Podcast 25 min

Mapping employee journeys, with Joris Luijke

October 26, 2023
Preston Wickersham


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Ever thought about creating an employee journey map for the team within your business? Having a map with all the moments that matter from an employee's time with you enhances the employees experience and helps you monitor progression within your organization. 

Joris Luijke, who led HR at companies including Squarespace, Typeform, and Atlassian, believes employee journey mapping is the future of HR. In this episode, Remote’s chief of people, Barbara Matthews, explores the employee experience within remote and distributed teams. Barbara and Joris reveal the truth about organizational culture, providing real definitions and strategies that everyone in an HR role should know.

Episode transcript

Barbara: Hi, I am Barbara Matthews, the Chief People Officer at Remote, and this is Off Mute, the podcast that explores managing distributed teams all across the globe.

In this episode, I am having a chat with Joris Luijke. Joris have previously held roles at Squarespace, Typeform and Atlassian, leading their HR. But in 2019, he moved aside to create Pyn, which he claims is the tool he needed when running HR at those companies. He has a really good outlook on not just a position, but the employee's journey within an organization.

In our chat, we delve deeper into what you should be thinking about when creating a journey for your distributed team, how the pandemic changed the culture, and his thoughts towards the future.

I learned lots from my chat with Joris, and I really enjoyed getting to know him more and I think you're going to enjoy our conversation too.

Joris, thank you so much for speaking with me today. I think I was telling you earlier, I went down a rabbit hole on your company. It is just amazing. And we're going to talk about your company and what motivated you to start your own venture in Pyn.

What is Pyn, and why start it now?

Joris: My background obviously is leading HR at companies like Atlassian and Squarespace, Typeform, and I just tried to make work better there. The funny story though is the actual instigator of the genesis of the idea came from my son.

When my kid was born, somehow Facebook had figured out that an event that was personal in my life journey had occurred, the baby was born, but they also knew my age, probably my income bracket.

They had so much information on me and they used that to target these really good ads to me about the baby.

Barbara: They used it for good, not evil.

Joris: In that case, it was for good, yeah, exactly. So, there were these little baby headphones that you can put on a baby so you can bring your kids safely to a concert or a festival. It was perfect for a slightly hipster dude like myself, and I was like, “Gosh,” of course I clicked on the buggers and I bought them, and we love them.

But it's interesting, they had so much information on me and they used that information to communicate, in that case, in ads to make me buy something, and it's a really sharp, fantastic way.

And I realized back then like, “Oh, why don't we do that inside the organization?” Because we have so much more information on our people than Facebook has on me, and we don't use that data to communicate better to our people.

So, that's kind of what we do and that's kind of what instigated all of this. So, we are really, really good at understanding what's going on in the journeys of an employee. And there can be many moments, people coming back from parental leave or people coming on board or being on boarded or people becoming a manager.

And if a person moves from zero to one or more direct reports, we know that they've just become a manager, and what do they need in their first few days as a manager? They need to know how to run a kickoff one-on-one and what their new responsibilities are, those types of things.

Barbara: That’s what I loved when I looked at your website. It was this like just-in-time nudge, communication, enablement, training, whatever was needed for the employee in that position at that time of their journey.

Joris: And it's all contextual. And think about that within the context of remote work. Everyone is in different time zones and it's hard to keep track of everyone.

Like before, people would literally just sit next to you and if someone came back from parental leave, you would know, you would ask for pictures and stuff like that.

Barbara: Yes.

Joris: Or if someone was onboarded, you would know if someone moved to another team, you would know. And that's all a lot more complicated to manage. So, that's why it's kind of taken off when the pandemic hits.

Leadership in the era of distributed work

Barbara: It's brilliant, I love it. So, there's tons of impressive things about you, Joris, especially what you are building. But the one thing that has leapt out at me when I was doing my research was around all of the leadership positions that you had around Squarespace, Atlassian, and Typeform.

Talk to me a little bit about how you believe senior leadership positions have changed in this new era of remote working like you said and asynchronous communication.

Joris: In a way, it's the same. Like people still need to build and nurture their teams. People still need to enable their managers. People still need to communicate very well and set strategy and all of that stuff.

It's just a lot harder or at least different, from how it used to be. But I think it's harder, maybe because I've been doing it for a while and change is hard.

