The Full Remote Work Model: For Some Unimaginable, for Whereby a Happy Reality

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Welcome to another exciting episode of All About HR! This is the podcast & video series for HR Professionals and business leaders who want to future-proof their organization and learn about the latest trends & insights from industry experts, CHROs, and thought leaders.

Why do you need to treat employee experience like a subscription product? Because as long as your employees are happy, they will continue subscribing to their job each month. 

In this episode, we talk to Jessica Hayes, Chief Operating Officer at Whereby, where the work style is fully distributed, flexible, and asynchronous. And the culture aims to enable people to thrive in a flexible and deeply autonomous environment.

Jessica tells us more about:

  • Pros & cons of distributed workforce & asynchronous communication
  • Whereby’s Progression Framework: a career roadmap for team members’ future
  • The power of a T-shaped People Team
  • Compensation and Benefits policy in a remote-first company
  • And much more!

Watch the full video for tips & insights on how to make your organization successful in a distributed and flexible environment, how to build a remote work culture, and how to battle Zoom fatigue.

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Transcript:

Jessica Hayes: But back when you were like on chat rooms or MSN Messenger a little bit back in the day, and I had like MSN friends that went to a different school, I lived in a different town that I like to meet one time or whatever. And my mum was always skeptical that you can’t have friends online. Now, of course, we all know that that’s ridiculous and sounded at the time like, Oh, Mom, you’re so old, you don’t know anything. I kind of feel the same way about people that say things like, Oh, you can’t build a culture online. It’s like, oh, you’re the same as my mom who said I couldn’t have MSN friends. That’s fine. You’ll come around eventually.

Neelie Verlinden: Hi, everyone, and welcome to a new episode of All about HR. My name is Neelie. I’m your host. And in today’s episode, I speak with Jessica Hayes. Up until very recently, Jessica was the VP of people and culture at Whereby, but since August 2021, she is now the Chief Operating Officer at Whereby. We talked about how Jessica built a new kind of people team that is T-shaped at Whereby, and we also talked about wine subscriptions. Sounds interesting. Go watch the episodes.

Neelie Verlinden: Hi, everyone, and welcome to this episode of All about HR. My name is Neelie. I am your host, and on today’s episode, I get to speak with Jessica Hayes. Jessica was until very recently the VP people on culture at a Whereby but she announced, I think just last week, that she will be stepping up in a role as a chief operating officer at Whereby as of August 2021. Congratulations, Jessica.

Jessica Hayes: Thank you so much. Very exciting. Yes, this is the first time I’ve actually been able to say that out loud.

Neelie Verlinden: Now, before we get started, Jessica, perhaps you can tell us a little bit of course about Whereby and about yourself. 

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Jessica Hayes: Sure. So Whereby is a video conferencing platform, we do a couple of different things. So the product that most people are familiar with is very similar to Zoom or Google meets. So it’s a couple of people meeting up together and a chat and a video call, the big differentiator for us is there are no downloads, you can just do it in your browser. So it’s very easy. And also, it’s purposefully designed to avoid things like Zoom fatigue. So it’s very kind of calming and user-centric. And it’s just kind of a nicer experience. And then all of that same process and approach is attached to our second product, which is Whereby embedded which is essentially an API that you can implement or integrate into your own platform or tool or app that you’re building so that you can also have really beautiful video conferencing tools inside whatever it is that you have. So that is Whereby a bit of background on me, I suppose. So I yeah, the CEO at Whereby I’ve previously worked in people operations my entire career. So starting to branch out into kind of more broad business and finance operations and other things as well. And I am based in the Netherlands, but Whereby it’s actually a fully remote company. So I live in Amsterdam, but the majority of us kind of live around Europe somewhere.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, yeah, I saw that. And I mean, at AIHR, we are having our head office headquarters here in the Netherlands as well. But I was wondering how someone originally from Australia ended up living in Amsterdam.

Jessica Hayes: Well, I am lucky or unlucky, depending how you’re asking, to be marrying a Dutchman. So that is my reason for being here. But I do actually love the Netherlands, I’m really pleased to be here. It’s a beautiful country with lovely people and just a great place.

Neelie Verlinden: Nice. Alright, so in today’s conversation, Jessica, I do think that we are going to be touching on a lot of things that were very much linked to your role through your previous role at Whereby, perhaps you can tell our listeners what the philosophy is at Whereby.

