Leading global travel search site Skyscanner has found a number of ways to keep its employees at the heart of its strategy; ensuring they remain engaged and happy as well as reflecting its business objectives.
The organisation has made significant changes to its flexible benefits package and launched Your World in 2017. Throughout the year, Skyscanner championed its wellbeing benefits; launching an employee assistance programme (EAP), which included a global discount to Headspace, as well as introducing quiet rooms and allowing employees to take part in a mindfulness course via its internal university. Skyscanner also introduced Maker Time Wednesday, a weekly date where no meetings are allowed to be scheduled.
Julia Clement, head of reward, says: “We wanted to introduce an easy way of bringing mindfulness to our employees and help them live their lives in a way they can relate to.”
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As well as a healthy mind, the physical health of employees is also taken care of with complimentary fresh and dried fruit, vegetables, hummus and popcorn. The organisation also has quirky running machine desks, massage chairs and regular on-site yoga classes.
Skyscanner’s aim is to offer benefits that make employees feel that they are being looked after and listened to.
Thinking outside the standard benefits box
As well as focusing on employees’ health and wellbeing, Skyscanner has introduced benefits that are of mutual benefit to both the growth of the organisation and the personal development of its employees, take for example its hack days. The hack days allow employees to work on projects that are not necessarily what they are tasked to do on a day to day basis.
“It allows employees to work and test a new idea to see if it would work and a lot of the business is based on test and fail,” explains Clement. “It might take us into a different direction than we thought it would. Our thinking is that we’re travellers ourselves, making products for fellow travellers. We’re always thinking about what travellers’ problems we can solve, so an example of a hack day might be a group coming together to brainstorm this and ‘hack’ smaller product feature ideas. The outcome is then shared with the business and experimented upon.”
One of its head turning benefits has to be its Discover China incentive. Employees can get a reimbursement, up to a limit, for a trip to China if they come back with a great product idea. Applications were accepted in 2017 with the view of employees travelling in 2018. So far 20 employees have visited the country coming back with product suggestions, and some of the ideas are being treated as viable options.
“The ideas from a product point of view are fascinating and useful,” says Clement. “We have a leap of faith assumption in the business that a lot of emerging technology is being used in China or in Asia. It’s where a lot of the apps we find are from so we gave everyone in the organisation an opportunity to take a trip if they wanted to and receive money off a ticket to China, on the basis that they come back with a product idea.”
However, pushing the boundaries of benefits and offering incentives such as Discover China is not without its challenges. The organisation encourages employees to be vocal and takes on board great ideas, however insurance companies are not quite as welcoming and can be resistance in insuring some activities, explains Clement. “We try and actively find benefits that are ‘out there’ in the market, as you can imagine with our age, demographic and nationalities they want to do different things. We listen to everybody but not everything our employees want to do is possible.”
Although there is a travel-based theme around a number of its benefits, Skyscanner also actively encourages its employees to utilise their skills to help others closer to home. Its charity days, where employees can take off “One Day” to give back to charity, is an exercise in getting employees to utilise their technical skills and give back to the local community by offering their time to charitable organisations.
Uniting its workforce
Another way that employees can take advantage of travel is by temporarily basing themselves at one of Skyscanner’s 10 offices around the world. As well as London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, it also has offices in Barcelona, Beijing, Budapest, Miami, Singapore, Shenzhen and Sofia. Borne out of a suggestion by an employee, who voiced the opinion that it would great if they could work at any of the locations around the world, the organisation has set up a multi-office benefit for all of its employees. Annually, they can now work 30 days at another Skyscanner location.
Clement says: “We value people meeting face-to-face and employees have the opportunity to work in different offices. It’s a great opportunity to travel, work and meet people you are often talking to on a regular basis. Looking at our demographic and the nature of our workforce it makes sense. We have over 50 different nationalities within the UK alone and what we wanted to do was say ‘we understand what our employees want’ and whenever possible allow them to do it.”
Another opportunity that allows employees to work at another location other than their main office is the home country working benefit. Employees can work three weeks a year from their home country and the organisation finds this is one of its most popular benefits with a high take up.
“People really value the home country working that we have because we have so many different nationalities that the ability to go and work from your home is really valued,” explains Clement. “We have the technology to facilitate that and employees can take advantage of the cheaper flights travelling before Christmas, for example.”
Creating a transparent workplace
As part of its listening to employees philosophy, Skyscanner advocates a transparent culture and have town hall meetings where employees can ask questions bi-weekly. Each town hall meeting is led by a different team in the organisation. No questions are off limits and the organisation finds it’s an effective forum.
Employees can also ask questions and give further feedback via blog posts on the intranet, a hub where the organisation communicates messages to its employees.
“We release our benefits on blog posts internally and if we also have particular assets we want to highlight we do this in other ways too,” explains Clement. “We have a company flat channel which we use on a regular basis. If there are any particular messages we really want to highlight, we use TV screens.”
When the organisation launched Our World in the UK, it ran a survey to see just if it had got the level of communicating the benefits right and 97% of its employees spoke favourably about the content of the communications they received, with a further 93% citing they were happy the overall level of communications.
Clement says that it is important that not only does the benefits package help to attract the best employees but also help it to engage and reflect the organisation’s values. “The benefits should reflect and support employees both at work and at home, and ultimately, the benefits offering should be in line with our business offering which is as simple as possible.”
Skyscanner at a glance
Chief executive officer Gareth Williams launched Skyscanner in 2001 after feeling frustrated at the length of time it took to manually search for the best flight deals online. Now, 17 years later, the organisation enables users to not only search and compare flights, but to also do the same for car hire and different travel options.
Expanding globally, Skyscanner now has offices in 10 locations and has approximately 1,150 employees, with 250 employees in the UK and just over 900 employees globally.
Employees have an average tenure of three years, with an average age of 30 and a gender split of 70% male and 30% female. A high percentage of employees who were with the organisation at launch are still working there today.
Skyscanner’s primary business objective since launch is, and continues to be, making travel search as simple as possible.
Its major focus for the future is growing the business by utilising emerging technology.
The organisation wants to continue to recruit and develop the best talent in the technology business.
Julia Clement joined Skyscanner in October 2016 as head of reward, she previously worked as head of reward at King and spent 10 years at Expedia in a numerous roles.
Clement cites one of her greatest achievements to date as the creation of the Discover China incentive. The opportunity has seen a number of employees travelling together and returning with real possibilities that could potentially have a positive impact on the business.
Clement’s other greatest achievement is transforming Skyscanner’s manual benefits system into a benefits platform that is much closer to the experience its users have on the Skyscanner site and apps. The time-saving new system also gives the reward team more time to focus on interesting projects to support the business.