For example, tech communications. Like you need to now think about async communications, people at different time zones, and you need to think about how to enable your people and your managers. Again, async.

Or I think about information management, it's a lot harder to find anything in a remote environment if you cannot just ask your neighbor sitting next to you. And I think that's really complicated, and companies try to solve that. Like I think Remote, you put together an amazing handbook.

Barbara: That’s public, yeah.

Joris: Yeah, like GitLab, that's really, really good. But it's incredibly hard to find anything because those handbooks are very detailed. So, how do you find what you are after?

So, I think management, senior leadership needs to think about communications and how these flows of information get to the right person at the right time in a completely different way, and that is very hard.

Barbara: And you have said when we impact communication, we impact culture. So, firstly, what is the culture like at Pyn? Can you describe that, and then tell me what you mean by that exactly.

Joris: It's still beautifully small. If there was a boardroom table, we could all sit around it.

Barbara: I love those moments in the company though.

Joris: Oh, it's so beautiful and being an HR, I always came in when the company was already at some type of scale, like at 200, 300 people. So, I never had experienced that before.

It's very personalized, you know people, you know exactly what's going on. We check in on a work level, but on a psychological level as well all the time. And I think these are good practices regardless of location, but it's a little bit harder to accomplish in a larger company.

Barbara: Yes.

Joris: As it relates to culture…I'm getting a bit geeky now.

Barbara: Go for it. You're in the right audience.

Joris: HR geekiness coming up.

Barbara: Yes.

How does culture change in distributed environments?

Joris: What is culture? It's basically people behaving in a certain way the majority of the time. If two thirds of your team has lunch together on a Friday, two thirds of the time, you probably have a culture of having lunch together on Fridays.

If you want to change culture, you have to change the behavior of people. And if you do that in a consistent way, then you form culture, and that's really hard to do. Like you can enforce it, you can tell people, “Hey, you must do this,” but that's not very nice.

So, how do you do this in a way that not just people towards the behaviors that you actually want them to kind of act on?

And I think there's two ways really. Firstly, is the timeliness. If people are right in the experience, it's like you're sitting on their shoulder and kind of nudging them a certain way, the likelihood of them actually following that nudge is a lot higher. And there's lots and lots of experiments with that.

You can tell people to recycle paper, but if you put a paper bin next to a copier machine (I'm revealing my age a little bit) it's more likely that they're going to put that paper that they don't use in the recycling bin, so you're contextually there.

Barbara: Yes.

Joris: And that's kind of what Pyn tries to do as well. Like if you want your managers to have a really good way of reintroducing and returning parents into the workforce by putting together a return-to-work plans, stuff like that and you want to build a really good culture around that …

If someone comes back from parental leave and you nudge that person's manager right at that time, that manager wants to get this information, they want to know how to do that successfully. So, you can nudge them towards the right behaviors.

Barbara: Is it AI-based or how do you figure out all the nudges? You surely don't have people working on all that stuff.

Joris: There are components that could potentially be AI, but I would lie if it's an AI tool, even though that would make our company sound really cool, of course, in the current environment. It's more rules-based. It's actually more simplistic than that.

So, how it works is we have a little profile of every person in the company and every time they experience something — they may come on board or they may move location or they get promoted or they have a holiday coming up.

All of those times, we can automatically nudge that person. And we are very deeply integrated with communication tools like Slack. So, that piece of communication can come from a bot, but it can also come from a person on your HR team.

So, for example, if you want to personally send an automated message via Slack to a newly promoted manager, saying, “Hey, I'm Barbara an HR, congratulations to the manager club,” you can do that as a direct message automatically. So, you can basically be everywhere at any point in time.

And in a company like Remote, I mean you're big, you have managers being promoted, left, right and center all the time. On that same day that a manager's promoted, you probably have a hundred other possible things going on and they're all very specific.

So, Pyn is just really good at being there at those moments for people.

What is an employee journey map?

Barbara: I love that.

I did read an article about how successful remote working requires an employee journey map. Whatever video I watched, it said that it was in Beta, so I don’t know if your employee journey map is live now. But talk to me about what this journey map is.

Joris: Have you done journey mapping yourself at your previous companies or at Remote?

