September 6, 2023

Why we are a “people-first” company - Part 1: An inspiring Work environment

When we created YUX 7 years ago in Senegal, it was not a company. We were a group of people passionate about tech and design and we wanted to share this passion with many others so that we see more products and services tailored to African contexts. After a year of free community events on our savings, we incorporated as a company and started working with clients. We were by ourselves, the 3 founders, for 1 year and we decided to not pay ourselves and keep all the money generated to get offices and hire people. From the get go, our vision was not on being a network of consultants chasing money, but rather we focused on hiring and training very young people - as it was, and still is for us the only way we could, as an African company, be able to compete with global companies and make sure interest of African users are put first. All this to say that our DNA is very, very centered around finding, nurturing and taking care of amazing african talents. We tried a lot of things, many things did not work, or failed as we scaled and became a company of +50 people across 7 countries. With this article, we wanted to share to other design or research agency founders the things we put in place  to grow and retain our team. Our “people-first” strategy is composed of 3 pillars: the responsibilities and the work environment ; the compensation ; and the benefits. We’d love to get your feedback on these and learn about what you feel is relevant for African professionals in the 21st century!

“Creating an inspiring work environment and building the confidence of our teammates”

- Autonomy
 We throw you in the water and are here to support you any step of the way.
As a management style, we allow the employees to take ownership of their work; they follow, apply, learn, and take initiative. We have strong manager support by having frequent 1:1s to check up on the employees, track their progress, and see the areas of improvement. 
There is no micromanagement at YUX, but everyone has many responsibilities, so everyone must adapt and manage their schedules. Work might be overwhelming sometimes, but everyone is responsible for their deadlines; the manager expects quality work at the right time. 

- Skills maps & internal training
The Lattice skills map is a tool we use at YUX to properly track employee competencies. By making this investment, we believe that the skill development process will be more transparent, individual growth will align with business goals, and customized career paths will be possible. We adopted Lattice because it is the appropriate platform that can allow us to promote continuous improvement, enable focused skill growth, and eventually increase team performance and collaboration.
We do the skills map with the employees with more Seniority. The People & Culture team created the matrix for the skills maps, which are mainly three track levels: Junior, Middle, and Senior. Based on which level the employee is at, we can define the salary and the areas of improvement to jump to another level.  
At YUX Design, we adopt internal training to encourage skill growth and team cohesiveness. It ensures employees stay updated with industry trends, enhances their capabilities, and aligns them with company values. Through internal training, we foster a culture of lifelong learning and individual development, ultimately strengthening our company's long-term success.

skills map

- Unlimited Vacation policy
We had a team building in December 2022 in Senegal. During the team building, we decided to give employees unlimited vacation. As day offs, we offer employees the opportunity to take vacation days, Public holidays in the country where they are based, and mandatory end-of-project breaks. 
Sage is our HR management system where employees can request a day off, which will be validated by the managers. On Slack, we have a #holidaaaays channel in which everyone is notified when someone else is out of the office. People just have to inform colleagues and managers about the leaves at least three weeks in advance for leave longer than a week. 
Since the day we implemented that policy, the employees only take a few days off. Most of them only take when they see their managers take long vacations. They just take the managers as an example; however, they should take ownership of what they have the right to. We don't have any specific rule for the vacation, as everyone can take it any time. The good thing is that the Yuxies take a break after a project, which is great because at least they go on vacation after completing a milestone. 
An advice we give to our team and to whoever reads this article: "Work hard but also know when to take a break."

- Team Retreats
Since our inception in 2016, we have been doing Team Retreat every six months. It stopped with COVID-19 and is now a centerpiece of our culture. Retreats are heavily work-oriented, working on team feedback, processes, management improvement, cultural clashes, etc. This year, we had our Anglophone Team Retreat in Ghana. The team had a workshop, conference, and activities. The goals are  to share feedback with one another in person, to review past projects and discuss team restructuring opportunities, and also to have fun and bond with each other!. 

“Pictures from our Team Buildings in Accra (August 2023)“Pictures from our Team Buildings in Accra (August 2023) ”

Upskill in English for everyone
English is our working language. Not everyone is proficient in that language, but we empower each other to communicate fluently and comfortably in English. We don't have an English language course at YUX, but everyone can look for an English immersion, and YUX funds the course. 