Jessica Hayes: Yeah, so our mission for a very long time has been to enable people to live and work where they thrive. So that is obviously very deeply tied to the idea of remote working and more flexible working just kind of more broadly. And because of that mission, and also the way that we approach our culture building and revert to our first workstyle. We are a company whose whole philosophy is really around the idea of trusting each other, we have a deeply autonomous trusting, flexible culture. So it is in some ways, quite a radical place to work. But hopefully we’ll get into what that means.

Neelie Verlinden: Actually, what I really would I really loved about it when I was preparing for this today’s conversation with you and when I was looking into Whereby and the way you were doing things as a food distributors company as well, is really how you you are really putting into practice what you are preaching in terms of your product is to work where you’re thrive. And that is actually what you were doing as well with everybody who works within the company. I thought that was a beautiful thing. Now I wanted to go to last year because I saw that in 2020, I think you quadrupled your team. And not only does everyone work remotely, but often also asynchronously, because they’re based in different countries. Can you tell us how that works? In a nutshell?

Jessica Hayes: Yes, so we have what we call our agnostic working, which means we don’t care when you do your work, as long as you complete what you need to complete, it’s based on output rather than input. So we try to think about the work that you’ve completed rather than the way that you’ve done it. One of the things about flexibility that we talked about a lot is the idea that flexibility is a double-edged sword. So if you are a person that likes to wake up at 11am in the morning and have your stand up at noon, but you have someone your team in a different country, who’s a real morning person that loves to get up at 6am, when the sun is rising and do their work, then you both need to together, negotiate away to make that relationship work together. And I think one of the things that I really deeply think about work is like, somehow, work has been allowed to become this very kind of parental relationship between adults where you kind of get, you know, in any situation in your life, if you were doing something with someone else, like not working, right. So you’re like trying to negotiate a bank loan, or do a bit of freelance work or organize like a side hustle, you know, that, like, you need to figure out a time that works for both of you and have a conversation about that and be a bit flexible on both sides and reach compromises. And like you’re perfectly capable of doing those things. But then funnily enough, when it comes to work, all of a sudden, there’s this idea that all those things about the window, and all of a sudden, people can’t just negotiate sensible agreements and be flexible with each other and kind of give each other the benefit of the doubt if something doesn’t work for them. So at Whereby we try to really avoid that kind of parental relationship. We don’t tell people, you have to be online from time to time, which sometimes means that you may be online at a time that you don’t really like. But that’s your responsibility to work with your colleagues to find a way that works for you. And there are systems in place that if something is consistently not working for you in a way that you find really frustrating and damaging, that’s actually a that’s an issue that we’re happy to pick up and say, the team isn’t giving us personal flexibility, or this isn’t working for the way that we work as a culture. Overall, this idea of our agnostic working really comes back to what I mentioned before about trust and autonomy, right? We just treat people like adults, everyone’s a grown-up, you have a responsibility to make it work. And if you can’t make it work, you don’t want to make it work. That’s actually also Okay, maybe Whereby it’s just not the place for you.

Neelie Verlinden: I think when it comes to flexibility and work, there’s sometimes this misconception that people feel that flexibility is a one-way street, that everything should be flexible for me. But then when we have to bend, sometimes our own schedule a little bit to facilitate the people that we work with, then it becomes a problem. I think that is a misconception. I also think what’s important here, and what I hear from what you’re saying is you just need to be mindful of your colleagues, personal situations, and maybe constraints and then you need to find a solution. But thanks for that. Now. You kind of touched on it a little bit, because you said just treat each other like adults. And let’s just find a way if someone is in a different country, or has different preferred hours of working, you know, to still find a way to just schedule a meeting, for instance. But when you’re in this setup, Jessica, how do you go about things like cooperation and team bonding, for instance.

