Ask a working parent what their “work-life balance” looks like, and you might just get an eye roll in response. The fact is that for many working parents, the experience of raising kids and growing a career can feel like a wild teeter-totter ride most of the time.
As we emerge from the intensity of the pandemic, which magnified the competing demands that families face, there’s a lot of talk around a better way. What if instead of forever shuffling and shifting to balance the loads, employers supported folks in integrating the two? In fact, doesn’t it make sense that integration could apply generally to the relationship between work and all of the responsibilities and opportunities that employees juggle?
It’s an approach that Help Scout has championed from the beginning. In a recent note to employees, co-founder and CEO Nick Francis noted that, “Years ago, I heard author and investor Brad Feld suggest ‘work-life harmony’ as a replacement for work-life balance, and I loved it. Work and life don't have on/off switches, which makes balance tricky. I've always found the concept of harmony to be more resonant.”
As a remote-first company, Help Scout has prioritized that commitment to harmony through a culture built around flexibility and autonomy, and the benefit to working parents is real. “One of the joys and privileges of remote work is being present as a parent,” Nick said. “Having the flexibility to pick up the kids from school or take time during the work day to support family members means our teammates can ultimately bring their full selves to work, on their own time. That’s what true work-life blend is all about.”
Interested in hearing what this experience looks like for parents on the Help Scout team? Read this installment in our Here for it: Work + Life series, which offers a glimpse into one team member’s experience of working and parenting in real time.
Product Manager — Pittsford, New York
Whitney Guerrero was sure she would not return to work outside the home once she had children. “Before my husband and I had kids, I thought, ‘I will definitely be a stay-at-home mom. I am made for babies and cuddles and play times and playgrounds all day everyday. That is my calling,’” she said.
When her daughter, Gemma, was born, she left her role in ad tech and did just that. “I was home with her for three-and-a-half years, and I'm so thankful for the time. It was a gift,” Whitney said. But the experience also clarified her desire to continue to grow professionally as well as nurture a family.
She had taken on contract work over those years at home and noticed her drive to develop a career remained a core part of who she was, even as she also grew as a parent. “That time allowed me to work through the idea that maybe what I thought my whole life was going to be is not what actually makes me the best version of myself — or the best mom,” she said.
Fast forward five years, and Whitney is working remotely full time as a product manager for Help Scout. Together with her husband, she is integrating work and family life as mom to Gemma, now five, and sister Cora, who was born in 2021.
Not just any job: An intentional choice to work for a values-driven company
If Whitney was going to return to full-time work, she knew she was only going to work for a remote-first company and only in a culture that allowed her to bring her whole self to work. “My priority was to land at a company that would allow me to make family life work in harmony with my work life and within a team that offered empathy and grace, no matter what your life looks like or the daily responsibilities you carry.”
She found what she was looking for at Help Scout. “From the beginning of the interview process, I immediately felt like I was seen and acknowledged as valuable and ambitious and skilled, even though I had been doing this other thing — contract work and parenting at home — for three years,” she said. “That spoke volumes to me about the people and the culture.”
When she began her new job, she saw that same ethos in action. Throughout the company, the expectation was that people would integrate work and life — be it family, pets, hobbies, or side hustles — throughout their work days. More than that, she saw genuine support for and interest among the team for one another’s commitments and interests outside of work.
“It was apparent pretty quickly that what people care about is that you do your best work — on a schedule that works for you,” Whitney said. While there’s obvious need for some overlap among global team members, she noted, there’s a lot of flexibility and awareness that life is happening alongside work in all time zones — and support for taking the time needed to engage. “It took a few reps, but when I heard ‘yes’ time and again when I would say I had an appointment or wanted to volunteer at my daughter’s school or needed to run an errand, I finally relaxed into the realization that it really was possible to find that support and harmony.”
And, she added, it helps that coaches and company leaders model the same behavior. It’s not uncommon for folks at all levels of the company to block personal time on their calendars — and note specifically that it’s for therapy or for a daughter's basketball game, for instance. “Seeing teammates and leaders be authentic and not try to hide what are normal, healthy aspects of life that we all work to integrate is powerful,” Whitney said. “It’s just clear that we trust people and we're okay being honest about how full and complex our lives are.”
A day in the life of a pretty sweet season
Today, there’s a little twinge of awe in Whitney’s voice when she describes the flow of her days. After returning from parental leave and initially having in-home childcare, the family entered a new phase recently, when Gemma started kindergarten and Cora began going to daycare. “I'm in what feels like a sweet season of life right now, where both kids are happily out of the house all day,” she said, with a bit of relieved laughter that will resonate for many working parents. “I loved the earlier years as a stay-at-home mom, but this is also really nice.”
Whitney and her husband share the task of taking the girls to the bus and daycare in the morning and then generally work 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m. “I'm able to have a full work day at home,” she said, “which feels amazing.” And, the flexibility to change a load of laundry or prep a meal between meetings means she can check off a lot of the to-dos that would otherwise clutter the evening hours. “It makes such a difference that when my kids do come home at night, I'm not trying to squeeze all of my household responsibilities into the two hours that they're awake before bedtime. I can close my computer and be fully present with them for family time at the end of the day.”
Despite the fact that this particular moment in life feels pretty magical, it’s never far from Whitney’s mind that the experience of working parents can be wrought with exhaustion, guilt, and a lot of juggling — even in the best of times. She brings this awareness with her each day as a parent and team member at Help Scout.
“In the same way that I looked to other people when I first joined, I hope that I can offer empathy and an example of how our culture is one of support and flexibility,” she said. “Especially for parents coming back from parental leave, I know that there’s so much happening in those early days, weeks, and months. I'm a year out from Cora’s birth, and it’s still a wild, wild ride. I hope I can just reinforce for others that there’s space and support here to do what they need to do to care for themselves and their family at that time.”
A leap worth taking
“It was a leap for me to go back,” Whitney said, reflecting on the choice to return to full-time work. “But ultimately I knew I was ready and, more, that I needed and wanted to have my own thing, that it would enhance my life as a parent and partner and human being.” Still, after taking parental leave fairly soon after her return to full time, she did wonder if she’d be able to return to full-time work with two kids.
“I remember wondering if it would be OK or if everything would just fall apart. Would the kids get fed? Would the house stay kept? Would I feel as excited about the work, or would I need to bow out?” She found the opposite: “I’m not exaggerating when I say that the first day back at Help Scout from parental leave, in my first meeting, I was almost in tears — good tears. I was so happy that my cheeks hurt from smiling. I was like, oh, these are my people. I'm back. I'm never leaving.”
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