Barbara: Yeah, but it was manual, it wasn't-

Joris: Exactly, and it's super hard, isn't it? Like to actually put together a journey map because I did it in the past as well and I would come together with my team and we would have all these sticky notes, and we would try to put together the journey map.

Barbara: Again, harder to do when you're asynchronous.

Joris: Exactly, I mean you would probably use the virtual equivalent of it, like you would use Miro or Figma, FigJam or something like that, but it's very hard because you have to consider all those moments that can possibly matter in an employee journey and then all relevant touchpoints.

And with the touchpoint, I mean if you, let's say, a moment that matter, may be a person's first day in the office or in the job, and the touch points could be a piece of communication that you want to send to that person's manager and that new hire themselves, and maybe their buddy, those are all different touchpoints.

Now for every moment, and there may be hundreds of moments in the journey that you may want to include in your journey map and all the associated touchpoints — it's very hard to keep in your head.

So, what Pyn has developed is a free to use tool to have basically a benchmark like a template. And instead of having to consider everything yourself, you can simply remove touchpoints that you think are not really relevant, or you can add some.

Barbara: Is it live?

Joris: It's in Beta, there's a few people who have it at the moment, they'll go live in November.

Barbara: Brilliant.

Joris: And we've got a massive wait list already, thousands of companies have already signed up.

Barbara: I joined it yesterday actually.

Joris: You did, fantastic. If you think about employee journey mapping and employee experience has really risen in popularity. Employee experience design all of these things.

I was looking at Google trends data recently, it's crazy. It goes like one … after the pandemic especially, the amount of searches for employee experience has just gone up astronomically.

People like Josh Bersin and McKinsey consultants and all of those folks are writing about it. And if they're writing about it, you know it's more common knowledge.

Barbara: Yes. What I love about the idea of the employee journey map is depending on I guess what your company is trying to achieve, maybe from a cultural perspective or from a growth perspective or like enablement across a certain cohort of individuals, you can adapt the journey map to nudge things in the right way or nudge different messages at different times.

Joris: Yeah, and these slight variations can be very hard to manage, and we made that process just ridiculously easy. Like if you're a manager in customer success versus support, you may need a slightly different piece of communications, just managing those types of nuances should be really, really easy.

And if you look at the platforms that companies currently use, like your HRIS systems or your Salesforce or Zendesk or ATS systems, they nudge you a little bit occasionally like someone's anniversary or something like that (that will come up), but they don't really have a great way to communicate with people in a very personalized way at scale.

Barbara: Earlier in this series, we did speak to Zeev Rozov who’s the CEO of HiBob, and in his episode, he spoke about the need to support flexibility and engagement in the HR product. What are your thoughts on critical areas to support your product?

Joris: It's interesting actually, like that's another HRIS system, and a really good one. So, we integrate with a system like that and he talks about flexibility and engagement with the workforce, with the data that he has. They need Pyn, they should be using Pyn because it's an experience layer in between the data and the people in the organization.

And our customers like Carta or MongoDB or Lucid or Similarweb are fast growth tech companies, they all have their own data sets. Whether it's SuccessFactors or Workday or BambooHR, or HiBob — they all still struggle-

Barbara: Or Remote HRIS?

Joris: Yeah, yeah. So, everyone is in the HRIS business these days, because it's obviously not working just yet. Remote wouldn't have started to build a new HRIS tool if it was perfect. If there was a solution out there that everyone loved.

Barbara: Yeah, and that employee comms layer is so critical. And you're right, the tools just do the basis of an employee movement throughout a company and data associated with that.

But actually, the employee doesn't feel any of the benefits of it really, like the warm fuzzy benefits comes through the communications.

Joris: Exactly, and the usefulness of the data comes through the interaction as well. It's really great if you can actually leverage the data. Like the headphones example, it's almost like we're like a HubSpot for internal communications.

If you poke around on the Pyn website and you sign up for the journey map like you did, surely you're going to be enrolled in some kind of a sequence of communications. It makes sense.

And it's kind of amazing that within company communications, we haven't figured that part out until now.

Barbara: I know.

Joris: Going back to your original question though, in terms of what we need to do as a product. So, we started with this workflow layer, making sure that people can communicate in a very personalized way when something happens.

