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Navigating Family Emergencies at Atomic with Flexible Scheduling

I recently found myself in a situation where I needed to use an Atomic benefit that isn’t as well codified as some of the others (like vacation time). My wife—who was 31 weeks pregnant at the time—was in a car accident and had to spend a week in the hospital.

When you’re in my position and need to be in the hospital for a week to take care of your significant other, what do you do?

Three Concerns

  1. My first concern, of course, was for the health and safety of my family. My wife was never in mortal danger (if she had not been pregnant, a hospital stay would not have been warranted), but she was in a great amount of discomfort and distress, and I needed to be there to comfort her. Atomic supported this by backing me up when I had to miss time from work. Before I could ask, a managing partner told me explicitly, “Do not worry about coming in to work until your family is completely healthy.”
  2. My second concern was for lost income. At Atomic, we are paid for the hours we work, and we track all of our hours. I don’t get paid to hang out in the hospital unless I’m the one getting medical treatment (which would be sick time). So if I spend a week in the hospital, I lose half a paycheck, which is important because hospital stays don’t come cheap.
  3. My third concern was for my vacation time—something I prefer to spend in a non-stressful way to avoid burn-out and have fun with my family. Who wants to burn their vacation enjoying the view out of a hospital window?

Three Choices

I had three options on how to deal with the lost time, but before I lay them out, let me elaborate on Atomic’s expectations for how much employees should work:

  • The expectation for full-time employees is 40 hours each week, on average. Sick time, vacation time, billable work, and non-billable work all contribute to this figure.
  • This information is only gathered as an average over a quarter. So if you take personal time (unpaid) for a day and make it up over the course of the next month, good job! You’re complying with the required number of hours.

With that in mind, here were my options for dealing with the lost time and using Atomic’s flexible schedule benefit:

  1. I could punch Personal Time and make it up over the course of a quarter. This is the Atomic Flexible Schedule benefit. A week is a lot of time to make up over a quarter, but it might be preferable to spending vacation days.
  2. I could punch vacation time if I needed some income. This isn’t great for concern #3, but it handles concerns #1 and #2 quite nicely. If I wanted more time for vacation, I could work 30 minutes extra each day for a quarter, and boom! I’d have about four days of vacation.
  3. I could work from the hospital. Easier said than done, because being in the hospital with your significant other is stressful in ways that you cannot anticipate, even when things are stable and safe. However, it is nice to be able to whip out your laptop when you have an idea for the project you’re working on, and bill an hour or two. And since we structure our teams and projects so that we can work remotely and asynchronously, it’s very doable. This option is great for concerns #2 and #3, but it doesn’t jive as well with concern #1, speaking from experience.

In the end, I used a combination of all three choices to make up the lost time. I worked as much as I could while my wife was in the hospital, punched vacation time to meet my income needs after that, and then punched personal time in order to conserve my vacation.

Although I didn’t love my time in the hospital, I did appreciate how Atomic’s policies and managing partners handled the situation. I felt like Atomic cared about my family before they cared about me doing billable work. At the end of the day, that’s what makes a company a great place to work.