My daughter was born early and my company actually cared
How Skyscanner helps you find the right work/life balance
By Ash Sole
When I joined Skyscanner, people told me the company had a good work/life balance. At the time I was skeptical and didn’t even know what they meant by it. All modern tech companies say the same thing, but what do they mean? Surely what’s a good balance for one person is not good for another? What about when a deadline is looming, is it still easy to get that balance right?
For me, the reality is that if you have to consider your work/life balance, then you probably haven’t got it right. The fact that we consider a “balance” between the two, shows that we consider one bad, and one good. Like work is bad and you have to introduce more life in order to balance it out.
But work shouldn’t be bad, there should only be life and what you choose to do in it.
- I’ve been on a quest to find the right work/life balance for a few years now…
- I’ve tried working 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year
- I’ve tried taking months off at a time
- I’ve tried not working Fridays…
On this journey I have discovered that there is no magic number. Sometimes you want to work more, sometimes less. Sometimes you need to flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. Life changes and how you deal with that change will ultimately define your happiness with life.
How has Skyscanner got it right?
I totally get why people said that Skyscanner had a good work/life balance. Here are my thoughts on how we’ve got it right…
Awesome culture from the ground up
I recently took four weeks off to spend time with my newborn daughter. She was born premature and it was all quite unexpected. I remember the phone call I had with my manager and it went like something this…
Manager: “Congratulations! We want to send you a gift, can I have your address?”
Me: “Of course, thanks very much!
I’ll be off for a while so not sure when I’ll be back yet…”
Manager: “Don’t even think about work, you just get back in touch when you’re ready!”
I came back to work after four weeks, not because I needed to, but because I wanted to.
There was absolutely no pressure from anyone at Skyscanner.
We’re not process heavy, but we are very much about accountability and fairness, so I knew that my manager would have the conversations that needed to happen within the business, on my behalf, to ensure that I could be at home and focused on my daughter.
The culture of the company is not defined at board level. The culture is the people, the way we act with each other is how the culture thrives. If we all want the right work/life balance, we just have to promote it to ourselves and each other and it becomes baked into the core of our company.
Working from home
A friend of mine from a previous company contacted me about working from home at Skyscanner. He asked me what the policy was, how it was implemented, what process was in place for working from home or flexi working and I was like…
“There is no policy, we just do it!”
We have no policy because the company has immense trust in us as employees. It’s this same trust that means we can book holidays without approval.
In companies I’ve been previously you need to justify why you’re working from home, like it’s an exceptional circumstance. How about, instead of my two hour commute I’d like to spend my morning doing some extra reading and have a relaxed breakfast.
This isn’t to say everyone always works from home all the time, just that we’re trusted to decide what works for ourselves, our teams and our company. We’re collocated teams, but we often make special effort to be in the same location because we understand that there are enormous advantages in us actually being in the same place at the same time.
This kind of flexibility is so immensely important to me and immeasurably improves my work/life balance. The business trusts us to do what’s right for ourselves, our teams and our company and it’s great.
Unpaid leave is a thing
Unpaid leave is not a thing at many companies! It’s some dark mysterious act that you can commit if you manage to navigate a request up through seven layers of management successfully. At Skyscanner my experience has been that if you have a reasonable and fair request, then the company will go above and beyond to do what’s right for you as well as the company. The fact that it exists as an option in the holiday booking system speaks volumes.
It isn’t to say all requests for unpaid leave are accepted, but as a company we are saying, managers can use their discretion to make a decision about unpaid leave. There isn’t some central policy governing whether unpaid is allowed or not! We treat people like humans and are understanding when it’s important.
It’s a cultural thing that we have got right!
Can we improve?
Of course there’s always room for improvement, but from my perspective Skyscanner looks to address work/life balance better than anywhere else I’ve worked before. I consider Skyscanner to be part of my life and not a job I dread waking up to each day.
Skyscanner has enabled me to no longer choose between work and life. I just have my life, which Skyscanner is a part of!
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About the Author
I’m Ash, software engineer and technical leader in the London office, with over 10 years experience in industry. I believe in a blameless culture and that the most important thing to deliver products is a strong, happy team. I have a passion for being extremely well organised and believe that a well organised mind is best placed to produce success. I love agile methodologies and am also a keen property investor.