- Onboarding
We have our own onboarding led by the People & Culture team with the assistance of mostly everyone. We use Sage as our Human resources management system; it helps us to assign onboarding tasks to new recruits. There, we can track the progress of the new Yuxies during the onboarding process. We also have several onboarding calls to introduce and familiarize the new Yuxies with the tools, culture, and tasks they aim to complete. 

  • YUX Box

What makes us Yuxies is having YUX goodies to be the company ambassador wherever we go. We offer YUX Boxes to the new Yuxies. One box has several goodies that are motivational but also help the employees to have the necessary tools to work remotely. We found it challenging to ship the goodies to other countries, but thankfully, our employees in Senegal often travel, and they could bring the goodies to other countries (Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, …). 

  • Buddy & Advisor system (new)

Extra support from someone other than the manager is crucial. Therefore, we decided to assign buddies & advisors to the new Yuxies. The manager might not always be available, whereas the employee can probably be stuck on the work She/He is doing. The Buddy & Advisor are there to guide, support, and give advice for a successful career. Sometimes the employees need to consider the importance of the Buddy & Advisor, so we emphasize and explain it clearly during the onboarding process. 

  • Structured onboarding plan, doc + videos

We have onboarding documents and videos covering everything the employees need to know about YUX. As part of their onboarding tasks, we make them review the onboarding materials to get all the information about their YUX journey. To ensure we are all on the same page, we have the onboarding call, an opportunity for the new recruits to ask questions and know their perspectives. 

  • Structured onboarding training

We have several onboarding training sessions that embody the basics of UX-UI. Everyone should be able to talk about UX-UI and YUX purposes regardless of their position at the company. The training might be about UX Research basics, UI Design's importance, or Human-centered design's relevance. The sessions are led by one of the Mid-level UX Researchers. It is an excellent opportunity to learn new skills and strengthen knowledge. 
We have invested in Sage HR, which streamlines our onboarding. The tool enhances efficiency and employee satisfaction by automating administrative tasks, expediting document processing, and ensuring consistent communication. Ultimately, Sage HR optimizes onboarding, saves time, and fosters a positive, organized environment for new hires. The People & Culture team sends the tasks and documents on the new hires' profiles. They just have to tick the boxes when tasks are completed and sign documents on the platform without printing or scanning anything. 

- Feedback 360
Another good thing we do is the long 360, in-person feedback session. It is one of the best management practices we implemented this year, a game changer, especially in cultures where feedback is not natural or direct. We are trying to be as transparent as possible to reflect how most employees experience YUX. The managers are just one of the ones giving the feedback; everyone has to provide it without attacking the others. It is all about constantly working to learn and improve. Yuxies are encouraged to be as forthcoming as possible with feedback. Managers are expected to be honest about any skills needed for an evolution.

1 on 1
At YUX, we know that managers are responsible for 70% of the variance in engagement on their teams.
For us, 1-on-1s are essential in employee engagement and overall performance. We want the managers to have frequent check-ins with the employees to track their performance, analyze the experience, and see the areas of improvement. We add 1:1s to our schedules as recurring meetings. We schedule bi-weekly meetings that last 30 minutes, but it can go beyond depending on the conversation. Since we are a remote company, our 1:1s happen online but can also occur in person for those based in Dakar. 
To avoid that both parties don't have a subject during the 1:1s, we use Lattice. On Lattice, we add the tasks to be completed, the topic to be discussed, and the skills to be leveraged, which can be for a specific period (e.g., for the next 2 weeks). 
Through 1:1s, managers show how much they value and care about the employees. It is nothing stressful but about being positive and building relationships and trust. 

- To improve / What’s next on Responsibilities and Work Environment
We are currently organizing our next team building, so we must ensure that the employees know what they should take from the Retreat. It is not a vacation; we will have several work-related activities. As long as the company spends a considerable amount of money on the Retreat, we expect productive work from everyone who will attend the Retreat. 
Concerning onboarding, we are in the process of perfecting it. Therefore, we are editing the content to make it specific and concise. The People & Culture team does not decide alone, but we ask the employees' opinions on improving the onboarding process. 

Thanks for reading this! In the second part of this article, we’ll share the Compensation, Perks and Opportunities we provide to the Yuxies! Stay tuned.

 and in Dakar (December 2022)”" Pictures from our Team Buildings  in Dakar (December 2022)”