The Godel POD: Recruitment in a Hybrid World with Purple


Welcome to The Godel POD. This series is about “Recruitment in a Hybrid World”. In this episode of The Godel POD, we are joined by John Oliver, Chief Product Officer at Purple.

Sarah Foster: Hi, I’m Sarah from Godel. Today I’m joined today by John Oliver from purple. John would you like to do a quick intro?

John Oliver: Yeah, hello Sarah. My name is John Oliver, I’m Product Director at purple, and I guess in a nutshell, that means that I’m responsible for Purple’s product roadmap, and the vision. Talking to customers to see what we like, what we don’t like, what the markets are doing and what we should be doing – all that kind of stuff is what I look after at Purple.

Sarah Foster: So today we’re talking about recruitment during the hybrid working world. So how has recruitment changed for Purple since the pandemic?

John Oliver: It’s changed quite a lot, primarily because the pandemic, moved us to be a remote first business, so that was something that we didn’t do prior to the pandemic. We did let people work from home one day a week but other than that everybody was in the office so as we move through the pandemic, obviously, everybody was remote, we didn’t have a choice in that, and we always thought, things would go back to how it was. And as we discuss this more and more with teams and more and more with the staff, generally, it just transpired that wasn’t really what people wanted. And coupled with that I think our staff in particular proves that they can be trusted. You know they can work in a kind of isolated environment without being supervised in the office. So yeah, it makes sense for us to go remote first and obviously that that’s changed the way that we recruit massively because it now means that we don’t have to recruit, geographically, in the area that our offices in or our overseas offices are in, and we can cast the net a lot further.

Sarah Foster: So, with that, how is it that you’re conducting interviews, they’re taking place over teams.

John Oliver: So, we use Google meet, but it’s the same thing. We do the interviews over Google Meet but what we actually do with our roles is, we ask anybody making an application to submit a video interview first and while a video interview might not be totally the right term, what we do is we give them a question, and we ask them to record a two-minute video answer to that question. And then they submit that. We actually find that’s a really good way of just weeding out people that we don’t think would be a good fit, for whatever reason we don’t think. It might be a great culture fit, because of the way they’ve answered the question or the way they’ve come across over video. So that’s a really good tool that we use and then yeah, generally it’s just a straightforward video interview as you will do face to face, similar types of questions, similar type of format.

The one thing that I do differently when I’m recruiting in my area of the business, if I’m not the hiring manager, which means if I’m not carrying out the first interview. I’ll always make sure that I do a second interview to try and dig a little bit deeper on the culture fit and us not questions directly related to the role, but more to try and find out about that person what type of things they are in to, what type of things they enjoy, and basically do I think they’ll be a good fit to the team.

Sarah Foster: And do you find that doing things virtually makes it’s hard to hard to gauge if you’re going to be a good cultural fit?

John Oliver: It’s harder. I think it’s definitely harder than face to face. But I think we’ve most things you know once you’ve done it a few times you get used to the kind of video format of talking to people on screen is something I’m quite comfortable with now and I think a lot of people are. But yeah, I think the dynamic is definitely different and it does raise a few challenges that we wouldn’t about previously.

Sarah Foster: So, with the knowledge that people will be kind of remote firms are coming in once one or two days a week depending on location, did you find that finding talent was easier?

John Oliver: So, we did. First of all, it was easier because, as I say we can cast the net further out, so people don’t really have to be within a train journey or a car journey of our office. You know, we’ve just recruited somebody in the last week who was already in Middlesbrough we recruited somebody else actually from that kind of region as well we could have never done before. So, I guess we can cast the net for what we also find is that a lot of people are looking for jobs at the minute as we come up with a pandemic. People seem to be thinking maybe this is a good time for a change. So, we find that there’s a lot more. But that’s also a double-edged sword because what we find is that there’s more competition for those people as well.

One of the things, actually that personally I found, you know, we’ve got quite a few roles live at the minute. We’ve made offers for various ones and it’s not unusual, but an employer will try harder to keep that person, you know, and they’ll come back and say you I’ve been offered a pay rise by my employer they don’t want to lose me and that’s something that we’ve seen quite a lot as well.

