Well-being During A Pandemic

Jesse Beckenson
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Working remotely during this COVID-19 pandemic got us more curious about well-being and what App Shack can do for our employees.

We are all working mostly remotely, and it’s hard to stay connected. I know how much my mental health impacts how I work and vice versa. So, I reached out to Knack about mental health in the workplace because of how the COVID-19 pandemic, and precautions surrounding it, was affecting us at App Shack.

Knack is a group of well-being experts, and they ran an insightful and advice-filled session for all of us. Three people met with us: Katya Stepanova (Researcher & Program Manager), Wouter Robijn (Organizational Psychologist), and Arosha Brouwer (Founder & Strategist).

Katya started us off with a cool breathing technique that tells the vagus nerve to calm the body. We had a brainstorm of what drains and gives us energy at work, which showed some themes: we value planning, good communication, helping each other, and meaningful work.

Wouter dove deeper into the importance of meaningful work when he talked about burnout and engagement. The big difference between them is a sense of meaning. He described this feeling: you do your work, and at the end of the day, someone shreds all your work. That’s not a feeling anyone wants! To avoid feeling that burnt out, teams need what Wouter called a “servant leader” — someone who is there to ask how team members are doing and shows they care by finding ways to energise them.

Another significant concept Wouter discussed was psychological safety: not to fear punishment for giving feedback or speaking about a mistake or something that bothers them. We asked what steps we can take to build psychological safety at App Shack, and here are a handful of suggestions:

  • Establish clear rules on how and when to give feedback (i.e., one on one, formal versus informal, etc.)
  • Decide how App Shack will deal with conflicts ahead of time, such as one on one or using a mediator.
  • Speak up when it matters and stay silent when you don’t have anything to add. In zoom, raise your hand to speak.
  • It’s better to reward someone for coming forward about a mistake than to punish them. You need to be able to talk about issues and solve them together. That means there needs to be a coach or someone to go to with problems.

He also suggested watching Amy Edmonson’s Ted Talk on teams and psychological safety and reading her book, Fearless Organization.

Next, Arosha took us through the many facets of well-being — in and out of the workplace. Each person’s well-being is connected to mind, body, spirit, homelife, work-life, their community, and ultimately the world. Knack also offers a system where they can put a number to these abstract concepts and track your team’s progress in terms of well-being, and then provides tailored solutions to improve well-being based on the data.

After the three speakers concluded, it was time for Q&A — and we had so many questions! Here’s something that might interest the myriad remote teams working in tech.

Our question:

How do we get the whole group together virtually? For example, on-site office coffee break kinda forces everyone to join, but when working from home, it’s usually the same people joining and some always skipping.

Knack’s answer: 

  • Forcing stuff decreases motivation, so don’t do that.
  • At scrum meetings (or any meeting), take time to talk about current issues, but again: don’t force it. Encourage joining 5 or 10 minutes early to chat.
  • You have to create these moments with care.
  • The team needs time for people to notice when others are stuck, so they have the opportunity to offer help.
  • Create an environment where if someone isn’t doing okay, people will respond to it.

From this well-being session, we at App Shack are equipped to discuss well-being openly and are in an excellent place to start weaving it into how the organisation operates. Working remotely during this pandemic threw a wrench in my mental health and many others’. But, we’re learning as we go, still winning awards for our work, and always putting communication first: both with our customers and with each other.

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