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Jessica Hayes: So I’ve got a cooperation, I think is very different to team bonding in a way. And team bonding is even more different than social time. So I think sometimes there’s this kind of tendency to kind of merge all these ideas together into one kind of homogenous blob, where it’s like, oh, how do we get our team doing stuff together at the same time, which isn’t? You know, it’s not first principles thinking, which is kind of what I like to try and go back to is like, what are we actually trying to achieve here? And how do we achieve these things? So when it comes to things like bonding and communicating, like getting to know each other, right? I am, like we just mentioned from Australia, and I find it quite frustrating this notion that I somehow wouldn’t be able to bond with my family from across the ocean, right? And you think about that same thought process when it comes to work. Like I still have an incredibly strong bond with every single person that I know, in Australia, even people I haven’t seen for like 10 years, right? I still have conversations with them. I have a friend back home in Australia. I honestly haven’t seen for 10 years, right? We still chat. You still have FaceTime calls. I’ve got a cousin in Vietnam who I haven’t seen for years and years like you can still build relationships online. And we just have the exact same approach whereby right we have slack conversations daily, you have calls if we do get together in person to see each other when you know, COVID travels minutes, then it’s a really nice bonding experience. But these relationships still definitely do exist and you still can’t facilitate them online. And I think allowing yourself to fall into the trap of saying these relationships aren’t as good or something. It’s kind of a dangerous slope to fall down. And I also just don’t really think it’s true. And then the last piece is around collaboration. So just like flexibility, remote collaboration has positives and negatives, right? The positives are, you can kind of get things done. in your own time, in almost a 24 hour cycle decisions can be made. Pretty much throughout the day, we have decisions being made when I’m asleep, because people make decisions doing things. The downside is sometimes decision making can be a bit slower, right? Because people need to wake up or something hasn’t been fed into them. But the pros and cons basically have asynchronous communication. For us, the pros outweigh that we get to have this kind of constant machine of communication that’s always churning, we know that there are certain processes we need to put in place like making decisions on notion pages. So that’s clearly outlined like how decisions would come to who’s fed into them. Having things like open Google Docs forms where people can feed in information before it’s communicated out, for example, doing our very best to record things. So we have a big meeting, people kind of tend to be recorded and shared in the Slack channel afterwards, of course, listen and follow up. And then we do things like our team stand up, for example, by Loom recording once a week. So we still do have a team meeting once a week. But then we also have a team stand up once a week, which is everyone just records a video of how their week is going and shares it with each other. And we watch it and comment. It just there’s certain things that you do just to get used to the way that you do that, and how you can use it in this new world. But yeah, I think the important thing is to decouple the idea of like, what does an update mean? What is team bonding and recognize they all have very different, you know, traits and different purposes? And how do you make those things happen?

Neelie Verlinden: Yes, I fully agree with that. And I thought it was super interesting what you said about your being from Australia. I myself, I’m from the Netherlands, but I do live in France, obviously, that is not at all the same distance by a long way as Netherlands and Australia. But I think it was a very valid point you made there that that doesn’t mean that you cannot have a really strong bond with your friends and family who live in Australia, or in my case in the Netherlands. That’s a good one, actually. And it made me wonder, do you think that that’s maybe an argument from from that could be an argument from coming from people who are not necessarily in favor of it being fully distributed as a way of working?

Jessica Hayes: It depends what their arguments for not being in favor of distribution are right? Like, these are lots of different reasons. I mean, I just finished my law dissertation on the legal implications of remote working. And trust me, there are enough legal implications to make people wary of it. But I do think that for those people that say things like, Oh, it’s impossible to build a culture remotely. Like I just don’t think that’s true at all. I think that that is a little bit of fear-mongering, probably. And also like, it reminds me of back when you were like on chat rooms or MSN Messenger a little bit back in the day, and I had like MSN friends that went to a different school, I lived in a different town that I like to meet one time or whatever. And my mum was always skeptical that you can’t have friends online. Now, of course, we all know that that’s ridiculous and sounded at the time like, Oh, Mom, you’re so old, you don’t know anything. I kind of feel the same way about people that say things like, Oh, you can’t build a culture online. It’s like, oh, you’re the same as my mom who said I couldn’t have MSN friends. That’s fine. You’ll come around eventually.

Neelie Verlinden: The question is just how long? How long is that eventually going to be? But yeah. Now let’s talk about culture for a little bit, Jessica? Because I do think this is something that’s very interesting for a lot of our listeners, of course, what are the implications? Or how does being a fully distributed Compaq impact your company culture? Does it actually have an impact on the company culture?

