Article

A Focus on Innovation and Learning at REA Group


WORK180Oct 23, 2019

Grace Peng wanted to study design at university, but her Dad could see the economy was on the cusp of the dot-com boom and bribed her to go and study IT with a new computer of her own. She turned up on day one of university thinking, ‘what have I signed up for?’ but now says, “it turned out to be the best decision I made.”

Following two years as a web designer, Grace built games and flashy campaign sites using her creative flair as a flash developer for six years until Flash ‘died’, then transitioned to front end web development at Net-A-Porter and is now the Lead Developer at REA Group where she’s been a developer for the past six years.

Being Supported Through Parental Leave

We asked Grace what’s kept her at REA Group all these years, and she told us,

“REA is great when it comes to work life balance. I've had two kids in the last five and a half years, so I've taken 10 months maternity leave twice and I’ve had so much support from REA, my managers and team.”

When she first returned from parental leave, Grace worked 75% of her hours (whilst being paid 100%) so she could settle into the routine of drop offs and pick-ups, and now she works four days a week. There were also ‘Check-in Days’ where she could bring her new baby in to connect with other new parents currently on leave to help create a shared experience.

Periodic check ins from her manager whilst on parental leave meant she,“still felt connected, but without information overload.”

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Encouraging Innovation

Grace also enjoys the culture of innovation and learning at REA Group and the opportunities to do exciting new work.

REA Group holds a three-day hackathon called REAio three times a year, to encourage innovation and creativity. On day one participants pitch their project and highlight what they need in terms of people and support to make it happen, then join teams and work together to try and create a prototype of the pitch. Day three sees teams set up a marketplace to help other employees learn about the ideas and outcomes.

Grace participated in REAio one year and pitched her ‘Travel Time’ feature. Her idea was to add Travel Times to property listings, allowing potential owners to enter common locations such as their work address, and the website then calculates travel times by car, bicycle and public transport. Her pitch was strong enough that a product manager jumped on board and helped her take the idea from the hack day right through to production within two weeks.

“It’s really great, because it allows everyone to be super creative and gives you a chance to work on things you wouldn't normally get to in your day to day.”

Lots of passion projects come out of the hack day, with many presentations of ways to improve the search experience and a number of ideas rolling into production.

Building a Learning Culture

REA Group also has a focus on learning and has a number of Guilds with fortnightly presentations to encourage employees to learn from each other. There is a focus on a breadth of internal training, from iOS Boot Camp to Cloud Engineering to Incident Management. There’s always an opportunity to broaden your knowledge base and skills.

Instead of everyone working solo, REA Group uses a pairing culture, giving people a chance to learn from each other, mentor and be mentored, and encourage critical thinking on issues.

“Learning is such an integrated thing at REA,” Grace tells us.

To help create and embed this learning culture, Grace encourages knowledge sharing through a weekly internal team showcase of things they’ve learned or created in the past week.

A Career in Problem Solving

Grace hasn’t looked back since the free computer bribe, and when we asked her why she liked developing so much she told us:

“The best thing about my career and why I love it is it's all about problem solving, and the problems we solve are always interesting.

“If it weren't for that bribe, I would never have considered IT because I knew absolutely nothing about computers. Since going down that path, I’m in the perfect industry for me and I'm loving my job and the challenges of web development.”

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