A farmer won’t eat what he doesn’t know

June 2016, I know, this is a Dutch proverb that doesn’t work in English. It means you dislike things, even though you haven’t tried them. Usually for no particular reason. This blog is about how we internationalized the IT department of Coolblue, and how we taught the farmer to broaden his horizon.

How international is our team? Around 28% of our 150 developers don’t have a Dutch passport. Two years ago this number was 0%. That’s quite a change! Right now, we’ve got 26 different nationalities, covering all continents. The reason we’re so bent on recruiting is quite simple. We needed to strengthen our IT department, but there weren’t enough tech wizards with the required skillset available in the Netherlands. That’s why we started recruiting all over the world.

Picture of Pat eating a kapsalon

Internationalization brought with it the necessary changes. Obviously, new languages were introduced. But it didn’t stop there. Our new colleagues had to make some big lifestyle changes when they started at Coolblue. Most of them directly immigrated to the Netherlands from their home country. Some brought their families with them, including children and even pets. They didn’t just change work environments, they changed their entire lives. Including those of their loved ones. To make the transition as easy as possible for everyone involved, we had to make quite some changes as well.

First of all, we adopted English as our main language. Formal communication such as e-mails, shared documents, monthly updates and various meetings immediately had to change. This was a struggle at first, because all of the translations proved to be a lot of work. Moreover, not everyone was immediately comfortable with having to speak English. Over time, we got better, and the effort was appreciated by the newcomers. Even if our English wasn’t perfect. For the Coolblue employee who didn’t speak English that well, we started organizing English classes, in order to improve. After two years, these classes are still frequently attended by new colleagues.

Our HR support, Corinne, has been a pillar of strength throughout all of these changes. After moving here, we want to make sure that our international newcomers still have the energy to get used to their new work, colleagues, and environment. That’s why Corinne helps them with everything else. Things such as booking flights, applying for a visa, administration, finding a place to live, and Dutch taxes. When we started internationalizing two years ago, most of these things were new to her as well. But now, thanks to all of Corinne’s effort, she’s the person all internationals turn to. We couldn’t do without her!

Dutch classes are another initiative that is popular among the non-Dutch speakers. We have courses on different levels, and they are held during evening hours in groups of around ten people. Classes can be freely attended by Coolblue employees and their partners. Besides learning Dutch, these classes double as social groups for migrated families. This way, they’re able to make new friends, and get to know more about each other. Moreover, these trainings are held at the office, so family and partners get to learn more about the company as well.

Picture of Pablo with bike

Similar to the switch in language, we immediately mixed up our teams. Basically, we chose the best man/woman for the job, independent of their primary language. Soon after, many teams became ‘mixed’ and started communicating in English. Currently, there are only a few Dutch teams left. Our next step was hiring internationals for management positions. This quickly eliminated any divisions between being ‘Dutch’ or ‘non-Dutch’ so that everyone felt taken seriously. We developed our very own melting pot, and we started to feel proud of the fact that we were part of an international team.

Does this mean we’re done with developing new initiatives to simplify the transition from a Dutch team to an international team? Of course not! As we like to say at Coolblue, “a bit better every day.” So we trying to do things better. Our latest initiative is the intercultural class, in which we learn about cultural differences. With all these different nationalities in our team, we like to find out if we can improve ourselves through understanding each other better. This project will take the form of a workshop, so we expect it to be fun as well. We’re not sure if it’s going to work, but I promise to blog about it when we’ve tried.

So, did we succeed in our mission to make the farmer try new things? After two years it might be a little bit soon to say, but so far it looks promising. Sometimes, people decide to go back to the country they come from. Only a few though, you can count them on the fingers of one hand. Furthermore, we often measure how satisfied our colleagues are at Coolblue, and the results are always very positive. In this survey, Coolblueians mention their co-workers as one of their favorite reasons for coming to work.

I think we can confidently say the farmer is trying new things, and that he even likes the taste!

Thanks for reading. If you’re also planning to welcome internationals into your team, or if you have any similar or other experiences in your (IT) team, I would love to hear it!

Anneke Keller

Picture of Anneke Keller