The novel coronavirus has moved the workforces of many companies from the office to the home. That shift can bring its own challenges, like technology issues, feelings of loneliness and educating children. But Austin tech leaders say that helping employees be as comfortable and healthy as possible while working from home is the key to keeping them engaged.
Many companies across Austin encourage employees to develop a schedule that works for them based first on the responsibilities they have at home. Stipends have been given to optimize home offices. Sick leave policies have been updated. Yoga, meditation and fitness classes are streamed weekly.
Companies are even encouraging employees to focus on the future, helping chart career paths and develop leadership skills through planning and leading meetings.
One of the most significant ways leaders ensure the well-being of their teams? Asking each individual, simply and directly, how they are doing — and how leaders can help.
Most impactful change: “Leadership responsibilities for some team functions were rotated to promote engagement and reinvigorate individual productivity,” Gordon, a data science director at Shipwell, said. “And team members are encouraged and expected to organize meetings, prepare agendas, drive discussion, capture action items and plan next steps.
“Everyone feels more connected to the group output and is better able to fight the work-from-home doldrums. Agency actively builds skills necessary for leadership and develops empathy for those with different areas of expertise. The choreography of teammates taking turns overseeing the construction as well as the laying of the bricks promotes teamwork, optimizes productivity and allows every victory to be a team victory.”
Remote engagement tools: “Getting started in the morning by being in a work mindset was one of our team’s biggest obstacles to reclaiming our in-office productivity. One practice we like: starting the day with a to-do list in a physical notebook, whiteboard or on Post-it notes. This practice signals that the workday has begun. It offloads work material from a computer screen and allows for physical representations of progress and accomplishment.
“And keeping work separate by demarcating it in time and space significantly helps our team decouple at-home. Having a workspace reinforces the modified commute and helps mentally start and stop one’s workday. Strongly encouraging work-session screen breaks has helped our data science team sustain productivity.”
How Shipwell supports teams: “Members of my team have weekly time with me to discuss any issues on their mind, including happiness, fulfillment, stresses, frustrations and career goals.
“The people operations team rolled out an updated employee handbook with revised, supportive sick time and leave of absence policies. Self-care is nurtured through links to meditation and yoga resources, as well as through friendly, company-wide competitions to track daily steps and throttle consumption of upsetting news. Connection to community initiatives are encouraged through participation in blood drives.”
Most impactful change: “We have a vibe team whose primary purpose is to maintain our culture,” Eitel, a sales leader at Canva, said. “They developed a dedicated internal website as a key resource to help bolster our team’s sense of belonging and camaraderie while working remotely. We have experts providing tips on topics such as being social, fitness, mental health and wellness.
“We have podcasts featuring four shows hosted by some of Canva’s most charismatic team members. The company has more than 360 active clubs on subjects like wine, music, pasta and mindfulness that we moved remote. And our resident chefs developed weekly menus, shopping lists and how-to videos showcasing how easy and cost-effective it is to pull together a healthy breakfast and lunch using limited resources.”
Remote engagement tools: “Content that was normally played across screens within Canva’s offices are now broadcast virtually through our new intranet. The digital office dashboard is updated daily and is meant to inspire lunch options, recommend good books, recognize anniversaries and birthdays, and welcome our newest recruits. This tool helps us feel connected and recognize milestones even though we’re apart.”
How Canva supports teams: “We keep our culture alive at home by starting our day as a team with a 15-minute standup and having regular one-one-ones. I’m also a big fan of the occasional Zoom happy hour, giving us plenty of time to talk about things other than work like upcoming weddings and where to buy toilet paper.”
Most impactful change: “Managers are holding daily check-ins with their teams,” Jones, VP of people at SecureLink, said. “For my team, sometimes those check-ins are about work and sometimes they’re just to catch up. Now, we’ve all come to expect that those check-ins may include cameo appearances from spouses, pets, and kids, and that’s OK.
“Some of us are trying to keep children occupied and educated, or balancing their partner’s work-from-home needs with their own. All of us are doing our best, but work-life balance just looks different now. Those lines are more blurred than ever and we have to remember to be forgiving of each other and ourselves as we cope with these dramatic changes in our lives.”
