In our Office Snacks series we interview members of our community to delve into their varied buffets of experience and come away with juicy insights and ideas.
Join us in our next installment below as Jessica Zwaan—Chief Operating Officer at Whereby—shares her wisdom with us.
Hi Jessica, welcome to the series! We’d love to get to know you better, where are you based?
I am currently based in New York City, in Greenwich Village specifically.
How’d you get to where you are today?
To New York? British Airways.
To my role? Good question.
I had worked in People Ops for over 10 years and was getting really comfortable with the role and responsibilities. But I really wanted to become more cross-functionally, so I began managing the Legal team at Whereby, followed by the Business Operations teams, and then stepping into COO in July 2021.
The move first came about as my reach began to move from focussing on headcount and workforce planning, to broader budget planning and P&L responsibilities, from there I started working with the Customer team on improving efficiencies.
COOs take all kinds of shapes, but I believe a commercially-minded People leader, who views the culture and business as a product, should have no problem shifting into the COO seat.
You can read more about my journey over the last 5 years here.
How does your typical day look, do you have a set routine you stick to?
I work in NYC but the majority of my team is in Europe, so I tend to wake up very early for meetings between 6 and 7 am. I make a coffee, get into my “Whereby room”, and spend about 3-4 hours in back-to-back discussions.
I generally break for lunch and spend as much of the afternoon in focus time as possible. When you’re working in a scaling company your role is still very “operational”, so I'm still expected to be pulling reports, running audits, and being involved in policy creation. I spend a lot of time reviewing documents, contracts, and other pieces of work which require me to be in focus mode.
I generally wrap up and go to the gym or for a walk, and then come back and do a few emails in the evening.
How do you describe your job to others?
I am kind of the town planner of a company, spending time working out how all of the infrastructure, planning, and ways of working make sense across everything which isn’t engineering or sales.
My aim is to make the company itself highly valuable, and that it facilitates building the best product possible for our customers.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love solving complicated problems, and I really love meeting with our customers. Some of my favourite projects over the last few months have been working with marketing and our billing teams to set up partnership and affiliate programmes, building out our revenue and cashflow models, and working on more commercial OKRs for our support and operations teams.
What’s your biggest challenge?
I often feel I’m fighting against time more than anything else. My biggest challenge is overcoming the number of tasks, ideas, thinking, and meetings I have with the amount of time in a day to work, sleep, see my loved ones.
A more specific challenge is at the moment the global economy is causing turmoil to employment, inflation, forecasting, and forex. It’s been a tough year or so as we’ve grappled with how we can overcome these challenges after the previously difficult years of the pandemic.
What do you think is the biggest misconception around HR?
That they’re the police of a company. I believe the HR ream are the product managers for the employee experience and, the more the teams behave in the way, the more likely they are to build an incredible workplace and be more connected to the commercials of the business.
How has technology impacted the HR world?
Well my first job was posting employment contracts out to people’s homes for signature, something which is now so deeply anachronistic. HR has just become so much less administrative over the last 10 years, it’s really opened our time and capacity to be more strategic in our focus.
Which are your most-loved tools to help you with your job?
I’m a huge fan of productivity and communication tools, so tools like Notion, Loom, and Pleo are ones that have lately really changed the game in terms of how teams manage and interact remotely.
What’s been your most successful initiative to date and why?
Probably Whereby’s compensation philosophy. I wrote a 3-part blog series about how to craft a globally relevant compensation philosophy based on that work and it was really well received.
I think that has really opened the eyes of many other leaders to be more transparent and forward-thinking with their compensation philosophies.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Be aggressively curious.
What do you think is the biggest challenge companies face in the current labour market?
Like I mentioned above, the economy is really in a very volatile place which truly highlights the commerciality and complexity of the HR role within the employment market. I think that facing compensation, remote work, talent shortages, and inflation—all in a few years—is an incredible challenge.
Lastly, and most importantly, what’s your favourite office (home or otherwise) snack?
I don’t know if this counts as an office snack, but every Friday my husband and I get a bagel and eat it together while doing our morning emails, it’s one of my favourite parts of the week.
What’s your favorite office snack?
Work in People and Culture? Want to share your ideas?
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