Which initiatives have you implemented to remotely manage your team during the pandemic?
March 13, 2020, will always be a date that sticks in my mind. It was from this day that all of the Skyscanner offices around the world were closed due to the growing concerns around COVID-19. I remember leaving the office thinking, ‘This will only be for three or four weeks and then we will all be back’. How wrong I was. As it became apparent that this wouldn't be a short-term situation, we had to start thinking about what would need to be adapted and changed to meet the demands of this ‘new’ way of working. We were not only working from home, but also navigating a pandemic that we had never experienced in our lifetimes. So, what did we do?
Communication and flexibility
As a company, we have always valued frequent and transparent two-way communication. Over the past year, we have doubled down in this area, holding regular ‘town hall’ meetings to allow the whole team the opportunity to ask any question – ranging from how we would weather the storm to what we could do to help and support each other.
One area that became apparent very early on in our journey was that you could not just take what you did in the office and translate it to working from home. That may sound odd, but a diary of back-to-back meetings in the office isn't the same as back-to-back meetings at home, which can become very tiring, very quickly; sitting in the same chair in the same position, day in and day out. Although a day at the office might have also had back-to-back meetings, you would have moved meeting spaces regularly, met people on the stairs and had a quick chat, or even just engaged in brief chats outside meeting rooms. All of these small interactions help to break up the day, as opposed to closing one call only to join another with no break or change of scene in between.
Right from the start, the realization that this situation was different and therefore we needed to act differently was an important topic for us. Not only were we moving from in-person working to a remote world of virtual meetings and video calls, but people were also dealing with entirely new and different home situations. In some cases, this included juggling caring responsibilities with work, or balancing mental and physical wellbeing challenges with the desire to keep delivering against goals. We believe strongly in autonomy and responsibility at Skyscanner, and this allowed us to enable individuals to manage their own time in ways that worked best for their professional and personal lives. This flexibility in our approach meant that people felt they were able to set their own boundaries around the best ways of working, ensuring they could take care of the things they needed to at home while continuing to achieve great results at work.
We have always been passionate about helping our teams learn and develop so we proactively encourage internal rotations across the engineering discipline. There is nothing more satisfying for a manager than seeing their team excel, learn and grow. We have a number of interesting and unique challenges in engineering, and we all want to solve problems for our users; allowing our engineers to rotate teams enables them to learn and develop their skills by working on multiple and varied user challenges. Empowering people to work in spaces aligned with their career aspirations is an incredibly important part of building morale and trust within the team.
We publish the available rotation options internally and people can then talk to the squad leads to understand more about the team and what they are working on. If this matches what they would like to do, then the existing manager and new manager agree on a transition plan.
We have recently completed a rotation in my team, and it meant that we were able to allow a number of individuals to see their career aspirations become a reality, from moving into engineering management to leading a completely different tech stack. Career development does not stop because the world we are working in is different. If anything, it becomes even more important to ensure we are having quality career conversations and helping grow our teams no matter our location.
One other area that has helped our teams navigate the change to remote working is our internal mentoring program, where anyone can sign up to be a mentor or a mentee. We have a number of pairings currently running in the business where we are able to match a mentor’s experience with a mentee that is looking for help in their area of expertise. These relationships work across a number of areas in the business – and it’s not just the more-senior team members mentoring those more-junior; we have seen some great results where the case has been the other way round. These mentorships are invaluable when people are working without the physical presence of their colleagues, helping people build connections and learn from each other.
Looking to the future
Over the last year, mental health and wellbeing have really come to the forefront of our thinking. We have all had challenges and encountered struggles in our own way; no two stories will be the same and we all need different kinds of support. Throughout the last year, managers have received training on mental health, and teams have been offered resilience training as well as a subscription to the meditation and mindfulness app, Headspace.
These are just a few of the initiatives we have already put in place to ensure everyone at Skyscanner feels supported and receives the help they need during this incredibly challenging time. We're looking forward to continuing to improve our ways of working as we consider what the 'new normal' will look like in 2021 and beyond.