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Zahn also says Garden.com’s reputation for working with cutting-edge technology helps. “We went from legacy systems to a pure Java shop,” he says. “We have a lot of buzz about us, especially in Austin.” The buzz has helped Garden.com recruit from local universities. “Java developers are hard to get so we’ve gone to the University of Texas and brought some people fresh out of school so we could grow them and mentor them here,” Zahn says.
A slice of home
All these companies also try to bring a slice of home to the office. Inforte has a Sony Playstation, the product of one of its clients, in a break room. Lands’ End has an 80,000-square-foot entertainment/fitness facility with swimming pool, running track and other amenities. It also offers employees Lands’ End clothing at cost. Fogdog has a gym on site as well as a foosball table, a ping pong table and a putting green.
Some companies keep employees in touch with the head of the company to keep them in the loop and make them feel important. Garden.com has a happy hour every other Friday to keep employees up to date about what is going on in the company. Fogdog has a Thursday social. “Sometimes it’s difficult to keep everyone on track and these meetings are so people know exactly what’s going on,” says Fogdog’s Chen.
The blender contest
But sometimes crazier things come up. Fogdog employees have started a blender contest where one employee blends an entire meal from a fast-food restaurant and takes bets on how much he can drink. While these events may seem more social than business, Fogdog and Garden.com say they have contributed to lower turnover.
Another approach-one that Inforte has adopted-recognizes that employees have a life outside of work. In the consulting business many people are away from their homes for extended periods. Inforte allows staffers to work from a home office or work on assignment Tuesdays through Thursdays, then be home the rest of the week.
Inforte also is conducting more in-house projects, which require less travel. Evidence that these programs work with Inforte’s 326 employees is the company’s 7% turnover rate. “In the past people really wanted to travel,” says Gang. “But we really want people to have a life outside of Inforte.”
While the market today is pointing toward a bit more stability in employee ranks, don’t count out the lure of the IPO if the financing world for dot-coms changes. Like everything else Internet related, employees jumping overboard for stock market riches could become a part of the market again faster than you can say BMW Z3.