English as the core language and a dedicated relocation manager at Youwe

Youwe: A digital agency shaping e-commerce for top clients like Booking.com and G Star. With a global footprint and diverse team, discover how Youwe's expertise and inclusive culture drive success.

Youwe (1)

Make it in the North met up with Youwe Chief Customer Officer and Co-owner Tjitte Folkertsma to talk about how the digital powerhouse has been shaking things up since 2000. With a presence in Groningen, Rotterdam, the UK, and the Nordics, they're all about making waves in e-commerce. They've worked with big names like Booking.com and G Star — and they've got over 100 clients under their belt.

Folkerstma walks us through the company's mindset when it comes to hiring internationals which involves having a dedicated relocation manager, assistance with their personal development, and having English as the main working language of the company.

Can you tell us a bit about the company?

We’re Youwe, a full-service Digital Agency founded in 2000. We have a presence in Groningen, Rotterdam, and in the UK and the Nordics among other places. Our focus markets are the Nordics, the UK, and the Benelux countries.  

We help companies with their transactions so mostly it’s e-commerce. We help build, advise, guide, or do the digital marketing for companies who want to sell online. We do that for around 100 different companies, that can include companies like Booking.com, G Star, and Schneider Electric. It’s a diverse range of companies.

When did your company start hiring internationals? 

Because we are an international company and we have several locations, English was already our native language and all documentation is written in English. Furthermore, 90% of all the meetings are always in English and we have of course international customers. 

So it made sense for us to look into hiring internationals. Particularly, during covid we saw a big demand and requests for the services we provided and we actually hired a relocation manager to help people from abroad to move to the Netherlands and work at the Rotterdam or Groningen offices

Have you experienced any challenges at the Dutch offices with having internationals there?

Not really. But we tend to focus on it quite a bit. So we try to make people feel at home. We really have English as our core language, so that helps communication. We have several, different events such as the Friday afternoon drinks, we have the monthly pizza sessions, we have a summer event, we have an annual Christmas event.

There’s also a core group of expats who do activities together such as organising a boat trip.

Internationals have a person they can always rely on, in our case that’s the relocation manager who is there to help them with what can be quite broad questions. These can range from help to pursue a Dutch language course, government-related questions, and finding the right place to live.

What aspects of your company do you think attract internationals to work there?

I think it’s because it is a real international company and we serve a lot of international clients. There are around 10 different nationalities in our Groningen location and I believe there are around 12 internationals at this office. So there’s an international bunch of people that come from all over the world and I think that makes it quite interesting for a lot of people. It's nice to live in a place like Groningen because it is a relatively small, cozy city. But on the other hand, it also has an international vibe.

So it's not like there aren't any internationals or you don't have the ability to connect with people from the same country. 

Our company is quite focused on your development. It's something we call the Expedition, where you get a budget but you also get days that you can use to develop yourself. So it is not only a company that is focused on building great stuff for our clients, but we also acknowledge that it's really important that people learn and that people educate themselves and bring themselves, a little bit further.

How does your company benefit from hiring internationals? 

First of all, we are always looking for talent. So hiring international people makes a lot of sense if you want to hire the best and if you want to hire the right people with a certain attitude or a particular skill set.

So if you only look within your own country, that's going to be a big challenge. So, first of all, it's about attitude, it's about skill set and that's the reason why we started hiring international people. But also because the current market, employer market is quite tough in the Netherlands. So it makes a lot of sense for the international people to come here and it makes sense for us to hire international people to service our clients the best way possible. 

How familiar are you with the process of sponsoring job seekers that don't have an EU passport?

Yeah it's something that we took quite seriously. When we started hiring internationals, we thought okay, if we're going to do this we need to do it right so we hired a relocation manager to completely focus on it and we have all the right skills and knowledge to get Visa. So we’re a registered sponsored company with the IND. We have several people which can help getting you everything you need from that aspect.

What are the biggest cultural differences that you've encountered with internationals? 

Quite a lot. If you look at culture and if you look at working together with so many different nationalities then you see that the way people look at certain problems or the way people perceive their day-to-day job is quite different. People also have different communication styles. 

Some people might think that a Dutch person or a Belgian person would interact similarly to somebody from the UK. But it is completely different and every culture has its own way of looking at stuff and that sometimes can be challenging. 

We have several courses on cross-cultural communication and we even organise quizzes at the office.

Another thing we do is ‘town hall meetings’ where we present how to company is doing, where we want to go, and during such sessions we also focus on cross-cultural communication.

We love to celebrate our diversity. One tangible way we did so was to ask people coming from all the 90 different cultures working at Youwe to contribute their favourite recipe. So now we have the Youwe International Cookbook with recipes from Indonesia, Egypt, Ukraine, and everywhere else around the world.

How long does it usually take your international employees to start using Dutch in a relevant way?

Not a lot of our international colleagues use Dutch because they are a little bit spoiled since they can use English for pretty much everything at the office, in communication with their clients or even just in the supermarket. But we do see that if you're able to learn Dutch, it will bring you just that little bit more of an understanding and make it easier to communicate especially outside of the office.

So it’s not needed for the day-to-day business, but it will enrich your life if you decide to go to the Netherlands. 

When you post a vacancy in Dutch, do you imply that it's only for Dutch people or would you also welcome applications from internationals that speak Dutch? 

If you look at the vacancies we have as a company, pretty much all our vacancies are in English because our main language also for the website is English. We don't have a lot of things translated to Dutch also in terms of vacancies.

So it's very rare that we only have a Dutch vacancy. And if we have a Dutch vacancy that mostly means that it's also a particular function or a particular role within the company that it makes a lot of sense to speak Dutch. For example, if you're a delivery manager in the Dutch market –  it's quite handy that you're able to speak Dutch. But pretty much all the other roles in the company don’t require Dutch.

Do you think the internationals want to settle down in the Netherlands? Or do you think they will return to their own countries? 

Some people fall in love with the Netherlands, fall in love with a particular city, or fall in love with somebody they've met here and they would love to stay here. I do think that most of the internationals we have today are planning on staying in the Netherlands. They're not here just for a year or two.

They want to settle in the Netherlands. They want to learn the language. They want to learn about the culture and really settle in this country because they fell in love with it.

What’s your advice for companies that want to hire internationals?

If you want to hire internationals, I think you should really embrace it. It’s not just a quick fix if you don’t find Dutch people for the job.

You really need to understand that you’re bringing in different cultures and people with completely different backgrounds. That's a good thing because those people have a lot of experience and knowledge and certain skill sets that you can't maybe find easily in the local market.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Video: Julia Dumchenko
Interviewer: Annaléa Chatelier