual.”
To this end, he feels it is important to have a creative environment where people can do something besides work. From their side, redPanda Software offers rooms where employees can learn to paint or play musical instruments. Or, there are opportunities to tend a bonsai garden or build an R2D2 replica.
“Businesses must realise that providing employees with an avenue to be creative will filter through to their professional lives. It is all about giving people opportunities to grow as individuals within the business. For this to happen, management needs to work much closer with people than what it is perhaps used to.”
Passion inspires perfection
If there is one thing to be gleaned from Silicon Valley, it is that people are passionate not only in their skills, but in their attitudes as well. Providing employees with mentorship opportunities and having a supportive environment are integral in creating a business that reflects the requirements of the digital age.
“A beautiful office is just one part of this dynamic. People want to work together and employees want to grow as individuals within the business. Cutting-edge software development can only happen because everybody is excited. Similarly, any other job needs people to come together and work in a place that is not your typical, grey corporate environment.”
Ultimately, Hawkey says, it is about creating a second home for people. You want to have your employees care about you and grow with your business. And that is one of the best lessons that South African companies can learn from Silicon Valley…sure, the technology is great, but it cannot be created without passionate people.