Jessica Hayes: Yes, I think I mean, it really does. Obviously, every decision that you make in terms of how you work impacts your culture. And for us, it means that you know, if we’re going to be a fully remote company fully distributed. And going back to that idea of first principles we spoke about before, right? Like, there’s no point in applying what other companies are doing. So we said, okay, we know what we want because of our mission and the kind of company we’re trying to build, we want to be fully distributed. That’s something that we really think is important for us. Okay, if we want that, how do we make it work, we have to be global, it doesn’t make any sense for us to say we’re fully remote and then only hire from the EU, one of our values is around the idea of being selfishly diverse, we genuinely believe the more people that we bring into our team from different backgrounds, the better it is, for us, we like we want to seek out diversity and like get it for ourselves. So if that’s something that we genuinely believe, then we need to be global, we need to try and be getting as many perspectives as possible. And if that’s the case, then we’re going to have people everywhere, which means we have to be agnostic without ours, there’s no way we can’t be. And if we’re going to be agnostic, we need to trust people, if we’re going to trust people, we need to give them accountability. So there’s all these things that are decisions that came off each other that lead to very practical things around what kind of policies we implement, how we restructure our onboarding, how we organize things like promotion, progression, and feedback. All of these things come back to these decisions that we made at the very beginning. Yes, we want to be remote. And they all haven’t been trickle effect, right. And I think you feel those things daily, like, a good example for us is, you know, onboarding, everyone in our team gets a plio credit cards like a digital card before you even start two weeks before you get sent the details of your, your player card, and you have money to spend on a laptop home office stuff. And you’ve also got a budget there. Every month, no approvals required, if you need to get something that’s job related, just get the thing. It’s actually easy for us to say spend the money on the stock photo or the tool or whatever, it is easier to do that than to ask for permission. And also we trust you. Because if you’re awake at 12pm, San Francisco time, people in Europe are asleep. So if you need to get permission, that’s not going to work right, it will just slow you down. And that is a very practical choice we made because we are remote. And because we have to be able to make decisions, and we’ll move quickly. But what that means is that the very literal feeling you get in the culture is like, oh, wow, I really trusted that before I even start, I’m given money and permission and like autonomy to make decisions.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, being treated like an adult, actually, right from the start. That’s what it is basically, isn’t it? Yeah, yeah. Now, this is something Jessica, were slightly changing tack here that I was really excited to talk to you about. Because of course, I’ve been taking a really good look at your LinkedIn profile. And everything that you shared on the and one thing that you shared was, Whereby is progression framework. And I thought that was such a cool approach to how people in the company can advance their career. But before I’m going to talk too much, maybe you can start by sharing the core principles, the paths of the progression framework.

Jessica Hayes: Yeah, so I must say that my team actually has a lot more of the credit for this than I do. But I will talk you through the work that Jesse and the rest of the team have done. The key principle about the progression framework is that the only path for progression isn’t management. So there’s different tracks you could be on. So you can either be on a technical track, which is a very common thing for engineering. So you could be a manager or technical. But we’ve also added a third track for those who are more entrepreneurial, or kind of product mindset. So those people who really get the, you know, kick or get their energy or get their kind of their skills and strengths lie and things like creating efficiencies, automating things, making a team more effective. So you can be promoted or progress based on your strengths in either the technical, the technicalities of what you do. And that doesn’t just mean engineering, like recruitment, exists a huge wealth of technical backgrounds, like understanding how to source understanding the different tools out there, hey, jaw, same thing, you could be a, you know, someone that’s really, really detailed and like reward and remuneration, and that would be a technical kind of person. And then managerial, quite obviously you become like a people lead. And then entrepreneurial is someone that becomes more of a, like HR operations, or someone that works in, for example, HR like analytics and wants to make processes more efficient and feed that data back and reporting that basically, it opens up more options for people to rely on their strengths be promoted, and also really helps us explain that the diversity of your background and your strengths is actually a huge benefit to us. We don’t just need 117 managers, we actually need people with different perspectives and different strengths to work together.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, absolutely. Can you maybe talk us through a little bit how that works in practice? So let’s say I joined Whereby in the marketing team, and then so what happens? Can you talk us through that?

