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#ComeBackStronger: standing together in the face of a global pandemic

In the latest instalment of #ComeBackStronger, we connect with Gemma McCall, CEO of Manchester-based tech-for-good developer, Culture Shift, about how they’re gearing up for the future post-pandemic.

Gemma’s mission is to positively change culture by building software products that empower organisations to tackle harassment and bullying. As co-founder and CEO of Manchester-based Culture Shift, Gemma truly is a northern power woman, who’s killing it in the business world, as well as at home as the proud mum of two.

Along with the rapidly growing Culture Shift team, Gemma has been successfully combatting problematic behaviour in organisations, and has a proven track record of activating change for the better, while eliminating the stigma around reporting any form of harassment. What’s more, she was recently named in North West Business Insider’s 42 under 42, class of 2020 for her incredible work.

So, how does she do it…

How are you accelerating company growth in the current climate?

Just before lockdown we were lucky enough to secure investment from Praetura Ventures, which has enabled us to continue our ambitious growth plans.

While things did quieten down a little for us, especially from a higher education standpoint, through lockdown we were able to fully flesh out our strategy for rolling out our software to the professional services sector. We were also able to boost our team with some exciting new hires, enabling us to successfully introduce Culture Shift to organisations we know we can help positively impact their culture.  

Where do you see your future opportunities lying?

The events of recent months have resulted in more opportunities for us than ever before, to collaborate with organisations to really create a positive and inclusive workplace culture.

You only have to switch on the news to see there’s work to be done. The new instances of problematic behaviour, be it harassment, bullying, discrimination or microaggressions, coming to light on the daily, prove there really is a global appetite to no longer have to accept poor behaviour – and we’re in a great position to help combat the issue.

What are you most optimistic about?

In the face of a global pandemic, it was amazing to see the world stand up for the Black Lives Matter movement, shouting about the true issues around systemic racism and the importance of diversity, inclusion and true representation across all levels of an organisation.

We’re happy to see that cultural issues haven’t fallen off the agenda, especially given the current climate. The pandemic did of course have a financial impact on many organisations across the board, which caused us to become concerned that organisations would start to prioritise budgets over the wellbeing of their staff, but it’s great to see this really isn’t the case and workplace culture is as high up on the agenda as ever. It makes us feel incredibly optimistic that things can change for the better.

What are you looking forward to implementing/changing?

It has been proven that business can continue moving from home and while this is positive on many levels, I’m worried about what the future holds for remote working. This setup has enabled us to see our colleagues lives outside of work first-hand, everyone has been able to be themselves (showing true stress levels on the surface and parenting mid-meeting), while many have been able to adopt flexible methods of working. However, I’m concerned that when we go back to ‘normal,’ this will all be forgotten and we’ll return to how we were before – pretending we don’t have lives outside of work. For me, I’ll be encouraging my team to be real - not swans on the surface, but panicked beneath the water.

What opportunities have you seen arise?

As I briefly touched on earlier, we were incredibly lucky to receive funding just before the height of the pandemic, which means we can now work to rollout our software to corporates looking to positively shape their workplace culture and combat problematic behaviour.

The funding has also enabled us to recruit some of the best talent in the business and we’re incredibly pleased to have really bolstered our team with individuals who can help us to achieve our goals. In the last few months alone, we’ve grown our workforce by 60% and each and every one of those hires will help us get to where we want to be.

How are you remaining positive?

Personally, I feel very lucky that all of my family are okay – my kids, husband and parents are all well. Above all, health is more important than anything, which really feeds into the fact that everyone still cares about organisational culture being positive.

It’s been nice to see people come together, continue shouting about the issues that matter and need combatting, and to create a community in which we all look after each other.

How are you maintaining a work/life balance and ensuring family time?

For me, being able to transform my spare bedroom into a home office has been a godsend and a huge help in itself. While I would traditionally have setup from my living room or dining room table when working from home, I knew departmentalising the house and having separate spaces for work and family time was a must. Having that separate workspace has enabled me to switch off and maintain a good work/life balance, while in turn spending time with my family.

What have been your key learnings from the last few months?

One of the biggest things for me is the positive impact working from home has had on various factors. There should never be any question marks around whether people are actually doing work while at home – we’ve achieved even more working remotely, proving the success of this setup should never be up for debate again.

Also, many people have really been through things in their personal lives through lockdown, with work almost proving to be an escape for them and a safe/happy place – which we’re really proud to have created. It’s something that will always be top of mind for us too. As the team continues to grow, we will ensure we maintain that culture of looking after one another and out for one another.  

What else are you doing to prepare for the future?

One of the first things we’re going to do is assess our office space and whether or not we actually need it, as the team continues to thrive while working from the comfort of their own homes. We’re going to reimagine how the setup works and while we have a place right now to fit the whole team, we’re evaluating whether or not it’s necessary expenditure. We’re putting the decision into the hands of our team and have asked them what they’d like to do about transitioning back, so watch this space.

We’ve also spent the last few months gearing up for our future. We’re in the first phase of our marketing plan, we had a rebrand and we’re continuing to recruit, which is unusual as most businesses are in crisis management mode right now. While the pandemic is still very much present in the world, we feel like we’re coming out of the other side stronger and raring to go.

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