Zuzana Marková: Formally, We Are a Corporation; In Reality, We Are Always for People

October 13th, 2023
Interview with Zuzana Marková

Meet the woman we call “the soul of Webnode”, Zuzana Marková. As Chief Personnel Officer, she stands behind our people-focused company culture, fun recruitment campaigns, and phenomenal events. How does she do it all with four kids at home? Be ready to get inspired!

Webnode is a teenager, celebrating its fifteenth birthday. What do you wish for Webnode, Zuzka?

To go through puberty unscathed and remain as great as it was and is – even if it occasionally gets acne. My wish for everyone at Webnode is that it’s not just a job for them and that they can find their place here and things that suit them. And if they decide it’s time to move on, I hope they remember Webnode as a place that was cool. No aftertaste. I would like Webnode to become even more attractive to its current customers and even more desirable to new ones as it matures. I also wish for Webnode to remain as tolerant of people and their human faults as it always has been, because (sh)IT happens. (She is laughing)

From your point of view as someone who has been working here for six years, what makes Webnode so great?

So many things, but I’ll point out one: the company’s internal environment. If you ask the people in the company what they appreciate most, they will say freedom, the atmosphere, their colleagues, and, of course, the product that grows under their hands. The company culture is informal, friendly, and built on the individual stories of people working at Webnode.

Let’s show it with your own example. You started at Webnode with two small children, is that right?

Yes. When I joined Webnode six years ago, my daughter was three months old and my son was one year and three months old. Plus, my partner (also a Webnoder, by the way) brought two young children from a previous relationship. I am not quite a typical example of a Czech woman on a multi-year maternity leave. I wanted to do something other than housework, but at the same time, I knew it would be challenging. Fortunately, Webnode is a friendly company. I got the same flexible working time that applies to all our employees. As much as possible, we try not to tell people that their work is from a particular time to a particular time. We don’t make them sit in the office. Everyone is responsible for their work and their team.

Zuzana with her partner and children

Zuzana with her partner and children

Well, but still, organizing all your work responsibilities, taking care of four children… What do you do to make it work? What is your concrete advice?

I’m sorry, but I don’t think there is a specific recipe. I have my own system and a set routine, but at the same time, I’m not one of those people who collapses when the system doesn’t work. That sometimes happens, but there are some things that must work. For example, it wouldn’t be possible without partner communication and the ability to help each other in all circumstances. As well as the will to do it, there’s a lot hidden in that. Love is also important, because without it all is useless. And joy from the present moment is essential. Plans are also key so that you have something to look forward to. It is not worth it to play the hero – sometimes you’re on top, sometimes you’re down. And I’m a hot-blooded person. So, I would add tolerance, too. And support. Everyone must find their own system and feel good about it, as much as possible. Self-pity is the road to hell; everyone should quickly forget that. Most of all, don’t go crazy…

Zuzko, after years in Covid isolation, what is better: working from the living room or from the office? Which do you prefer?

The office, for sure. I was missing socialization terribly during Covid, like most people. Also, I don’t have a work corner at home and there is no place to put it yet because we’re working on a major renovation this year. Solving the budget with a laptop on your lap in the living room is not a good situation.

What was the responsibility given to you when you joined Webnode?

When Webnode was hiring me, then co-owner Ondra Kratěna told me: “I know what kind of company I want to have. And I would like you to arrange it. I would like you to know what you need to know about people to make them like working at Webnode and see that they can come to you when they have a problem.” At the same time, I was given a free hand to do things my way. An ideal combination.

Zuzana Marková Webnode

As of today, Webnode has 131 employees and they have been working here for an average of 5 years. Is it short, long, or just right for an HR manager? Are you satisfied?

I am very satisfied! Of course, it depends on the department. It’s a good result in the case of developers because they’re building an ever-evolving product. It takes at least a year before they finish the training. However, we also keep this average in the customer care department, where the turnover of people is generally high. Especially in Brno, where IT is concentrated, as well as customer care of several Czech and international companies. Webnode currently has 65 people in the customer care department, and about a dozen of them have been with us for more than ten years.

How do you and the company manage to achieve this?

First, what Ondra mentioned when I joined: we know what kind of company we are and what kind of people we look for. We look for those who have the same or similar values. In other words: the laborer will stand by the belt and check screw by screw if it is in the contract. But he probably won’t care if there’s a bad one here and there. But we want our people to care.

How and where does HR look for people for whom pay is not the only motivation?

With the help of a creative advertisement, for example. We do not write it as some kind of “trade”. We describe the current situation: who we are looking for, why, what they will do with us, what they will get. Even with a little cheeky language. As we did in the Czech campaign “Nechcu makat v korporátu”(I don’t want to work in a corporation). Today, we are also part of a corporation, but we are still a company where we value people personally and professionally. I’ll give one more example. When I’m looking for a person to join the HR team, I almost always write my story: who I am and what I’m like. That gives each applicant the opportunity to consider in advance whether it is worth sending me their CV.

Do you even still read them at Webnode?