Jessica Hayes: So when you join, everyone is assigned a level. So for our very first level, which is called inaugurate, there is no option for you to kind of be on a track, the expectation is, just understands what your job is, what your role is, how the company works, so that when you get to the next level, that we can talk to you more about the detail of what your strengths are, right. So for level 2, 3, 4, such as the staff level, you can be on any of these three tracks. So you join the team, you know which level you’re on. So say you join as a marketing lead to level four, it’s up to you whether you want to be on the technical levels, or getting into the detail of I don’t know how SEO works, or how the marketing operation stack works, or whether you want to be doing more entrepreneurial roles. So working on how to make efficiencies in the team leading up a project or a piece of work with a product or whether you want to be focused more on managing people, in which case, we might give you a dotted line to look after, or, you know, a series of people in a kind of project so you can have some management experience or get you more involved in interviewing that kind of stuff. The expectation is actually that the vast majority of roles in level two, three and four don’t actually have set managerial responsibilities. There are of course, a few exceptions to that there are a couple of people that are managers in that grouping, but almost all of our managers are on level five, six and seven, where your only option is management. You can’t pick something different, right? I think about the future. What we’ll do is we’ll actually Oh, But not more senior roles where you don’t have to be a manager at the moment, the team’s not quite deep enough vertically for us to be able to do that. But basically, when you join, the job that you have with your manager for the first three months is to figure out what your preferences are, do you want to be more focused on tech or do you want to be more focused on entrepreneurial or on management, you can see the different competencies we look for. So for entrepreneurial, it’s things like your project management skills, your ability to delegate your ability or to report, or your ability to look at analytics, for technical, it’s much more about training others technical understanding of like, you know, the place you’re in for management, obviously, things like giving and receiving feedback, difficult conversations, delegation, etc, etc. So you pick which track you want to be on with your manager, and you say, like, Oh, I’m really interested in being in the management track, and then your manager, and you work together to set kind of goals around that and to set projects where you get to use those skills and grow in that way. And then that’s what you’re assessed against, you’re assessed against a key progression framework. So the things that everyone needs to do at your level, and also your track. So if you’re on a management track, and you really want to be a manager one day, we’re not going to be measuring you against the yardstick of how good you are at the technical details of something because that’s not the direction you want to go in. However, if like, say you’ve been on a management track for like a year, you haven’t really been loving it, you’ve been struggling a bit, you don’t really like delegating things, or maybe you find difficult conversations really hard to have, it’s totally fine for you to say to your manager, like Actually, I’ve realized that maybe the entrepreneurial path is more for me, can I have a go at shifting over and like focusing on those skills, and then you can be focusing on them? And then that, again, will be what your reviews and everything based on to be progress.

Neelie Verlinden: Awesome. And that actually answers to the things that I really wanted to ask you. One was what happens if someone decides that a certain track is not for them? And then the other one was, how do you go about performance management? Also answer because there are actually things that people are assessed against, and they’re being determined. This is another thing that I saw. And I was really excited about it, because I did see that? Well, in your obviously, previous role. But you mentioned as well, that you were building a new kind of people team, and it was T shaped. Well, I got all excited because at AIHR, we really believe that the future of HR is  T-shaped. And that’s what we’re working on as well. So it was like, Okay, I need to ask her about this. Yeah, maybe you can tell us how you were doing that and how you will build that people team?