Sarah Foster: Yeah. And that’s I think that’s something that, historically, it happened what people didn’t accept that counter offer as much. Now they are. So has there been any new roles available since the global pandemic or COVID that you’re recruiting for example DevStack ops?

John Oliver: Yeah, well let me know, across Purple we’ve got an awful lot of roles available at the minute anyway, we’ve, we’ve just actually closed some funding over the last few months as we’ve come up with a pandemic which was timed really well so that’s enabled us to kind of spin off a lot of roles. Specifically, kind of in the product side of the business as you mentioned, we’ve got the sack ops role that we’re working hard to fill. In my area of the department specifically, we’ve got a role for a product Content Manager, which is quite a new role for us. I’ve not had that in the department before. And we’ve actually just brought on board a UI/UX Lead which as well is something we’ve not had before, we’ve had a UI/UX Designer in the business and you know he’s handled everything that gets thrown in, but we thought, now it’s time to give him a bit more help a bit more support and increase the resource in that team as well.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, and it’s always good to see that, all be it, it’s not a positive thing that’s happened in the world, but it’s had positive effects in some businesses because it’s enabled you to have new roles, new staff, new location, kind of stuff, which is always great.

John Oliver: Yeah, and I think, you know, in my mind, I’ve said this a couple of times, from a business point of view, it’s not, it’s not too dissimilar to a recession in, whereby you see that the strong seems to survive the weak seems to fall by the way. And we’ve seen that not just with businesses but also with, with the talent within businesses as well.

Sarah Foster: So, how’s the onboarding process changed at Purple, or has it changed?

John Oliver: It has changed. Well, I guess actually, just a backup slightly. So Purple is an international business anyway, so we’d have staff overseas, but the majority of our stuff are based in the UK, but because we have our stuff overseas, we’re not completely unfamiliar with onboarding people remotely. However, I think it’s safe to say that the pandemic has probably made us look at that a little bit closer and make sure that we really have that nailed. And, you know some of the things that we do, we have a buddy system. So, anybody that comes on board gets assigned a buddy, and that buddy has a set of tasks that they do with that person, whether it’s phone calls, taking them out with they are local.

We have an onboarding board that every line manager gets given when a new start-up comes on. And there’s all kinds of tasks in there that needs to be completed in week one, week two, week three, they get introduced with various people throughout the company over video. So, the line manager will schedule those calls and then that person will go on to a call with the person in the meeting and they’ll explain this is my role, this is what I do in the company, this is how I can help work with the role you’ve just come into. So, there’s all kinds of things that we that we try and do just to add spin that person to quickly as possible, but we make them feel part of the team and get involved in as many meetings and see as many faces as they can in the first week.

Sarah Foster: And obviously this was may not be as applicable as a question, but do you let them know that all the COVID procedures are there within the offices to diffuse any anxieties at that point if coming into the office is something you want to do?

John Oliver: Yeah we definitely do that’s something that, to be honest, our HR department handled not me, but they definitely run through all of the things that we’ve introduced into our UK office, such as the temperature check as you come into the door, social distance in the meeting etiquette, using the toilets one at a time, all those kinds of things, we run through with people so they’re well aware.

Sarah Foster: Have you been able to translate the hybrid policy to the new starters who maybe, is their first time working from home.

John Oliver: Yeah so, currently at the minute, we are getting this is an idea we’ve tossed around and gone backwards and forwards on, but currently at the minute we don’t mandate any days in our office. We have thought about, should we say people need to come in one day a week or two days a week, but we decided to go completely remote first, but the office is still there, and if people want to go into the office, the more than welcome to. And the way we approach it really is just to say what worked with the teams work with your line manager, and just do what suits you. What we want is for people to be as productive as possible. And then if they feel that they can do that at home in their own environment, then great, you know, if they feel that sometimes they need a change of scenery, they want to get out of the house, going to the office, see what the people, for they can do that. But we don’t kind of dictate you must do this; you must do this. I think, for our business and our culture, it just works best for people to find their own way, and do what makes them happy.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, and I know we spoke about it before. Not on this podcast, but about how your business is quite well prepared for this working from home from the first lockdown, so are you able to tell a little bit more about that?

