Water Cooler Moments – Shelby Garrison | Head of People & Culture at Vercel

Shelby Garrison, Head of People & Culture at Vercel, gives us the inside scoop on what it takes to keep teams together, creative, and thriving in the modern work world. With HR experience across enterprise-sized companies and smaller startups alike, she had loads to share. Watch now for quick tips on creating connections at work and bringing the best out of your people. Whether you’re a “head of people” or just started your professional career, you don’t want to miss this:

Transcript for Head of People and Culture Interview:

CARLY: Hi, Shelby, this is Carly Calbreath with Voodle.

I’ve got a couple of questions for you today. To start us off: can you please show us where you’re working from today?

SHELBY: I am actually working today from a construction site that is doubling as a staging area for my partner’s upcoming fishing trip. So he overtook my desk. And that’s where I’m working today.

CARLY: What are some of the similarities and differences in your experience of working as head of people and culture at both a large global corporation and a small startup?

SHELBY: I’ve been really lucky to have been in organizations where the employees cared deeply about the mission of the company. And I’d say that’s probably the most stark similarity between larger and larger corporations and the small companies. Not just in my own experience, but as I talk to my peers as well.

From a culture perspective, I think that that’s outstanding because passion for what you do is such a powerful force when trying to build a culture. Especially one that is sustaining and that everyone’s bought into. So that’s been nice to see that that’s consistent no matter what size company you’ve got.

On the “differences” side, I’d say the biggest difference that I see is around how people communicate. Smaller companies tend to operate more as one team. And so everyone kind of knows a little bit of everything. That obviously isn’t sustainable the bigger you get.

And so I am at my time now at Vercel. So I’m having to kind of relearn how to have my pulse on everything, but also not meddle too much in other people’s business.

CARLY: Can you tell a quick story about one thing that you did that drove connection for one of the distributed teams that you’ve supported?

SHELBY: I will happily tell you a story about something that I did to drive connection in a distributed team.

This was actually at the very beginning of the pandemic. We were trying to figure out how do we make sure that people still feel connected to one another. And I had this idea about how can we get glimpses into people’s real lives. Not just the version of themselves that they bring to their meetings or show up on slack. So I started an internal video series that was content created almost exclusively by our employees. And about once every two weeks or so for a solid eight or nine months, I released a film. It had different themes.

We talked about topics that were happening in the world.  We talked about things that mattered to us as humans. Sometimes there were no words at all, and it was just footage from people’s lives and weekends. And it became a really great creative outlet for me, but also a really powerful way for the team to have authentic views into the lives that they were living and stay connected, even though we won’t be able weren’t able to be together physically.

CARLY: I’m cheating a little bit with my last question here because it’s a two-parter. But I want to know what is the coolest change that you have seen in the workplace in the last two years? And what is one change that you are anticipating in the coming two years?

Thanks so much for your time, Shelby. 

SHELBY: The biggest change that I think I’ve seen in the last two years is probably around employees really making choices that are right for them. And advocating for themselves in a way that I had not seen earlier in my career. And I think it’s definitely been a lot more intentional. 

People are changing jobs more so than they have in the last twenty-five, 30 years. People are really being thoughtful about what kind of work they want to do. What kind of company they want to work for, what they want their life and work in that balance to look like. And making decisions to get there rather than simply accepting jobs the way that they, quote-unquote, are. And so I, the biggest change I’ve seen is in that space. I’m really, really happy to see it, because at the end of the day, it’s really about each individual. Right. And want to make sure that you’re good, because when your people are good. Then, your company is good, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

I wish I was a fortune teller and knew what changes were going to come so I could appropriately prepare for them. But I’ll take my best stab at that question.

I think one of the big changes, I think there will probably be a lot, but one of them that I suppose  I hope to see is that more young people start to question the order of operations in which they enter the workplace. I’ve been talking to middle schoolers and high schoolers for years about how I don’t necessarily think college has to be the path for everyone anymore.  And I’m seeing little inklings of people kind of catching on to that.

And I’m excited and hopeful that perhaps this movement to working remotely and working from home can give more young people exposure to opportunities and to work earlier in their lives and potentially change how they decide to enter the workforce.

I think that could be really fun.


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