Jessica Hayes: Yeah, so I’m building my people team, very similarly to how you build a product team. So the way that we walk is, essentially, I think about the employee experience of working in a company as a subscription product. So if you subscribe to let’s just say like wine delivery, so every month you get wind delivered to your house. You’re like, Yes, I can imagine, I can definitely say you’ve got a wine delivery. So you’re in the process of like, deciding, like, Oh, I want to get some wine delivered to my house. So you go on the inside, you look at wine delivery, you fill out some paperwork, and you purchase and then every single month you get wine delivered to your house. Now, if the wine delivery experience is good, the wine tastes nice, it fits your interest, it’s a good, good amount of compensation or price you’re paying for it, you’re having a nice experience with it, you feel like the brand is something that still resonates with you, you will continue subscribing every single month until something happens, right? Three months in a row, they send you bad wine, you don’t like the wine, you start thinking maybe they’re not environmentally sustainable, and your values aren’t aligning anymore, and you decide I want to cancel this wine subscription. I still really like why but I’m going to move to a new wine subscription. Right? The same thought process in my opinion is happening when you’re subscribing to a job. Every single person you go through the process of applying for a job, you look at is this right for me? Is this a good match you go through? Obviously, the analogy is a bit stretchy, because you have like an interview process purchase on both sides. But ultimately, you decide Yes, I want to subscribe to this job. And every single month you continue subscribing, because your values are aligned and pay is good. It’s something that you feel aligned to as a brand is interesting to you. And it’s still the product you want to subscribe to, until some point you decide, this isn’t the place for me anymore, maybe values online, maybe your life has changed, and you decide to cancel your subscription. Now, if you think about your job, as that subscription product as a HR person, it’s very easy for you to say and think like a product team and say, Well, if it’s a subscription product, then what we want to do is we want to get feedback from our customers so employees and team to see how can we improve his subscription service to make sure they don’t go to churn? How can we make sure that they’re being priced fair? And kind of we’re attracting the right kinds of people and paying them a fair rate that’s, you know, in line with the market, how can we be improving the subscription process, so it’s actually delivering what they expect and what they want. And if you’re thinking about that, in that way, it’s very easy to kind of establish the same processes and structure as a product team. So our people team, no one actually comes from a people background except for me, so we’ve Got Jessie who’s an engineer, she came straight from engineering. We’ve got Ashley who’s a marketer, she came straight from production, performance marketing. And then we have a lead who came from customer support and customer success. And they look after the three parts of our business tech, marketing and product and commercial. And together, they bring this deep knowledge about what it takes to make our subscribers our team happy and engaged much more than I know, right? They can ask me questions around compliance and legals and the kind of backbone of HR, you know, a good example, right? So we got some, we got some feedback that our feedback wasn’t really working, people weren’t getting the right kind of feedback, right? As a good point of like, subscribe, a bunch of us subscribers saying feedback is bad. If it doesn’t improve, we’re going to chat, we’re going to leave, we’re not happy. So it was like, okay, we need to fix this. So my natural HR tendency, of course, is like, well, we should just implement a feedback tool. Like we should have a feedback process and ever just get better feedback. Now, of course, I know inside of my heart, That’s not right. Because, you know, it’s the same thing as if you’re the wind subscriber saying like, Well, the problem is, the environmental impact is very good. You’re not just going to send out a, we should send a letter to everyone saying the environmental impact is fine. That’s not going to fix anything, right? You need to do something deeper, right? So I said to Jessie, and my team, who’s an engineer, like, what do you think we should do about feedback? Like, how do you think we can improve this thing that we’ve got? And she was like, Well, a lot of the feedback for engineering actually starts with pull requests, engineers submit a PR, and then another engineer looks at it, and they kind of give comments on the code. Now, engineers are usually so strapped on a team that they were just going in and just adding like, thumbs up thumbs down sad faces instead of real feedback, or like just highlighting a whole section and putting like five question marks. If you can imagine the relationship you have with feedback as like someone getting one of your posts, you send a link to your podcast and be like, Hey, what do you think of the podcast? And they just respond with like, five question marks? You’d be like, well, I don’t really like feedback. If this is what feedback is, then like, No, thanks. I don’t like it. I don’t want to subscribe. Yeah, subscribe. So she was like, I actually just think we should improve the PR process and make it so that feedback on the day to day is just easier for engineers. That insight into how to improve the actual feedback we were getting was so much better than anything that my HR background could ever give. Right? So that is how we approach every single problem that we get really trying to understand like, how do we actually improve the experience of people, and I have this kind of broad remit with a deep knowledge and people, Jesse has a broad remit with a deep knowledge in tech and engineering and how they work. And the same is true for the rest of the team. And that’s what I say when I say what t shaped is a broad remit with a deep expertise or deep knowledge of one thing that when we come together as a team, it’s kind of this better than the sum of its parts machine that’s capable of making really good decisions. And that, again, requires a lot of trust.

Neelie Verlinden: But I do love actually how you’ve built a team with people from various different backgrounds. And I can totally see how that works very well in practice. And I mean, whether than any particular t shaped skills that you were looking for, when you were building the team, or not really?

Jessica Hayes: Well, the first thing is the top of the T, right, like you need people that are brought broad enough and comfortable enough to do a lot of different things. Which is, again, we think about this double edged sword thing on one side, you’re looking for people that like being involved in lots of stuff that you know, are comfortable, trying different things and comfortable stepping up and learning something new and comfortable working together with people that maybe they haven’t worked with before. The downside, of course, is that you need people that are okay with things like ambiguity, that okay with things like constant change, and that are okay with being in situations where they don’t know the answers that they’re going to have to trust other people, right? That was something I looked over the top of the team. And then for the rest of the team, the thing I was looking for was similar to a product squad, you need someone with technical understanding of how to implement technical solutions. So Jessie has that she has engineering expertise, and like, obviously, a tech tech background, someone that’s capable of the communications and understanding how to kind of market and look at the data that comes out of it and do things like the project management, and that is Ashley. So she comes from a marketing background. She’s very good at the communication side of things. She’s very good at understanding how to market and talk about what we do. And she’s also very good at making sure she’s kind of rallying the right people in the right way. And then Helen is very good at the operations side of stuff. So she’s very good at the human opposite, talking to people understanding their challenges that have been coming from a customer background, she really knows how to empathize with people how to get the right kind of information out of people how to have a good, good gut feeling what’s going to happen and also very good at kind of keeping track of the deadlines, asking tough questions when things don’t seem quite right and kind of keeping the operational politics on track. So when the three of them come together each quarter, they can work together to split the responsibilities of getting something done in a way that works really well. So for example, you are thinking about the progression framework. Jessie led that project, but all of them had involvement in making sure it got shipped. So Ashley was doing the blog post you read and making sure that the pictures and diagrams, everything made sense for the external and the internal side of things, making sure that the communications were clear. Helen was involved in making sure that the communications with managers was, you know, empathetic, and they understood what was happening. And then that kind of comes together to produce the tool or the product that we make at the end of the quarter.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, yeah, great example of how I’ve had the power of the tea really came together. And when it’s this, this progression framework, thank you so much. I love it slowly. But surely, we are getting towards the end of our conversation. Unfortunately, I do have a few. A few more things that I really wanted to ask you, though. So I’m starting with if we go broader, a little bit, looking at being a distributed company? How do you approach a subject? Like for instance, comp, and Ben?