Then the second thing we build is basically our customer set. Like well, “Okay, I can communicate at moments that matter, but which moments that matter should I consider in the first place?” That's why we started building this employee journey designer, which is the journey member that you signed up for.

So, we have journey design and journey activation, which we are still building. And we have the framework for it. Basically, the tech is set up this way, if you want to customize it even further because sometimes, a company wants to just go in and add their own code to be very specific to their environments.

For example, we had a customer, Shopify, and if someone's anniversary would come up or someone was due for a performance review conversation or something like that, they didn't just want to send a Slack communications, but they wanted an image of that person who they were referring to within the piece of communication. That was custom code.

Barbara: Nice.

Joris: We did that for them because we didn't have the ability to create that. So, what Pyn wants to create is the ability for an engineer to then go in, create a little bit of custom code, almost like a little app that they can add.

Barbara: Brilliant, yes.

Joris: Which is like the mapping journey customization piece.

Was Pyn originally intended to be remote or in person?

Barbara: God, that'd be great.

Okay, 2019, you started Pyn and obviously then COVID happened. Did you originally intend to have everyone together? Did you intend to have a globally distributed team? Remote work?

Tell me what was your intention when you were building and founding the company in terms of like org design, location, where people would be.

Joris: Totally together.

Barbara: Totally together.

Joris: I’m not going to lie. I just figured it was a lot easier to have everyone together. Personally, I like having people next to me to ideate together and for me, personally, it was a pretty big learning move to communicate better in an async way.

Barbara: You need to be very deliberate and very intentional, I think about the transition.

Joris: And I think if you're in a larger company, they're often global anyway, so you're kind of more used to it. But in a smaller environment, if you don't have to, it kind of becomes this annoying thing that you have to do on top of what you already have to do, is building a startup, which is a lot of work in itself.

So, it became just an additional layer of complication I would say and training that I had to do myself. It ended up being very much a positive obviously because our company grew so quickly in terms of the customers and the main problem that we're trying to solve is to create this connection and create these layers of communication and personalization of that communication within a remote work environment.

So, experiencing ourselves-

Barbara: You need to dog foodish yourself.

Joris: Exactly, yeah. So, that was actually really good at the end, but I'm not going to lie, it's hard and it's taken me a lot of practice. Some people on my team are a lot better at it than I am, it's hard.

Barbara: Are you hybrid? What is the current structure?

Joris: We're considered now a fully remote company. So, we have people in Sydney where we have a little engineering hub, but the rest of the team is distributed around the world.

We have people in Europe, we have people across the United States in Australia, of course, in different cities. So, it's very distributed and therefore, we can get dog food from our own products and have to learn how to operate in that way. Right?

Barbara: Yes, which is so important I think, to actually get in and experience your own products like that.

Joris: Absolutely, yeah.

Barbara: And in our workforce report for 2023, we found that 69% of people on distributed teams said retention had increased since adopting this distributed workforce model. So, in terms of employee retention and attraction for remote versus non-remote teams, how are you seeing that evolving?

Joris: The retention is better. I think people will stick with the company if they feel comfortable and people working from home is a real advantage for people, including myself, even though it's hard sometimes, I wouldn't give it up anymore. I don't think so.

Barbara: I know, same here, yes.

Joris: Exactly. So, I think the main change here is that if I think back of when I was leading HR … back in the day, I was running HR Atlassian or Squarespace; if I thought about HR strategy, the focus for us was often about where we would expand to, which offices we would open. And everything strategy-wise was kind of circling around a decision like that.

Now, if you think about expanding and attracting new talent, it's mostly about how you're going to do that. It's the how of work, not necessarily the where of work. And that has really changed. And the place is hard as well. There's a lot of decisions that you need to make. Right now that's a little bit more flexible, but the how has become harder.

So, it's a little bit of give and take. And I think a company like Google where you worked at, probably same thing, you were thinking about where your next hub was going to be.

Barbara: Yes.

Joris: Now, all you have to think about is how to work better together remotely. And you're obviously doing that very well, or maybe from the outside it just looks like you're doing it very well, I'm sure you have your own problems.

Barbara: No, we are doing it very well. No, we are doing it very … obviously, there's challenges that are just cropping up on an ongoing basis, and we're just tackling those.

