At Square Roots, we love loving our work, and shaping an empowering and respectful culture for all of our team—including parents and caregivers—is a key ingredient. We bring our company values to life by embedding them in our day-to-day routines and carefully crafting flexible-work policies. To hone in on what our working parents value, we sat down with two: Brannon Skillern, our Head of People and Tyler Blair, our Grand Rapids Program Manager.
As a parent, what do you look for in a workplace?
Brannon Skillern: Well, the obvious answer is a flexible work environment, which already existed at Square Roots when I started here. Beyond that, the things I cared about before I had a family are still true, I’m just much more vehement about it. Now, I have no tolerance for being in a place that’s the wrong fit. I need to really care about the mission, I need to be working with smart, passionate people, and I need to feel like I have professional fulfillment. Given the sacrifice I’m making, being away from my family, I take it very seriously.
Tyler Blair: Definitely flexibility is huge. For example, my aunt usually gets my son off the bus, but she had surgery and wasn't able to this week. Being able to step away is really important. When you’re a parent, your kids are number one, and it can be hard for people to understand that prioritization. So that flexibility, the willingness to work around that, makes all the difference.
What makes an effective flexible work culture? How can companies do it well?
Brannon: I actually think about this a lot. Why does it work here, when it doesn't seem to at other companies? I’ve had experiences where if I have to work from home for some reason, I feel like I shouldn’t work remotely again for another month or two, like it’s always being silently tallied. And I think one of the things we do differently here is that we foster accountability. I know what I’m responsible for in my work, so as long as I’m proactive and get my work done, that’s what’s important. And we hire people who are self-starters with great follow-through who will thrive in that kind of environment.
Tyler: Well, even though a lot of people who work here don’t have kids, it’s still a very family-oriented place. People are just very wholesome, so I love bringing my son in. Everyone gives him high fives, and they’re twirling him around and playing with him. And that all comes from our company values. Being able to bring your kid into work just lets people in on what you’re dealing with so they are better able to understand and be flexible.
Beyond a flexible work culture, is there anything your coworkers do that you really appreciate when it comes to being a working parent?
Tyler: I just really like it when they are interested to know my son and how he’s doing. And when he comes into work with me, everyone is so excited to see him, and I love how much joy it brings them. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I think that mentality really exists at Square Roots because of how collaboratively we work.
Brannon: I would agree. Sometimes I stop myself when I think I'm talking about my kids too much and everyone always says, “no, go on!” like they are genuinely interested, which makes a big difference because it is such a big part of my life.
What do you consider important in a company's parental leave policy?
Brannon: So, having done this a couple of times, I will say that having the flexibility to work remotely in the weeks leading up to your due date is really important for the person who is physically giving birth. Even just commuting can take a serious physical toll. Of course everyone is different, so supporting those physical needs, whatever they are, is important.
In terms of the actual amount of time off given to new parents, I’d say a minimum of three months leave, ideally more. From my experience at a previous job, I was physically able to come into work after three months, but the fact is, my baby wasn’t sleeping through the night so my brain was not operating anywhere close to the level I needed to be at in my role. At Square Roots, we give four months to primary caregivers, which is great, especially for an early-stage startup. And then flexibility upon returning is really important too. Maybe you want to come back part time or work remotely at first. That transition from being with a newborn 24 hours a day to putting them in someone else's care for nine or ten hours a day can be really stark.
Lastly, spouses and non-childbearing partners should absolutely get an extended leave as well. Otherwise, you are automatically setting up a relationship where one person is the default parent and the other person can end up not knowing how to do most things. That dynamic can end up staying true over time and can hurt women’s abilities to move forward in their careers.
Tyler: For me, I was really lucky when I had my son because I was running my own business at the time, so I got to spend a lot of time with him and my wife when he was first born. That time was really important in forging the relationship I have with him. I know a guy who had his daughter on a Thursday, and he was back at work on Monday. I just can’t imagine that, you know? Because your partner’s not sleeping, the baby’s not sleeping, and you’re just trying to figure everything out, and you’re not sure if you’re doing it right. It really just takes the whole family together to be able to get through that time.
What is the funniest question your kid has asked about your job?
Brannon: When I was explaining to my three year old that I was changing jobs, I was thinking of how to explain it to her, so I just said I was going to work on a farm. And she just said, “an urban farm?” (laughs) Her preschool had just done a unit on different types of farming, so she understands more than I thought she would.
What is your kid’s go-to in the office or on the farm activity?
Tyler: My son was at the last farm tour and his favorite things to do were to open and close the lid on the electronic trash can (laughs) and then to just run in constant circles around the farm.