With a globally distributed workforce, communication has never been more important than in the last year, says Jessie LaJoie, people operations lead at Doodle, an online scheduling tool. The company has made employee check-ins a top priority—an effort that LaJoie says boosts employee wellbeing as well as fosters a culture centered on transparency and support.
“This creates a lot of trust and it engages people more when they know they’re trusted and have empathetic leaders supporting them,” she says.
The native of Canada, now based in Germany, joined Doodle in 2018. The people strategy she has helped roll out over the last three years has been informed in part by her own diverse career history, which includes people leadership positions through Europe, North America and Africa, with a particular focus in the tech sector.
LaJoie recently spoke with HRE about Doodle’s culture, mission and future.
HRE: What initially attracted you to Doodle?
LaJoie: It was actually the job ad. It was one of the first positions I applied for when I moved to Berlin. And then the product itself; I had used Doodle even before joining to organize get-togethers, holiday events. I was curious to get to know more and we just hit it off.
HRE: How did the pandemic change how and where Doodle employees work?
LaJoie: Before the pandemic, we had somewhat of a remote culture. We did allow employees to work from home from time to time but a maximum of five days a month because we thought people being together was better. So, when the pandemic hit, we were all forced to work from home and we quickly realized we had all the tools to really work well remotely and, from that, the mindset of management changed. We said, “Hey, this can work. Why restrict employees? If it’s better for them for work/life balance, let’s keep it up.” What we did have to change was getting managers to schedule more one-on-ones with their teams and just really open up and be more transparent, overcommunicate, even open up their calendars so there’s more transparency and people would know where they are and how to get a hold of them. We really worked on creating an atmosphere of trust to build better relations among managers and employees.
HRE: How have you worked to keep people connected to one another and their work?
LaJoie: We knew people needed some way to connect. Previously, the entire company had met once a year in a different country for a retreat, usually for three days. The year before, we met in Tel Aviv and we were supposed to meet in Belgrade in Serbia last year and, of course, that didn’t happen. So we said, OK, we’ll host a virtual retreat to last three days with some business updates but also make it fun with happy hours and virtual pub quiz events, get everyone to change the backgrounds on their screens and be interactive. There were all these little quick fixes we put together and we realized it was important to have somebody from people experience focus on all of these type of practices to build them into Doodle as part of our culture year-round.
LaJoie: So, initially, we were getting [job applicants] to come to the office to get a feeling of the vibe, the culture. We’d invite candidates for lunch to understand if they’d be a great team fit. Then we said, “OK, we have no chance to do this now; we have to hire, interview and onboard all virtually.” So, we had a people experience coordinator make sure we could do this right. We started with virtual interviewing and had to, of course, ask more questions relating to how this person would fit into the team. The interviews became more casual. When it came to meeting the team, we decided to do it virtually but casually, more like getting coffee, not an interview. So, I don’t think we necessarily need to go back to the old ways of doing things because [virtual hiring has] worked really, really well so far. For onboarding, we’ve made sure [new employees] have buddies to guide them through, and we make sure we’re structuring a full week of learning. We also have mini-surveys at the end of onboarding to help us shift our priorities.
HRE: How have you seen clients leveraging Doodle to navigate the challenges of the pandemic?
LaJoie: That has been really interesting for Doodle. Since we’ve gone remote, we’ve actually had an increase in people using the scheduling tool. We’re hearing of meeting fatigue, even in people’s personal lives through video, so there’s really a need for a tool that saves time and makes it way easier for people to get together, rather than having to ping pong back and forth through email. Time is really precious.
HRE: What are some of the pandemic-driven changes Doodle has made to its people practices that are for the better?
LaJoie: I feel that we’ve really started getting better at communicating. It’s so important for managers to do constant check-ins. We’ve prioritized check-ins about mental health and how people can start talking about it and opening up. If we can keep these methods for leading and managing our teams, it will go further for our employees. I absolutely think having options to be remote and having a flexible work/life balance is not even something people want to negotiate on anymore. That’s definitely going to stay. Companies globally need to realize people have different times when they want to work, based around their family and children and other engagements. If you give them flexibility, they’ll give you the moon.
HRE: Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
LaJoie: I love joining virtual yoga sessions, and I’m newly into cycling, especially because of the pandemic. It takes off stress, especially after a long workday; it just recharges you, and your mind kind of changes completely after a really tough bike ride. I’m also into discovering different meals from all over the world. And, of course, I’m passionate about technology. I’m always reading up on what’s going to be happening in the future. Doodle’s obviously big on this, and I work with a lot of engineers, so it’s always interesting to look at what’s next out there.
HRE: Do you have a motto or mantra that’s guiding your work in 2021?
LaJoie: It’s people first, definitely people first. All companies need to focus on their business priorities but you still have to always put your people first. Without that, you don’t have a business; you won’t succeed. We have to make sure our people are engaged and connected and be super-empathetic, no matter what comes our way. For me, this is the year we all have to understand what our employees are going through and then that we have to stay flexible, empathetic and always listen. Our people need to know they’re in a safe place and they’re being heard. This is something most companies are going to have to really focus on more and more. People need to trust who they’re working for.