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Promoting a people-first workplace with Chief People Officer Els De Paepe

When Els De Paepe joined Qover as its Chief People Officer, she was surprised by a lot of things – namely how much people like working here.
Words by
Alex Vickery
Time to read
7 minutes
Last updated
March 8, 2022
In a nutshell

In her first few months on the job, she set out to explore why that is and how the newly formed people team could make our workplace culture even better. 

Since then, she debuted a new mobility plan, hybrid working policy, company values – the list goes on. Even with all that going on, we managed to sit down for a chat with Els to talk about creating our ‘qore’ values, the power of connection and what’s next on the busy HR agenda.

Woman at office smiles with laptop
‘Compared to other companies, I felt like Qover was very people-driven’ – Chief People Officer Els de Paepe

Why did you join Qover? What were you most excited about in your role as Chief People Officer?

What really convinced me to join Qover was the leadership, the belief I had in Quentin, Jean-Charles and the rest of the management team – they were high on purpose and low on ego. I wanted to be part of that and make a difference in a fast-growing organisation.

But maybe the most exciting thing was being able to maintain and further evolve a strong work culture. Compared to other companies I interviewed with, I felt like Qover was very human-centric and people-driven.

When I was interviewing in the office, they told me to talk to a few employees. And what they told me was so positive and authentic – you can’t fake that. Things like: Qover really cares about me; it’s a fun place to work; you can grow both personally and professionally.

People talked about being genuine friends with their colleagues. And if you look at our company values (more on that later), the common thread is people.

Almost half of Qover’s employees are women, which is not always the case in the tech world. Why do you think that is? How do you think that’s reflected in our culture?

We pride ourselves on having an inclusive culture where people can feel safe voicing their opinions and know that their ideas are taken into account. It’s nice to see that 40% of our employees are women – even our sales and marketing team is majority female – because having equal opportunity to learn and grow is so important.

However, like many companies, we still have work to do to ensure diversity at all levels – women are still underrepresented in management and on our software development team.

Diversity is about more than just gender, so we’re working on initiatives to further promote inclusion in the workplace. It’s one of the things that makes the level of collaboration and innovation at Qover so unique.

Based on your previous HR experience, what’s one of the biggest things you learned in terms of company culture that you wanted to bring to Qover?

Culture is not something you can create – it’s cultivated by a number of things: a strong sense of purpose, opportunities to grow, recognition. If you don’t have that environment, and you don’t have strong leaders who are able to drive that company culture and nurture it, then HR is very limited in what it can achieve. You can’t change a culture by yourself. 

And Qover has all of that – which is really special. 

Group of happy people stand with bikes in scenic town
'People [at Qover] talk about being genuine friends with their colleagues.'

What’s been the biggest challenge in cultivating Qover’s workplace culture so far? Has anything surprised you?

I was chatting with a new employee for our one-month check-in and he said, ‘It’s amazing: I’ve only had positive surprises, and everything has gone pretty much as expected.’ I feel the same way, and if our people have that kind of experience, then that makes our job in HR so much easier.

One thing that surprised me, in a good way, is our internal communication. Our communication is very transparent and fast; it’s not filtered by committees. We have a weekly newsletter and live Q&A with our CEO; monthly company-wide meetings; and tons of celebratory moments on Slack in between.

What really stood out to me is what people were willing to share. When I first joined I was like, ‘Wow, they’re really asking that on Slack?!’

At most companies, these things – whether certain jokes or updates – would only be shared at the coffee machine or in private, but it’s really open here.

It shows that there’s a high level of trust – people feel safe and comfortable sharing whatever’s on their mind.

Tell us about the Qover ‘qore’ values project. Why is this an important initiative?

Well, I prefer not to call it a ‘project’, since I think workplace culture is more of an ongoing process. 

But it’s the glue that holds everything together. Culture is the one thing that guides and motivates people; it determines whether employees will stay and whether you’re able to attract new hires. Finding the right talent is always a challenge, but once we start talking to people, it’s pretty clear that our work culture is a big plus.

By defining our core values, I wanted to create a common understanding of what makes our environment so great. It’s also good to clarify what we expect in terms of behaviour and how we put our values into action.

And rather than telling people what these values are from the top-down, we decided to listen to our community: 

What was your process for determining Qover’s core values?

We knew we had something really great here, so we asked our staff to tell us what inspired them to work at Qover, what attitudes we share, etc.

We did this through the World Cafe method at our off-site in Marbella, Spain. It’s basically an informal cafe setting where you put together small discussion groups.

First, everyone wrote down what our culture means to them, and then we asked them to paint what that looks like visually. If you visit our Brussels office, you can see their beautiful – mostly *laughs* – artwork on display.

Group of coworkers kneel in a circle and draw on large poster
During a workshop, Qover employees painted what our company culture means to them. 

Then we took that input and, together with the marketing team, came up with five core values that tell our story. 

To me, the whole activity of co-creation and discussion is as important as the end result. It really created energy, awareness and a common understanding of what we’re about.

The next step is to check that all of our internal initiatives and processes align with our values and to make adjustments accordingly. 

How do our company values align with recruiting new talent?

At Qover we really stress finding the right people over the right skills. I mean, it’s a showstopper right? If there’s no cultural fit, we won’t continue. So we translated our values into behaviours that we can refer to when interviewing to see if that person really fits with our culture.

On a more personal note, is there a particular value that resonates most with you?

If I had to choose, it would be ‘We prioritise qonnection.’ In my personal life, my hobby is spending time with people. It’s the same for me at work; feeling connected gives me energy and purpose. 

Selfie of a group of coworkers riding bikes on a sunny day
For Els, spending time and connecting with people gives her energy and purpose. 

Our hybrid working policy aligns perfectly with this. We think it’s important to stay connected as an organisation, which is why we ask people to spend 40% of their time working in the office – but the rest of the time they’re free to choose.

Another example is our team-building workshops. We have a full day dedicated to giving positive, constructive feedback, which really creates connection. So as you can see, this is what we prioritise at Qover as a whole.

What’s next for Qover’s people team? What can employees expect in the coming months? 

There’s so much in the pipeline! We just rolled out a new mobility policy that allows employees to lease an electric bike or company car.

We’re also working on implementing a learning and development strategy; strengthening cultural feedback; setting up a career framework for growth; and initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion.