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Team Happiness in a Global Pandemic | Visible

From the minds and tablets of Himanshu Niranjani, Visible's Chief Technology Officer, and Angie Janko, Chief of Staff and Senior Program Manager at Visible.

When the beginning of the pandemic lockdown started in mid-March 2020, we, like many organizations, moved to a work-from-home model on a temporary basis. As the months continued, we recognized that since we were already an all-digital based product/service, we could also be successful in a more permanent remote work arrangement.

In August, the executive leadership team made the decision to move out of our corporate headquarter office space. We gave up our offices, our snack boxes and catered lunches and our conference and huddle rooms. We were committed to making this new experience a success. We acknowledged that we missed our in-person connections, but given the fact that we had no choice, we leaned in and got comfortable with the change.

Now one year later, it is evident that leaders should be doing even more to look after their team’s mental health and overall well-being. While we still can’t get together in person, we’ve come up with alternative ways to connect.

In addition to the now-regular video conference meeting, we focused an increasing amount of time in setting up more social, non-work related virtual “micro” gatherings. We had a voluntary small group and short 10-15 minute “water cooler” connections. We organized virtual happy hours and cooking experiences. We even organized a monthly “UPlift Engineering” social hour where we talk about two topics (selected by the team) and do fifteen minute “speed-rounds” on the topics, sharing our best practices and taking ideas from team members. From a work-specific perspective, we increased our regular 1:1s to compensate for the lack of in-person face time.

Our engineering team, in particular, is globally-dispersed and large. As leaders we learned that you can’t just assume new team members from different countries and who will be working with others across the global will be acclimated and get up to speed in this new working environment at the same pace as the existing team members. Leaders need to take a lot more time in onboarding their newest members to help with understanding, connection, overall happiness and retention.

Another key learning was the fact that the still-remote working arrangement continues to remain a struggle for many people. This struggle is evidenced by key lagging indicators in workplace surveys nationwide, including a rise in human resource complaints and investigations, lower employee engagement scores from engagement surveys, an increase in interpersonal team conflicts, and an increasing amount of suboptimal conversations and meetings. Leaders need to be much more proactive! Look at your team member’s body language. A reported 60% of communications are received by this alone. Humans, by nature, are designed to not just listen to the words we hear but to take in other visual cues to give meaning to the messages we are giving and hearing. We are hardwired in that manner.

As technology leaders, we should also be hyper-focused on ensuring our team’s mental health is in good shape. Unlike other types of industries where injuries can be seen and evidence through the physical body, in technology, the “injuries” are not as apparent.

As a company, Visible is committed to helping normalize mental health by encouraging open dialogue and removing obstacles for getting help and support. We offer employees 90 minutes a day for mental wellness to be used as they see fit. During Mental Health Awareness Month, we partnered with The Mental Health Coalition to launch a #SimpleCheckIn campaign. Using the Friends Supporting Friends Roadmap, we’ve provided tips and tools for our team and others to use to encourage open conversations around mental wellness or offer support.

Overall, it is imperative that leaders ensure they are weaving the happiness of their teams, including their team’s positive mental health, with the work being done. Happy engineers = Happy customers. At the end of the day, it’s all about taking care of your people. When they know you care for them, they understand you have their well-being in mind, they understand how their work connects to the larger vision, the more “healthy” your team will be!

For more insight, follow Himanshu on LinkedIn.

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