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The No. 1 small place to work in IT:
Noah Consulting

Every employee matters at this virtual consultancy, which taps the best of technology and leadership to create a vibrant, nurturing environment.

June 23, 2014 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Noah Consulting had a couple of hurdles to clear on its way to becoming the No. 1 small place to work in IT: It's an all-virtual company with employees scattered across the country, in a field that's synonymous with long hours and cutthroat competition among co-workers.

Culture comes first at Noah Consulting
With just 60 IT employees, Noah is able to build a culture where consultants are willing to collaborate and pool their knowledge. Senior business analyst Jim Briggs says that team spirit pays off in the form of "a virtual network of people I trust" in California, Atlanta and Chicago. (Credit: Noah Consulting)

So how does the Houston-based information management consultancy counter those oh-so-modern problems and keep its 60 IT employees happy? With a secret weapon that's decidedly old-school: a tug-of-war.

It's a highlight of Noah's annual summer gathering, where consultants and their families are flown in, put up in a hotel and treated to a weekend full of festivities, such as picnic suppers, themed entertainment and other family-friendly activities.

The summer gathering is just one way the small consultancy, which specializes in the oil and gas, energy trading, and power and natural resources industries, fosters work/life balance for employees who spend a lot of time on the road.

"Consulting is a particularly challenging environment to work in," says Shannon Tassin, who co-founded Noah in 2008 with two colleagues, all with more than two decades of experience in oil and gas information consulting at both large and small firms. "We saw the good and bad in these environments, and our intention was to create a consulting company where individuals would come to work and it would be the last job they ever had. We wanted to make it a place where not only do employees feel valued and make connections, but we got to know their families as well."

Getting to know the people who stand behind the employees is just part of the culture that sets Noah apart from other consultancies, says Kelly Guillory, a 20-year IT consulting veteran and now a senior principal at the firm. In addition to the summer gathering, Noah hosts regular happy hours for consultants and their significant others.

While those are great, Guillory says, the real backbone of Noah's family-oriented culture emanates from the firm's leaders. "They give us the benefits that allow us to spend time with our families and be recharged and take care of ourselves," she explains, citing as an example, a leave of absence she took last year to care for her ailing mother. "The partners checked in and sent flowers to my mom when she got out of the hospital. They made me feel like I wasn't just someone working for them making them money, but that they cared about me as a person."

Open-Door Policy

Swept up by all the social activity and camaraderie, Jim Briggs was lured out of retirement to join Noah, first as a contract employee and eventually as a full-time senior business analyst, which he's been for the past two years. Briggs says he likes the socializing, but the real draw was being part of a closely knit network of skilled consultants who are more than willing to collaborate and pool their knowledge -- a mindset that's rare at larger consulting firms, he says, where peers are more apt to be territorial.

"I like having a virtual network of people I trust in California, Atlanta or Chicago," Briggs says, explaining that Noah consultants are dispersed across the country, working out of their homes when they aren't at a client site. "If I'm at a client [site] and I come across some issue, I don't have to be all-knowing. I can tap into the Noah network and get feedback."

Prasanna Balakrishnan, who has 13 years of consulting experience in the oil and gas field and has been a principal at Noah for two years, echoes Briggs' enthusiasm for the collaborative environment. "I don't see any kind of issue with seniority -- it's an environment where you can be comfortable asking questions and can tap into the best expertise in the field and they are very open to sharing knowledge and teaching you," he explains.

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