Jessica Hayes: Yeah, I’ve read a lot about compensation and benefits recently, it was a mini-series, it was three parts. Yeah. Um, so if anyone’s listening and wondering my feelings, probably reading now is better than me just blurting everything out. But I think they kind of key takeaways really, like, it’s the same. The same thought process is what I mentioned before about the product and the wine subscription, and you need to have a very good understanding of who are you trying to attract? And can you attract them? So I think of compensation and benefits, similar to how you think about pricing. If you are in a marketing or revenue team, you need to understand how knowledgeable and experienced we need our team to be, how much leverage are they going to have? What kind of geography? Do we need them to be in? How committed are we to a remote distributed approach? And when you understand all those questions, then you can have a clearer idea of like, Okay, well, then this is what we can afford, that also attracts the right people, what are the kind of red flags or what charts I’ve seen is I’ve had a lot of people in my history, and especially the last couple of months actually come to me and say, Oh, I, I just want to steal GitHub, GitHub and get labs compensation approach or like, what do you think about having all compensation based out of San Francisco? Do you think we should do that? It’s like, it’s such a broad and crazy question. And you’re basing, like, probably 60 to 70% of your entire company’s overhead on you just kind of deciding that you’re going to base everyone out of San Francisco. But based on what right, I would, I would say really think about like, What are you? Who are you trying to attract? What are you trying to achieve? And when you understand that it’s very easy to make decisions, like if you’re a logistics startup, that is going to be always based out of the Netherlands, and you’re never happy to be remote, but you’ll only ever be remote in the Netherlands. And that’s it. And the people that you’re hiring are primarily grads, you’re not going to be hiring a lot of very senior people, then why would it make sense for you to have a fully distributed pay structure where you’re paying people out of San Francisco? Of course, it doesn’t, you should be really basic, everyone may be out of Amsterdam, even then I’d say you’re probably pushing out if you’re really good crowds, maybe like but just think about what you’re actually trying to achieve. And then if someone in your team says, Well, I’m leaving, because I could have got more money. If I went more for a San Francisco company, then you shouldn’t be basing your entire company’s compensation on that one person, you really should be okay with losing that process. Because probably that’s not the kind of person that you want to be attracting to your subscription product long term.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, it makes sense. Thank you for that. Maybe you can share, let’s say the two to two main things that other companies or maybe specifically, people who are working in HR can learn from a remote-first company?

Jessica Hayes: I think the biggest thing, honestly, is this idea of just letting people be adults and do their jobs. You know, one of my Maxim’s is to achieve everything through others wherever possible, right? So wherever I possibly can to say to somebody like, Well, what do you think the solution is, and let them try to work it out themselves, that in the HR world can be really difficult, I think. But one of the places that I like to do it is things like, we have a page that you get sent if you get offered a job at Whereby that breaks down all the different types of contracts we offer. So you can be a consultant, you can be an employer of record, you can be employed in NC, you can do all these different things. And I will never tell you which one to pick, even if there’s an obvious choice that you shouldn’t pick, I’m not going to tell you like you shouldn’t pick that one. I will say that when you’re growing up, just like any contract, you’d sign which contract is the most appropriate for your life. And of course, people ask me questions. So what do you think? And can you give me some advice? And I’ll, you know, answer some questions for them. But I think there’s a natural tendency in HR to say to people like, well, you must sign this contract. And this is why, and you must do this. And this is why, but I think unless there’s an extremely compelling legal reason, just let people make choices that work best for them. And you know, then you can spend the rest of your time as an HR person who is always incredibly stretched and has too many tasks for the time you have. You can spend more time then just doing the stuff that adds value to people’s lives instead of spending all this time baiting people through kind of minor decisions. So that’s the biggest thing, I think. 