Certainly! It helps us to get an initial idea about the candidate. Naturally, when we are looking for a future colleague with language skills, the first thing we look at is their knowledge of languages. The same is true for a position in development, where we observe how well a person controls coding languages. In general, we almost ignore education. Nowadays, in companies like Webnode, I think it doesn’t hold so much importance.

What are the three essential things a person who wants to work at Webnode must have?

First, a natural sense of loyalty. With us, people get so much freedom and possibilities that they must be able to handle it. Related to this is responsibility, and the desire to move things forward. This is the basis for us as a company to be able to introduce benefits such as flexible working hours, remote work, a birthday day off, and unlimited vacation.

Unlimited vacation is a big trend in HR right now.

A trend and a whip. There are companies that don’t give a good name to unlimited vacation because they started using it as a tool to reduce the number of vacation days taken. We don’t do that. On the contrary, we tell people to use vacation as a tool to relax. When you are sick, take a sick day. When you go to a funeral, you get paid time off. Do we have individuals abusing unlimited vacation? Of course. But we deal with it individually and do not punish the rest of the company for it.

Webnode is originally a Czech company, but we have employees from all over the world. Isn’t there a risk that a company culture set up like this will suit only certain cultures?

We currently have employees from 26 nationalities around the world. Farthest west from Venezuela and Mexico to farthest east from Taiwan. They are all foreigners, but they know the Czech Republic well. They either studied here and stayed after school or found a Czech partner. So, they don’t come to us with naive ideas. We do not hire people abroad. There would be demand, but it is administratively and economically difficult – you can hardly pay a Swedish-speaking specialist with a Czech salary.

Zuzko, what do you focus on when interviewing a person applying for a position at Webnode?

I focus on many things. There are standard recruitment methods that we use in our HR too. But again, it’s about humanity. I will give a concrete example once more. Just the other day, I was heading to an interview when a colleague from customer care, whose team the candidate would join, asked me, “Hey, does she even want to help people?” That was the definition of our criteria in one sentence.

On the other hand, what do you look for in an interview that might be a sign that the person isn’t right for Webnode?

We don’t mind if someone is thirty-five and has changed ten companies in the last ten years as part of the search. But we are watching how a person deals with problems: did they run away from them or solve them? Another example: I recently spoke with a person who told me that he never achieved the goals he set for himself. But he always had an excuse for it. If it happened twice, I’d probably get over it, but this says more about him than he thinks. I am also critical of people who make the company they work for responsible for their financial situation. For example, they automatically expect that the company is a social institution that is obliged to compensate them for the current rate of inflation.

What is currently the biggest challenge for you personally at Webnode?

To balance the start-up culture of Webnode with the culture required by corporation rules. I have always run away from corporations because their culture is based on values that are not related to the person as an individual. Webnode has been people-oriented since its foundation. How do we preserve this and at the same time, meet the rules of the corporation? That’s my big challenge.

What do you enjoy most about working at Webnode?

People and work. At the beginning of the month, when I do administration and tables, I grind my teeth, that’s for sure. But I have also been given the trust and freedom to do activities that are immensely fulfilling, and we all enjoy them.

For example, organizing a Christmas party on a train?

For example. (She laughs) Because I simply don’t think it’s dignified to tell people at the end of November: here, we’ve reserved a pub and ordered food for you, come and we’ll celebrate Christmas together there. A party and an escape game on a moving train with live actors, who were our people, and they could either stick to the role or just have fun, is, I think, a much more successful celebration. Fortunately, according to the reviews, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Zuzana Marková with her colleague from HR

Zuzana (right) with her colleague from HR at the Christmas party on the train

You must enjoy it – receiving such excited feedback…

Oh yes. But I have another good story: When we did the Open Day for developers, the electricity in Brno went out. The Open Day was on the terrace on the fifth floor, but we had all the things, including furniture and refreshments, on the ground floor. In short, a real mess. But I could watch how loyal and helpful people can be. Everyone got up from their chairs, took what they could, and started carrying things up the stairs so that we could get everything done on time. My voice is breaking now, but it was the best proof that when you think of people, they think of you.

Which event that you organized, aside from the train escape, are you most proud of?

In the time of Covid, we streamed the Christmas party from our 2-bedroom apartment, turning it into a total NASA command post. A few days before, I said to my colleagues in HR: It would be great if each person received a box with food and drinks, ideally between seven and eight in the evening. This was an inspiration from the Oscars, by the way, because the Oscars were organized that year in such a way that someone delivered the statuettes to the door of the awardees. Everyone told me I’m crazy – delivering food to a hundred people in one hour? But I didn’t give up. And so it happened that my colleagues called all the taxi companies who were happy to do it. They had nothing to do during Covid anyway. And that’s how it worked – by eight o’clock all our people had a Christmas box with food and drinks.

Read an interview with our CEO, Josef Hos

Jana LeBlanc – Czech publicist, author and blogger. She publishes in the magazines Moje psychologie, Respekt, Deník N, Reportér. She is the author of the book “Moje bejby Amerika”. She writes the blog “Co mi udělalo radost” – about life in foreign countries and the experiences of a mother of bilingual sons – comiudelaloradost.cz.