Achieving Work-Life Integration at a High-Growth Startup
Growing up in the Bay Area, I naturally caught the startup bug early. I started a company with my college roommates (both electrical engineering and computer science majors) and after that I was hooked. The pace of innovation, the constant iteration and the sheer amount of problems that need to be solved in order to grow a business from nothing to something resonates deeply with me.
Throughout my career I’ve been on both sides of the coin: successful startups that feel like a rocketship and those that feel like the Titantic, swiftly sinking into the abyss. The popular notion of startup life is one filled with free snacks, scooters and 100-hour work weeks. While the truth lies somewhere in between, the real startup challenge is how to recruit a workforce of top talent that is diverse and engaged in the mission at hand. Demanding 80 to 100-hour work weeks will naturally define the type of employees you can recruit, and therefore reduce your likelihood of recruiting stellar talent that also have real life responsibilities outside of work.
I have certainly experienced the world of high-growth startups and the 80 to 100-hour work weeks. But as it turns out, employees that are fresh out of college grow and mature in their lives. Some get married, some have children and their natural set of broader responsibilities matures as well. Some folks have profound responsibilities to care for ailing parents, younger siblings or extended family. By demanding a culture bound by time rather than outputs you alienate these amazing people from joining and contributing to your business and mission.
A little over a year ago I decided it was time to make my next career move. Work-life balance was top of mind, almost to the point where I over-indexed on companies that were family-focused and family-friendly. I actually spent a lot of time evaluating that factor instead of the company’s people, product and potential.
Then I met Harry, co-founder and CEO of Periscope Data. He spoke of diversity and respect for different backgrounds in a way that was authentic and refreshing. (Check out some recent thoughts he shared with Ellen Pao of Project Include.) His priorities were clearly tied to business outcomes — not the number of bodies in the office at any given time — and that gave me a lot of confidence in him as a leader. I joined the company in September 2016 and signed up for the mission to help him grow the company from a 40-person startup in the Dogpatch to a large international brand in data analytics. Since then, the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has only become more apparent, as we’ve codified our values and participated in initiatives like Project Include.
After almost a year at Periscope Data, I’ve been able to crystallize my views on the subject of successfully balancing one’s work and personal commitments. So, how can you continue to do your best work while leaving time for a fulfilling life?
Keep Lines of Communication Open.
When I first joined Periscope Data, I told Harry openly about my family obligations and that spending time with my three young children was critical for my family to be successful, but also for me to be successful at work. I kept an open dialogue with Harry over the past year about times that I needed to work from home in the morning or a day that was required to attend a pre-school parade. He has never approached these conversations with anything but understanding and respect.
It’s not enough to communicate with your professional contacts. You need to communicate just as much — if not moreso — with your spouse or partner. My wife is amazing in many ways, she is the love of my life and my partner. Career decisions that affect our family are made together and our alignment is a critical part of my ability to successfully manage my business and personal life.
So in turn, when I made the decision to join Periscope Data, my wife and I discussed what would be required of me to make this successful — including some travel, time away from the family and weekend work. We have an open line of communication. My commitment to my family is to be home for dinner and bedtime routines with my children as often as possible and once the children go to sleep I will plug back on to follow up with work.
There are a lot of family commitments that are important to me, like dropping my kids off at school or attending doctor appointments. I can pencil those into my calendar in advance, so colleagues know when I’ll be in and out of the office. And of course unexpected things will come up from time to time, like my three-year-old needing 16 stitches after a playground tumble. But it’s nothing that communication — a text, a Slack, an email, etc. — can’t overcome.
As a result, I make sure I maximize my time in the office. In fact, I’ve found that folks with kids tend to be pretty efficient with their time. For instance, I generally don’t take lunch breaks. I realize that it’s an hour of time I’m in the office and take full advantage of the opportunity, meaning I’ll get some additional work done from my desk or take meetings.
Everyone at my company knows I have kids. It’s not just because I’m extremely proud of them, but also because being a parent is a large part of my identity and important context for my coworkers to have. When you are open about these aspects of your life, you normalize them and can create a relatable experience for your peers — especially those who are or will soon become working parents themselves.
When I joined Periscope Data, there were 40 people, and very few had small children. As a member of the leadership team, it is my job to lead by example, and not just in the work I do. I view it as a personal duty to demonstrate how balancing work and personal commitments is respected by Periscope Data and show, in action, how it can be successfully achieved.
I set the stage pretty early in my tenure by bringing my whole family to our company Halloween party.
Despite what this picture may lead you to believe, successfully balancing your personal and professional life — even at a high-growth startup — isn’t limited to superheroes.
Don’t Balance. Integrate.
Ultimately, work-life balance doesn’t really exist. Life is not a perfectly balanced seesaw, it is a pendulum that swings in opposite directions. Be honest about it, communicate it and over-index on one side or the other when life requires it.
In order to achieve this, integrate your work and life and communicate openly and transparently to all parties. Work-life integration recognizes these two areas are inextricably intertwined and you need to look at the whole picture. Focus on managing relationships and expectations, and having a clear idea of what’s personally and professionally important to you. Of course, like all relationships, how the other party responds is important, and in this case Periscope Data places a high value on employee happiness. Here, I can be sure I’m doing the best work of my career while being the father and husband my family deserves.