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Redefining HR Podcast Ep92 Thumbtack Head of People, Jelena Djordjevic

Redefining HR Podcast Ep92 Thumbtack Head of People, Jelena Djordjevic

In this episode, I sit down with Thumbtack Head of People Jelena Djordjevic. We discuss her background as chief of staff and how that experience translated into her current role. We also talk about the future of work, and the programs and initiatives that Thumbtack is implementing to better the quality of life for their employees in terms of the flexibility of virtual-first work, inclusivity and mental health.

Thumbtack is a home management platform that helps to connect homeowners with professionals to solve issues that may arise, such as burst pipes or home insulation needs. Jelena’s role as head of people for the organization is an invaluable one, making sure that the teams creating the platform’s magic are working and collaborating effectively. “[It’s] really this amazing opportunity to think about, ‘how do we think about managing the business from the people-side?’” she says. “Are we thinking long term about how to translate our business strategy into a people strategy? Are we operating as well as possible, and are people effective?”

Listen in to hear the details of this people-first approach and what HR leaders can learn from these initiatives.

The Design Principles of Virtual-First Work

This new reality of virtual and hybrid work is something that all of us in HR and the people space are navigating right now. Many organizations have made firm commitments about their plans for how they will structure work for their employees moving forward, while others are still taking time to figure out what’s best. Jelena talks about her approach with virtual-first work at Thumbtack and the design principles behind making it a successful endeavor.

She wrote a great blog post about how both people and organizations can emerge from the disruption of 2020 better than ever and how the virtual-first model can accomplish that. “We believe that virtual-first is here to stay,” she says. “So, at Thumbtack, we are solving for three design principles that really colored the model.” Those principles are flexibility, inclusivity and equity.

She says that flexibility is important so that “your professional choices don't hamper your personal choices. We just don't believe that where you live should dictate what job you can have.” Virtual-first work allows people the freedom to move to their support network if needed, leading to increased professional and personal satisfaction. In terms of inclusivity and equity, virtual-first has the opportunity to allow for better collaboration and teamwork. For Jelena, “that's the only way to maintain an inclusive experience where everybody is an equal participant in the team's work.”

Using the Virtual-First Model to Hire More Inclusive Talent

Getting inclusivity and equity right can be difficult, but it’s important for organizations to prioritize giving everyone a seat at the table. Since one of the drivers for Thumbtack adopting the virtual-first work model was access to a more representative and inclusive talent pool that isn’t limited by location, I was curious to see how this initiative was working for them.

Jelena discusses the recent-hire data in terms of diversity metrics. “I use the Rooney Rule. So for every final on-site round for a role above a certain level, at the senior manager level and above, we require that we have at least one female candidate and one underrepresented minority at the on-site round. It's been easier for us to sort of follow that rule that we've set out for ourselves now, because we can very deliberately source across the country. And we prioritize our proactive sourcing efforts towards diverse candidates.”

An example that Jelena gives is hiring for the director of organizational development role at Thumbtack. “Maybe 70 to 80 percent of the candidate pool has been from a diverse background,” she says. “It's amazing how easily it happens once you have the whole country at your disposal.”

Caring for Employee Mental Health

Another important topic in work today that HR leaders need to pay close attention to centers on the idea of employee mental health. Exhaustion and burnout has been on the rise, especially during this turbulent pandemic era. And no one wants to finally take that much-earned “time off” only to be bombarded with emails and Slack messages from colleagues who are still in the office. Jelena discusses how important this topic is to her and how Thumbtack extends its people-first approach to valuing people’s time and wellness.  

“We have a lot of opportunities to pulse the organization and make sure that we're understanding all of the trends, and burnout kept on coming up. I think it's no surprise to anybody as a society. It is a huge problem,” Jelena says. One of the approaches that she champions is keeping everyone in sync and giving all employees a week off at the same time. That way, an individual employee won’t be tempted to use their time off to answer questions or solve problems from co-workers who are still grinding it out.

But time off isn’t the only answer for improving burnout and employee mental health, and Jelena is keenly aware of this. “It became clear to me that it’s just such a multifaceted problem, and each person’s experience is so different,” she says. “Some people might experience burnout because they can't prioritize effectively. Some might experience it because they don't have a support network at home. So we really addressed it from many directions, with the weeklong shutdown being just one of several. We doubled down on our modern health and EAP benefits. We're bringing them in to do sessions with our managers.”

Whether it’s taking advantage of the opportunities of virtual-first work and improving employee mental health, people always come first for Jelena. “It was also just part of the ethos of Thumbtack, where we really care about employees. We care about you being able to bring your whole self to work.”

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