Q&A with Vicky Shepherd, Office Manager and HR Executive at Guru Systems

At the time of posting, around one in five people around the globe are under lockdown as governments across the world take measures to protect people from Covid-19.

Since the entire team began working from home, we’ve tried all sorts of ways to stay connected, including virtual cups of tea and even fancy dress video calls!

With working from home the new normal, we asked Vicky Shepherd (our incredible Office Manager and HR Executive) to share how she’s been keeping the team together during this challenging time.

What was your first thought when it was announced that the entire company would now be working from home for an indefinite period of time?

Hearing that the whole company would need to work from home indefinitely made me feel slightly nervous to begin with. We’re a very sociable company, with a massive focus on our culture – thinking about how we’d hold onto that virtually was a bit of a concern. I should have known that everyone would be pulling together to make the most of all the technology we have available at our fingertips!

Wooden chair tucked under wooden table

What challenges did you expect to pop up and how have you helped the team overcome them?

Guru Systems encourages the team to work from home for one day a week in ‘normal’ times, so everyone is used to working from home on occasion. Five days a week, however, presents many more challenges! The wonky wooden chair you used to put up with for eight hours a week now becomes Enemy Number 1 when you’re having to sit on it for 40 hours. A chair doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it can make all the difference between a successful and productive week of work – or a distracted, uncomfortable one. Seeing some of the Gurus without a proper office set up, sparked our work from home survey to find out all the niggles, and concerns our Gurus have so we can jump on those and roll out some help where we can.

What are your top five new traditions at Guru Systems that have started while everyone has been working at home?

1. Plan company-wide video calls in a way that works for your team

Keeping our culture at the forefront, it was important to start new virtual traditions to keep our Gurus connected. We’ve always had our Monday morning meeting – where we come together to talk about what we’re all up to that week – so this has now moved to a Google Hangout. It’s important that we all get to see each other’s faces, even if some of us are still pyjama clad!

2. Keep lunchtimes social

A brand new tradition is our ‘Lunchtime Huddle’, an hour booked in everyone’s diary, Monday to Friday, for Gurus’ to drop-in as they please, sandwich in-hand or not. It’s a daily opportunity to have face-to-face conversations, even if you don’t have any other virtual meetings booked in that day.

Person holding white envelope

3. Take advantage of employee perks

I had thought that a good way to keep morale up would be to shout out the benefits we can still take advantage of – even on lockdown – through our Perkbox scheme. I started sending out an email a day in our first lockdown week to all our Gurus, focusing on one perk per day: medical, fitness, online personal development, cash-back scheme, and online discounts! A focus on fitness in particular while at home has proved to be more than morale boosting – it’s been so good for our physical and mental health! Many of our Gurus seem to have taken up yoga to combat any anxious feelings about these uncertain times.

4. Keep culture at the forefront (and bring in fancy dress!)

Each and every Friday, it’s a tradition at Guru Systems that at 4.30pm, we all down-tools and gather together for what we call ‘Share The Love’. The ‘love’ in question could be work related, or a personal passion, but we ask for one Gurus to present something to the team, while we have a Friday night beer together, with the occasional 18 inch pizza (or six) thrown in. We wanted to make sure that this didn’t get lost in the chaos of home working, so now all our STLs are virtual. Same format, except now we supply our own beers – and occasionally come in fancy dress (a hilarious addition to our already fun gathering!) ‘Costume of the week’ last week was a toss between a full scale Big Bird from Sesame Street, and a gold spangled Bee Gee. It was a tough call.

5. Find new online tools to stay connected

Other tools we’ve used to keep connected with each other have been Kahoot – an online quiz site that allows you to play with the whole team live! We’ve also used Jamboard – a Google tool that allows you to share a virtual whiteboard. We’ve used it to play a Friday night pictionary – we discovered who really are the competitive members of the team pretty fast! There are a few more tools up my sleeve for the future in case we’re in lockdown for longer. I’ll unleash them in a timely fashion…

Person writing a checklist

How have you been checking in with the team?

Our lunchtime huddles have been a great way to check in with the team, but to really get under the surface, the survey we conducted after the first week of WFH gave us some really insightful information.

It allowed us to figure out how we can best help our Gurus make the most out of this situation. Not only to stay productive, but also to assess how everyone is dealing with the stresses of what’s going on in the world. It would be unrealistic to think that we can carry on as normal, when the world is going through a pandemic – but listening to how our Gurus feel, and how they are coping is really important to us.

The survey has also brought about some fantastic suggestions about keeping everyone’s spirits up, and getting us to focus on the positives – so now our STLs include ‘Peak of the Week’ where we all mention a ‘high’ moment of our week, and we can celebrate it together.

Yellow cup on desk

What’s the one thing you’re most proud of that’s happened so far?

Ugh *touches heart* I’ve been so proud of how the Gurus have just taken the bull by the horns these past few weeks and been so productive while working collaboratively together. We’re not going to let anything stop us from getting stuff done! The way we’ve all been keeping in touch, dialling into the virtual huddles (even for tea breaks!), has been just so lovely to see. If anything, I think we’ve gotten to know each other that little bit more – from ‘Cribs’ style tours of Guru houses, or sharing lockdown woes – the feeling is that we’re all in it together.

Letterboxes on a blue door

What’s the best idea you’ve heard another organisation doing and how are you going to bring it to Guru Systems?

I don’t want to say too much and ruin the surprise – but should this go on for much longer, our Gurus will have something else to look forward to through their letterbox… Oops I’ve already said too much!

How have you personally stayed centred throughout this time?

For me personally, I have two kids at home with me which means I don’t have time to panic or even think! I’ve got to be strong and stable for them. No matter what is happening ‘out there’, my focus has to be what’s within the confines of my own house. They get excited about watching a ‘family movie’ every single night after dinner – and the fact that we’re together all the time seems to be the best thing to them about being in lockdown. So I really can’t complain. I’m sure I’ll look back on this time with rose-tinted glasses and remember how amazing it was to have so much family time in this day and age. I’ll miss it when we return to some normality in a way.