This is part 2 of a 2 part blog co-authored by Ana, a project manager and voluntary wellness lead from Avora’s London office, and Bodea, a front-end developer from Avora’s Cluj office in Romania.
In part 1 of our blog on culture and wellbeing while working remotely, we shared three key lessons we learned about boosting team morale in the first 6 weeks of lockdown.
Of course, there are many lessons to learn about team morale, and a plethora of blogs and guides have exploded online as remote working becomes the new normal for 2020 and beyond. Widely read publications like Forbes and HBR have published some great thought leadership, as well as consultancies like KPMG and McKinsey.
At Avora, we found that the one thread holding everything together was wellbeing, a great holistic measure of employee engagement. We measure an employee pulse on a weekly basis using 15Five. It asks our people “How did you feel at work this week?” with a weekly check-in score of 1-5. Line managers can see the score and delve more deeply into this and verbatim responses written by employees.
At Avora, we find that employee wellness is closely intertwined with the ability to maintain focus, a good structure to the working day, and to manage time efficiently – all key tenets of productivity.
(There are many great articles out there on the subject of team wellness, wellbeing, health and the various definitions – we liked this one.)
We’ll share the wellness initiatives we’ve tried at Avora to support remote working, what worked and why, and our roadmap ahead as we continue the journey of greater employee wellbeing as a remote team.
We were one of the first companies from our coworking space in London to instate a working from home policy in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking back, what seemed quite conservative at the time we now see as absolutely the right and timely decision.
About a week in I realised if we didn’t address these big changes, we would have a big elephant in the room. I’m referring to the stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and overall mental health impact such big and fast changes could have on our team. Moving to WFH full time is a big change in ordinary circumstances, let alone within a week’s time and even more so during a burgeoning global health crisis.
Our team’s mental and physical wellbeing needed to be kept front and centre now more than ever.
In the last blog I talked about “Donut” – our virtual coffee initiative. Alongside this, another I have going in our Wellness Slack channel is a daily “inspiration” post based on a theme:
Monday – Photo of beautiful place in the world
Tuesday – Fitness motivation you can do at home
Wednesday – Quote
Thursday – Music or art piece
Friday – Funny video for some laughs to end the week!
Our team members have given great feedback on the #wellness channel – they appreciated the new dedicated space where we could share things that really mattered to them in a safe environment. It also signalled to them that our company valued our wellbeing.
I want to share a few things that have worked well for me while working from home.
Working from home can have real positives. – I am a comfy type of person and I really like being able to get up from my bed in my pyjamas, and just open my work laptop and directly begin working if necessary.
I’ve actually found I tend to be more productive at home – because this is the place I am most used to and I used the new flexibility to change it until I made it in such a way that it moulded to my needs.
I think it’s important to take breaks and move your body. Take breaks whenever you feel that you need to.
You are now in your sleep-place and at the same time in your workplace. It can be confusing to your inner-self and you can spend much more time on your chair, working, without interruption and without noticing compared to your habits in your office workplace.
It’s important to give your body a bit of time-off and to move it, to stretch your muscles and to relax your mind. This way you will become more productive and healthier at the same time.
Trust me, your body will thank you later. Keep in mind that the studies are saying that if you want your body to work in good conditions, you should take a 10 minutes break for every hour worked.
Time management is a must-have. Multitasking is a nice-to-have.I am used to mixing stuff up a bit. I do a lot of different things on the same day, at intervals. And I try to achieve this mix by really focusing on developing my time-management skills.
I try to make a certain daily schedule, with hours – and to respect it. With this, I know when I will begin to work in the morning, when I will have meetings, when I need to shift to another type of task, when to stop the work-day and continue with my usual life-day, and so on.
And it’s working well for me. I tend to mix my schedule in a way in which I have time for work, for fun, for self-development and for social-stuff. Benjamin Franklin has a really nice quote about this – “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today”.
My WFH home office has changed a bit since the first day of self-isolation. I realised how much I was staying in front of a display and on a chair.
Before moving to remote working, I had a break between going from the work-place to my home and getting back on the computer again. I didn’t notice the number of hours spent at my desk as much. I realised that it wasn’t very good that I was at my desk so much without proper equipment – so I bought myself some display protective glasses and a new chair with adaptive lumbar support.
Even with these new ‘protective’ things, it’s obvious that it’s not healthy to stay in the same position in front of a display for long periods of time in one go. So now I take little breaks when I feel that my body needs to and I do at least 30 minutes of stretching / cardio every day. Investing in yourself physically and mentally helps so much with staying productive and feeling good in a remote working situation. Developing the habits takes a bit of effort, but the payoff is definitely worth it.
Here’s the key takeaway I would share with other folk who find themselves in the same situation – in a tech startup or scaleup, wanting to support your newly remote workers on limited or no budget.
Most of the initiatives I’ve shared are simple, effective and free.
The key in the beginning is consistency. In the first weeks I set myself a morning reminder to ensure I didn’t forget to post in the #wellness channel. I think more than anything people appreciated waking up to a dose of “good” on their Slack every morning, before diving into the day’s workload. Engagement varied with each day’s post, but I kept going for two full weeks.
Then, a magical thing happened – this was intended to be a daily post I shared with the team, where they were only expected to read and enjoy. But very quickly it became an interactive team building tool.
Having a platform dedicated to team wellbeing has allowed people to come forward and feel comfortable sharing their ideas.
On a Monday with the “beautiful place in the world” theme, 20 members of our team jumped in and started sharing beautiful places they wished to go to or had been, or were from and wanted to share. It signaled people wanted to connect about something inspiring, non-work related and joyful.
I opened up the daily inspiration posts to contributors. So far it’s going well and having different team members sharing has taken the pressure off me while increasing engagement. And it has continued – from virtual wine tasting organised by Sales team member to an upcoming virtual talent show.
Finally, at every All Hands (all staff meeting) I reinforce the importance of Wellness at Avora. It ensures team members know they are supported in their new WFH situation.
Whether they have a less than ideal home office setup, young children, kids that need homeschooling, the need for flexible hours, emotional, mental or physical challenges – I remind them they are encouraged to have open conversations with our managers.
The point is, even if we can’t give our employees certainty during a time that is unpredictable we can at the very least provide assurance they are cared for when it comes to their wellbeing. That their health and happiness are a priority, not only because they are so closely tied to productivity – but because we are humans first, and employees second. And the more we promote kindness, compassion and empathy inside our company the more these values will pay dividends with the relationships we have with our customers in turn.