John Oliver: Yeah, definitely. So, pre COVID, as I said, we’re an international business and we have employees abroad in various regions. And we, we regularly serve, I asked staff to see, you know, what are they thinking how we can improve and one of the things we’re hearing was the overseas staff sometimes felt it was difficult for them to communicate in the way that the people in the UK office would do, i.e., you can’t just walk over to somebody that’s been asked a quick question. When they do email questions, it’s their time zone to consider and usually they don’t get a reply until the next day. To cut a long story short, what we decided to do was put the entire UK staff working from home for one week to try and feel some of the pain that our overseas staff will feel, i.e., of not been in the office. And it’s fair to say there was some teething problems in terms of communication systems, and we learnt an awful lot during that week. And we came out of that, as a business that was much better equipped to have people working at home, and staff people communicate remotely, and still do the job efficiently as well.

So once we’ve done that, what we also introduced on the back of that was a work from home Wednesday, where all of the UK office would work at home on Wednesdays and come into the office Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. For that reason we were actually quite well geared up with the whole town of working remotely thing even though we didn’t do it permanently, we were actually quite geared up to support it – anyway it was a really good exercise for us.

Sarah Foster: So with that, how have you found that the team morale has been? So, have you had to do any team additional team bonding days or anything that you did prior to lockdown, for example Friday afternoons down the pub.? How have you adapted that now?

John Oliver: So, if you think before COVID, the culture of our business is really important to us, so it was something that we think a lot about, and we think a lot about when bringing new people on as well. And just to digress slightly we actually set our values as a business. So, we flew everybody into the UK. We did an exercise called Mission to Mars, which I can talk about that later if you want to but we set the values for our business as a group. The idea being that everybody would believe in them. So, prior to COVID, we did a lot of things, as a team that they reinforced those values anyway. We have a weekly all hands with every department, we have daily stand-up, we do, as you mentioned to end on a Friday afternoon, we finished at four o’clock and everybody else plays together.

So, as we went into COVID, what we tried to do was just maintain as much of that as we could put over video. And obviously the dynamics were never completely the same, but we still did the beer Fridays. So everybody got onto a video call had a beer at their desk, had a chat. You know it’s not as free flowing as it is when people are just in the office but it’s still good to do. The all hands call continued as they would do, the daily stand ups continue as they would do. HR have been really great in Purple for thinking of things to get people involved. We’ve had mental health sessions over video. We’ve had gaming sessions, we played battleship over video a couple of weeks ago so yeah just really anything you can think of to get people together and just do something different from normal day to day work I think it’s great.

Sarah Foster: Yes, it’s hard to believe, that kind of water cooler conversation is hard to place that in when you’ve got a 30 minute meeting you log in, you say hello, talk about the weather for a couple of minutes and then you straight into it so you kind of miss the, what did you do at the weekend?

John Oliver: Yeah well we saw our chat communication tool in the businesses is called WebEx. Obviously, you can chat and call through that, it’s pretty standard, but what we encourage people to do is if you need to, if you need to speak somebody just call them via video, you know, the same way that you would do if he just needed to pop to the desk and ask a quick question just to call them via video have a five minute conversation. WebEx actually introduced funnily enough, a water cooler feature, where what they do is they pick two people at random in your business, they start a chat between those two people with a pre-formatted question, and then encourage those two people to expand on that question together and have a five-minute conversation or WebEx on it which is quite good idea.

Sarah Foster: That’s a really good idea, it’s getting to speaking to people that you probably wouldn’t always speak to on a date, either.

John Oliver: Yeah exactly, that’s exactly what happened, and you know the questions are quite quirky such as you know if you could travel back to a certain time period, what would it be and why and then you know you answer that and have a conversation about it. So yeah, it was quite a neat idea and we used it and got some good results from it.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, I really like that idea. Okay, so you kind of touched on it briefly, tell me more about the mission to Mars.

