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Skyscanner’s Global People Director on the company’s workforce experience

Employee experience Employee experience
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Sidney SL Lam

If you want to get the best talent, you have to provide the conditions for them to succeed.

The number of startups in Scotland has increased 43% over the last five years to approximately 3,000. Of all of them, Skyscanner, the site that uses hordes of metadata to amalgamate flight prices from around the world is one of the most remarkable.

And with a valuation north of $1bn, it is the largest too.

Today, the company boasts 9 global offices with additional teams based in Barcelona, Beijing, Budapest, Glasgow, Miami, Shenzen and Sofia.

We sat down with Ruth Chandler, its Global People Director to discuss what it was that helped it be voted the 5th best place to work in the UK.

It is well documented that the average job tenure is decreasing, especially amongst millennials who often are willing to swap pay, and even job security for an opportunity to develop. With this in mind, how have you altered your value proposition to prospective employees?

We’ve recently been listed as the fifth best place to work in the UK, and won a special award for ‘Innovation in Engagement’. Our mission is to deliver world-class travel tech solutions, and to do that we require a world-class workforce.

As such, there’s a culture of personal growth that is very deeply embedded here at Skyscanner.

We ask that employees regularly look at their goals and ambitions, both from a short-term and longer term, strategic point of view. We’ve a relatively flat structure, and we empower people across levels of seniority to take ownership of their role and their own responsibilities.

We also have a culture where employees are trusted to sign off their own holidays, manage their own workload and the like.

Innovation is championed, and so too is continued learning. Both are very appealing traits in a company for the kind of people we want to attract. For example, at Skyscanner there are hundreds of employee-led courses that anyone across the business can attend, as well as external courses and conferences.

Our Chief Executive Officers deliver courses for Skyscanner’s emerging leaders too, while our co-founder, Gareth Williams, delivers one on ‘entrepreneurial thinking’.

Our latest staff survey found that 95% of employees felt that their job is interesting and challenging, and I believe that’s indicative of an environment where staff feel like they’re continually developing in an enjoyable and flexible environment. Indeed, when asked the top three best things about working at Skyscanner, employees last month highlighted work/life balance/flexibility, fellow colleagues and personal development and training.

How has automated HR, and the introduction of new HR systems helped free up time for HR professionals to better engage with people issues to create a better overall employment experience?

We have invested in a new HR system, which allows us to have ‘one source of the truth’ – this saves time from having multiple data sources with conflicting data. Our talent team have always been heavily engaged with our people and this continues to deliver positive results.

What does workplace experience mean to Skyscanner?

It means a working environment that supports employees in both their working and personal lives.

That could be in training and development, as we’ve already discussed, or ensuring both work and life fulfilment, for example, having the technology and facilities in place for people to work from home when they need to.

It’s also about ensuring that people enjoy coming to work; whether that’s little perks like an in-house masseuse or barista-style coffee machines, free fruit and drinks or our much-used library.

We’re looking for people who want to tackle technical challenges and who relish the thought of making an impact. That could be an impact on your team, the project you’re working on, the wider business or wider industry. The workplace experience at Skyscanner is one that encourages employees to make the most of their working hours, and make their time at work as rewarding as possible.

Why do you think workforce experience has become such an important issue?

For a business like ours having passionate employees is incredibly important.

People no longer work in the same business from when they graduate to retirement, so organizations need to make the workplace experience as attractive as possible. The past seven years have seen consecutive double-digit growth for us, so we’re constantly recruiting, and recruiting for the best talent out there.

The workforce experience at Skyscanner really sets us apart from the competition. Equally, we’re a high-growth, fast-paced business, so from Skyscanner’s perspective, we need a workplace environment that supports that – one that allows for cross-country, cross-continent collaboration, remote working and much more.

The term culture, particularly in tech, has become an overused buzzword, which often is associated with Ping-Pong tables, slides and beanbags. What does it actually mean to create a differentiated culture that can be replicated across global offices within a hyper-growth environment?

That’s a big question, but first and foremost, it’s not about the Ping-Pong table (although our CEO and co-founder Gareth loves to play table tennis, so don’t tell him that).

At the heart of a company is a set of core values, whether implicit or explicit.

At Skyscanner, these core values focus around a pride in our work, work-life fulfilment, collaboration and a ‘master-teach-learn’ philosophy of constant improvement and learning.

These values have to sit at the heart of our office layout and design as well as our people-related policies and the overall way we work as a business. They were also chosen because they reflect and support our hyper-growth environment. We have ten offices across the world, in Europe, the Americas and Asia, and there is a strong continuity in the Skyscanner culture across these locations. Our employees really value the Skyscanner culture and as our growth accelerates we’ll continue to work hard to ensure our working environment is second to none.

How are using data and analytics to evolve and optimize your role?

As you would expect in a data driven business, data informs everything we do!

We have multiple sources for this data and experiment when new ideas or opportunities arise. For example – the HR team are learning to code, which will enable us to automate manual processes and spend more time on anticipating and forecasting what the business will need next via our analytics.