And we do actually put resources on our website for companies who want to figure out how to create a really collaborative culture remotely or asynchronously because it is hard, and they have to be deliberate.

Joris: Trust me, I looked at those resources extensively.

Barbara: You’re in it.

Joris: They're amazing resources, fantastic stuff. I was wondering actually in that report, do they talk about performance as well?

So, there's a retention attraction part, I think that has really been a lot better. But then there's different kinds of stories I hear about performance, right?

Barbara: Yeah, I mean my personal take (I know we're interviewing you) is the world needs to change in how we're evaluating performance. I think people are looking at folks sitting in seats and determining that they must be performing better than folks that are not there, and really the focus should be on goals and impact and achievement versus hours spent at a desk.

Joris: I think that people marketing remotely probably work a little bit longer.

Barbara: I would say they probably have more time because they're not commuting.

Joris: I walk downstairs from upstairs, or I drop the kids off and-

Barbara: You yell at your husband to get you a coffee instead of having to go buy one yourself.

Joris: Exactly, exactly. Productivity-wise, I think, you're much more efficient.

Barbara: And I think also, people that work remotely tend to be innovative self-starters because you have to be, there is nobody who's going to be standing on your shoulder like you mentioned earlier, saying you need to now do this. Although, they might with your customized comms.

But you have to just be able to organize yourself and make sure that you're focusing on your own performance and your own impact and what you need to do.

Joris: Yeah, yeah.

Barbara: It's a different type of person.

Joris: It's become such a divisive thing, right? Like remote versus not remote, or hybrid verses not hybrid. The performance story is very different from a small startup where I think there are benefits of being together.

But in a very large global company, if you talk about performance, there may not be that much of a difference.

Barbara: And you need to balance your small startup with your global expansion plans as well, because you'll need to put people around the world if that's how you want to expand and grow your business.

Joris: Exactly, yeah. And then of course, attraction and talent is so much more available around the world, there's so many advantages there.

Barbara: Exactly, and diverse and so many advantages.

How is the future of distributed teams being shaped?

Okay, I have two more questions for you. So, looking towards the future, how do you see culture and distributed workforce evolving over the next few years

Joris: In terms of whether it's going to be more remote or less?

Barbara: Yes.

Joris: You do have to remember that a large part of the workforce is not working remotely at all, and during the pandemic, it was very hard for them. Sometimes we forget being in our little tech bubbles that a lot of folks come into the office every day still.

So, that continue is still going to have that and disruptions in their industry are probably going to be a little bit different. But within tech, I don't see people going back into the office on mass anymore unless really ordered to do so.

In terms of broader societal changes, it’s fascinating. Like you’re in Dublin, there’s a lot of probably empty office buildings there.

Barbara: A lot.

Joris: And it’s just around the world. I was in Utah and Salt Lake City, empty buildings like towers with empty floors.

Joris: San Francisco, same thing. I think the city landscape is going to change to some extent because it has this effect on local businesses and all of that stuff.

So, I’m just curious how that is going to evolve. I’m not a futurist, but I do see that’s going to be substantial changes there as well.

Barbara: My final question: can you think of a time when you've had to deal with a challenge that made you think this could only happen with distributed work?

Joris: I think the example that I just mentioned about an empty office building, when you go visit a customer for example, is pretty amazing in its own right.

I think the fact that you have people in Sydney now co-working with their friends in homes, how amazing is that?

It's like Airbnb, only people don't use it to stay with people, but they kind of co-share spaces, they have a little environment. That's amazing. I think companies like Remote becoming such a big part of work is amazing. There's so many great things that come out of Remote that are just beautiful to see.

Barbara: The future looks bright. Thank you so much for speaking with me, it's been an absolute pleasure.

Joris: Thank you so much.

Barbara: Thank you so much to Joris for talking in depth about remote working and the challenges of distributed teams. Well, that just about wraps it up for the latest episode of Off Mute.

I'm Barbara Matthews, the Chief People Officer at Remote, and we'll be back in two weeks with the next episode. But in the meantime, please subscribe to the podcast, and if you like what you've heard, give us five stars as it helps others like you find our podcast.

Thank you for listening to Off Mute from Remote, catch you next time.

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