STRV is lucky in that we all have plenty of experience with collaborating with clients remotely, so working from home is not a big deal. Compared to many businesses, we didn’t have to drastically alter our work schedules or implement new processes in our projects.
One of our biggest worries was if our company culture would take a hit. Our priority is always to take care of our people and to keep our community safe, connected and informed. And because we know just how much STRV thrives on in-office activities, unplanned creative brainstorms and open collaboration, it was important that we find ways to stick together — even when we are all apart.
So as people worldwide continue sharing their experiences to support and inspire one-another, we’d like to share what our People Ops department has done in the past weeks to keep everyone at STRV safe, productive and positive. They have gone above and beyond for our team. As we all began working from home, People Ops — occasionally known to us as STRV’s #caringsquad — has been an incredible source of support, kindness and even entertainment. From making and delivering handmade face masks to those who didn’t manage to find one to helping our expats in Prague stay informed, they’ve been relentless in their determination to keep our community as strong as ever.
The biggest thank you to Barbora Zacharova (Head of People Ops), Mariana Ecegiova (Recruitment), Katerina Pekova (Community & Events), Lenka Simkova (Prague Office), Aneta Stepankova (Community & Events), Deborah John (Prague Office), Juliana Kotrcova (Brno Office) and Eva Bochova (Expat Care).
We virtually sat down with Barbora, who told us more about everything the team has done and how they’ve managed the company-wide transition to home office.
As STRV closed its offices and everyone began working from home, what were the first steps your team took?
Going into this, there was no guide or process to follow. We had our regular ongoing agenda, a lot of which we could keep going as usual. But in terms of additional activities in reaction to the Coronavirus situation, there were two directions we could take: We could throw most of our efforts into caring for our external community, or for our own people. Our decision was to focus on STRV first. Our team is split into numerous locations, and we needed to make sure there would be no disconnect between the Czech Rep., the U.S. and London. And most importantly, we have a lot of people on the team who live alone, and many were caught off guard by the sudden changes. We wanted to assure them that we are there for them no matter what, and that STRV’s strong sense of community can survive anything, even a pandemic.
Due to the shortage of face masks in Prague, you guys started making them for our team almost immediately and have now delivered more than 90 Corona Survival Kits. Please explain what these Kits are and how you prepared them.
Our Corona Survival Kits have been the most time-consuming and rewarding thing we’ve done during this time. The aim was not only to help people, but to send the message that the #caringsquad is still here for our team. We can always find ways to help each other. The kit contains useful things like face masks, gloves and vitamins, as well as fun stuff like lollipops — because when you go to the doctor and are on your best behavior, you get a lollipop!
During production, the team divided up responsibilities. Lenka and Aneta were in charge of sewing the masks, Katerina was in charge of logistics — putting the kits together, finding out who needs them, where they live and how we can deliver the kits safely and quickly — and Mariana, Deborah and I hunted down all material, including sewing necessities, vitamins and disinfectants. Juliana was responsible for the logistics in Brno and making sure everyone on our team there is taken care of as well.
We also invited our receptionists to take part and help not just our people, but as many people around us as possible — so Dominika Vackova joined us and has been sewing masks for hospitals (something Lenka and Aneta are doing as well now that our people are covered).
Apart from taking all precautions during delivery of the Kits, keeping everything sanitized, making sure all interactions were quick and people were wearing masks and gloves… how did you manage to deliver so many Kits within just a few days?
We thought figuring out the delivery was going to be difficult, but thanks to the willingness of our team, it turned out to be quite easy and an extremely positive experience. It was wonderful to see how many people were willing to help. We’d thought we’d have one driver to deliver everything, but multiple people — from various departments — who have cars volunteered to help out and were ready to go right away.
The feedback we’ve received has been incredible. From excitement that people got to see their colleagues, even if just for a brief moment, to an influx of Slack posts of people sharing photos of the interaction and thanking everyone involved… the entire process brought our spirits up and really boosted the morale of our entire community.