John Oliver: Okay, so the mission to Mars is, I think I’m right in saying it’s specifically designed to set company values, but if it isn’t it works well for it anyway. The way we did it was we got the company together, so it was about 120 or whatever it was. And the exercise is to say, Okay, well look, if we wanted to set up a Purple office on Mars tomorrow, which of the people from Purple would we send to that office because they represent Purple really well. So, you think okay we’re going to send maybe six people to our new office on Mars, with six people that we choose and why. And everybody in the company will pick six people and say why. And you then kind of present these answers onto a board and you begin to get clusters of the same person, or the same few people, but for the same reasons.

So, these people are coming up time and time again because they’ve always go above and beyond, you know, these people are coming up time and time again because they just fun to be around or because they can be relied upon, or because they’ve got great knowledge in a particular area. So, you begin to see these clusters for all of the same things that people within our business, obviously think is important. So, what you do then is you look at these clusters and you kind of group them together and you go away and build your values based on those clusters so I can give you our values if you’d like to quickly read through them.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, definitely.

John Oliver: Yeah, so the values we came up with as a result of that exercise is, the first one is: In it together. Which is quite self-explanatory and it will help and support one another. The second one is: Know your stuff, keep learning. This is to try and reinforce that kind of, have a thirst for knowledge and understand what you do and be people could come to you with questions about what you do when you can answer them. No drama was another one. We know that things go wrong and don’t always go the way we want them to but, getting pissed off and fed off doesn’t help anyone and that’s not the way that we want to approach things. Make it happen: Is another one so that’s just about, you know, doing what you need to do to get something done. No bullshit no politics: Which is probably my personal favourite. Basically, just be straight with people no backstabbing, no name calling, none of that nonsense, just be straight. Playful and positive. Which is probably the cheesiest one, we came up with what we did believe in it, and we thought it was worthwhile to keep so that one stayed in. And then the last one. Because Purple’s obviously a data business is, with great data comes great responsibility. Which is obviously a play on the Spider-Man line I think it is, but we thought it was a good one. So yeah, that that’s a quick overview of our values and how we came up with them.

Sarah Foster: So, the biggest question I can think of is, were you on the spaceship to Mars?

John Oliver: No, I didn’t make the shortlist. Funnily enough, I don’t think any of kind of the exec or senior management from Purple were on the spaceship. It is more of the kind of the frontline people that doers, the people that kind of talk to customers a lot though, they were kind of everybody thought they were more representative of our business and that’s great. It’s really good to see these kinds of things develop and we do the exercise.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, and it’s good to see that they’re recognised within the wider business too.

John Oliver: Yeah well, we do things every year as well where we have staff awards every year that are voted on by the staff and we give them silly names like one of the awards will be the postman because that person always delivers. Or there’s the duct tape award because that person can fix anything you know so we do stuff like that every year as well.

Sarah Foster: Sounds a really fun business to work for so that kind of leads us on nicely to my final question. How has the pandemic affected retention at Purple?

John Oliver: So, I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t affected it and I think this probably comes back to what I said earlier around. People have kind of come out of COVID and locked down and you know all the things that happened during that time, I think people are just naturally thinking, You know, is your time for telling us we shouldn’t be having to look out there, what else is happening. So yeah, we have seen a few people move on. But equally, you know, I’ve spoken to peers and colleagues and other businesses in the industry and, you know, I don’t think we’ve been hit as hard as some other companies have, based on what I’m hearing.

I think the main reason for that is because of our culture and because we believe so much in our culture and try and make Purple somewhere people enjoy working and I think that’s stood us in good stead.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, good. And is there anything that you’d like to add at all?

John Oliver: No, I don’t think so. All I’d say is, you know just probably just to mention again that we are recruiting. We raise some money just that we came out with a pandemic and if you look for and find our careers page on there, there’s lots of jobs on that you may be interested, like some of the stuff I’ve said about the business you might think it’s a cool place to work. So, yeah, go and check that out and see what you think.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, definitely head over to Purple’s website, and I’m sure it’s under the career section, but thank you for your time. It’s been lovely to chat.

John Oliver: Not a problem, Thanks for your time!