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, I think that’s a good one to pick. Thank you. All right now then, every episode I ask our guests if they want to share an epic win, and or an epic fail with us. So I’m not sure if you had time to think about this before we jumped on today’s conversation, but I’m also not sure what you want to start with an epic win or an epic fail?

Jessica Hayes: Yes. So, um, it’s tough, right? I think that there’s just been an epic win, which is easy because there’s so many things that my team has done that I’m really proud of them for. I think my biggest epic win was just bringing on subscribing to the idea of people’s obsessive product, as I’ve just described to you in this conversation, I think it is a kind of risky thing to do. And in a lot of ways, it’s quite easy just to hire an HR admin to take the admin and I can just, you know, take the rest of the responsibility for the team. So building a team that shaped the way that I’ve shaped it. And my team has kind of shaped itself by being in these roles. I’m actually just really proud of the work that they have done in the way that they’ve kind of taken all their jobs. I actually think one of the biggest wins I’ve seen in my career recently was somebody on LinkedIn, that they wanted to work in D&I, they wanted to work in diversity and inclusion, but they never really could get their career off the ground. And they decided to go back and do a coding boot camp. A different HR person who I kind of only peripherally know, tagged someone in my team in her thread and said, You should speak to Jessie, because she’s got into the HR career. And she’s really inspiring. And I was like, oh, wow, like I hired Jesse out of engineering, and now other people in HR, tagging her and chats to say, this is a way that you can shape a career. And it was just a really nice moment for me, where I was really proud to see a new way of thinking about HR kind of existing in a different space. So that was a really big win. And I think Jesse also was really excited to be able to give some advice to another HR person, another engineering person about how these things could work together. So that was really, really nice to be involved in. And then things epic fails. I mean, honestly, I do things every single week, where I’m like, What an idiot, what was I thinking, but I think one of the biggest things, going back to your compensation. I can think of quite a few examples in my career where, for various reasons, I didn’t have, I think a particularly commercial approach to comp, I just went for kind of what I was being told needed to happen not thinking about things from that perspective, I said before on pricing, and doing things like not sharing salaries on job ads, or not having kind of a fair approach to negotiation. And I can think of a couple of examples, actually, where I had exit interviews with people. And the reasons that they were leaving were compensation-related, which wasn’t a surprise, and I knew it was going to be a problem from the day they joined the team because we’d undercut them or they didn’t have transparency on how we’re basing our comp decision. So they always felt a little bit hard done by and we lost, you know, in previous roles, really good people. And I ended up having a kind of sad relationship. So obviously, you know, friends or professional friends, but sadly sad relationships with them where it was regrettable, but in a way that felt like such a waste of my energy, right? Like I’d I’ve just made it really dumb mistake by not being transparent around compensation and not being thoughtful and strategic and commercial around compensation. So I ended up having people leave the team. And you know, sometimes in your career here, people try to convince you that the decisions you made were okay at the time and like, older where you like you did the best you could or everyone negotiates, so it’s fine. It’s fine, that person just, they never stopped being selfish around comp. And like I just, you know, I think about that, that kind of feedback. Often. I was like, I just don’t think that that’s valid, like I really, you know, I do think I’ve made some mistakes I should have. I should have had an approach earlier in my career where compensation was something I was very strong on. Being commercial about being more transparent about being more strategic about in a way that I never had to get the feedback of like, oh, but everyone does it that way. So it’s fine because I just don’t, I never want to have to hear that feedback ever again.

Neelie Verlinden: I think there’s a taste to this. These are two beautiful examples. The first one obviously must have been such a beautiful compliment as well, indirectly to you, because it was someone who you hired in your team and then to see this obviously this kind of external recognition. I can’t imagine that it must have been so nice. And the second one I think is a really good example that you shared as well. So yeah, very, very, very happy with that, and thanks for that. Then I think we are now really at the end of our conversation. Jessica, I want to give you a huge thank you for joining us today. And I want to wish you so much luck and excitement and fun in your In your new role starting next month as a COO at Whereby.

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