During one part of delivery, we also managed to shoot a fun video (while taking all necessary precautions). Just to spice up our days a little, make a few people smile and put an STRV twist on a less than great situation.
The sense of community in our STRV spaces (office, gym, Scrollbar…) is a big reason why people love working here. We’ve now been temporarily separated from that. How have People Ops handled the change?
STRV has a lot of ongoing activities which are very office related. We had to figure out how to best translate them into online life. A big part of doing that successfully has been Slack, the messaging platform we utilize company-wide.
We looked at what could work online and went from there, splitting up responsibilities amongst the team. For example, we normally have a lot of weekly sports classes in our office gym — so we started a sports channel, which is led by one person from the People Ops team who is responsible for daily challenges. The goal is to make it playful; we post how-to videos of various workouts and everyone in the channel can post their tips on how to approach the challenge.
We took a similar approach with a number of interest groups — like gaming, cooking, Netflix and books. People usually discuss these things during random chats in the office, so we connected people with similar interests via channels and they quickly began sharing. Additionally, the entire STRV fam to give us ideas, a lot of which we’ve implemented and have worked out great! And of course, Juliana has been great in organizing all of this for our smaller team in Brno as well. She’s created daily virtual coffee time breaks which the entire team is welcome to join, and it’s been a positive addition to the (home) office morale.
We also encourage people to educate themselves during slower days. From our end, we’re working on a library where we provide material and space to virtually support one-another as we learn.
This situation must be especially challenging for expats who are away from their families and don’t speak Czech. How have you approached helping them specifically?
We’ve taken special care to make sure our expats are feeling well-informed and safe. Our team regularly prepares summaries of news updates, and we let them know where they can turn to if they need assistance we can’t personally help with — because for them, it’s difficult to get this information since most websites are only in Czech. And of course, they’re usually here without families, which can get lonely. We’re always here to answer questions and concerns, and to make sure they know who to contact in case of emergency. We also have people on the team who have cars and have volunteered to deliver anything they may need, like medical supplies.
STRV is big on celebrating birthdays and organizing games that reward its winners with fun prizes. Have you found ways to keep this going?
Birthdays are sort of people’s time to shine in the office. Everyone gets a cake and a special surprise, and we tend to gather and celebrate together. We had to adjust this now, of course, and are sending slightly different birthday surprises by mail straight to every birthday boy’s or girl’s door.
In terms of games, we’ve started Daily Quizzes which we share through our InsideSTRV Instagram visible to our team only. The quizzes have trivia questions about TV shows, movies, geography and other topics, and we post them every day during lunchtime. The winners get prizes that brighten up their day a bit and they can use right away, like food delivery.
How do you share news and updates about the Coronavirus without overwhelming people with information?
What we did almost immediately is start a Coronavirus channel. The reason was to keep all channels — like social, general, Prague, etc. — from being spammed with COVID-19 news. Some people don’t want to hear about it all the time, and we didn’t want them to start avoiding Slack because we’d failed to navigate information to proper channels.
How have other departments helped react to HR’s endeavors?
Our platform leads, managers and product/project managers have provided amazing support with all of these activities. They continue to have weekly calls with their teams not only to discuss work, but also to make sure everyone is doing fine. If they feel people have certain needs that we haven’t dealt with yet, they make sure to let us know and we improve whatever we can.
What are STRV’s plans for the external community while we’re all working from home?
At this point, we feel like our team is doing quite well and new processes are running smoothly, so we’re gradually turning our focus to the external community. The plan is to introduce virtual events like online workshops and meetups, hopefully sooner rather than later.
During this entire period, we have remained quite consistent in sharing content on social media, our blog and other outlets. Especially right now, the people who follow us and are interested in what we do can check out our articles, our meetups on STRV’s YouTube channel and strv.io, our open source platform.
It’s tricky to plan too much in advance, as we’re all waiting to see what happens. But whatever is around the corner, we’ve got great people that have remained positive and hard-working, so we’re confident that our sense of community is not going anywhere.