Remote engagement tools: “We moved some happy hours and traditions to Google Hangouts. For example, on Fridays, we always gather for an afternoon happy hour where we celebrate ‘slinky’ employees; those who are great at their job and who care about the company and our customers. Nominees get to spin a “Price Is Right”-style wheel for cash.
“In this new normal, the crowd still goes wild celebrating their teammates’ success, it just looks different now.”
How SecureLink supports teams: “Recently, we launched ‘career paths,’ which identifies paths for six distinct areas of the business; an opportunity we identified in an employee engagement survey about six months ago. The project team agreed that now was the most important time to give our employees a reason to feel invested in by their company.
“We leverage tools like LinkedIn Learning to push content related to work-from-home effectiveness, stress management and leading distributed work teams to employees. We also scheduled a ’wellness Wednesday’ where employees can join three different streams: an at-home bootcamp-style workout, a guided meditation and an at-home yoga workout.”
Most impactful change: “We actually tested the waters of working from home full-time last year when we asked our team members to work from home for two weeks while our office underwent renovations,” Hammer, Bloomfire’s CEO, said. “We’re applying some of the lessons we learned then, such as the value of virtual all-hands meetings and the importance of giving team members more flexibility in their schedules to this period of social distancing.
“Teams have been finding creative ways to work together. For example, our marketing team held a virtual, multi-hour whiteboard session using Google Slides and screen share where everyone could see and build off each other’s input in real-time.”
Remote engagement tools: “We’re fortunate in that our own own platform is effective for remote teams. With it, employees can search for all the company information they need to excel at their jobs and we don’t have to worry about things being siloed in an email thread or Slack conversation.
“Because we were already using our platform on a daily basis, it didn’t require a huge behavioral shift. Our team members use it to share meeting notes and work-from-home tips. They can post questions and get responses from others from across the company.”
How Bloomfire supports teams: “We try to give our teams grace. Some of our employees have a lot to juggle between kids, spouses and their jobs. Among all of those things work is, and should be, last. So we spend time working around the things our team members juggle. We also stress the importance of making time to get outside and our leaders allow their teams as much flexibility as possible to do this for mental and physical health. Beyond that, we gave everyone a budget to spruce up their work-from-home spaces.”
Most impactful change: “We hold multiple weekly video conferences with leadership to discuss company updates and goals,” Spring, a talent leader at LumApps, said. “These meetings include an open forum where leadership answers questions with thoughtful transparency. By regularly hearing from leadership and gaining insight into our priorities, Lumies are able to prioritize their tasks and collaborate on important cross-departmental projects. Our employees feel comfortable brainstorming new ideas and providing honest feedback through this transparency and inclusivity.”
Remote engagement tools: “We have been using our own intranet software platform to share stories, pictures, videos and documents to keep our global employees engaged and working toward the same goals. The LumApps platform has been useful because it allows managers and employees to communicate and share information in real time, ultimately helping remote teams feel more together everyday.
“Between using our own platform and project management tool Asana to visually track our progress, our productivity and engagement is at an all-time high.”
How LumApps supports teams: “The HR team has been working hard to host activities centered on employee engagement and bringing people together. Every week, we host a virtual happy hour, lunch-and-learn sessions on topics like stress management, yoga and even snake handling. We have open office hours with the HR team where employees can ask any question they like.”
Most impactful change: “We made two changes to our workflow globally,” Webster, a senior talent partner at Q2, said. “First, we scheduled regular social time. We miss the opportunities to connect throughout the day in the office. Scheduling time to talk over coffee or lunch allows us to stay connected as a team and disconnect from work. Second, we participate in and share micro-learnings across the org. Working from home poses new challenges for many of our employees. Sharing web-based or internally-built micro-learnings helps our teams learn how to be successful in their spaces.”
Remote engagement tools: “We use video conferencing and chat software for work and connectivity. For instance, we share resources everyday through our chat software, and we use Zoom for our company-wide. Our most popular event was a DJ-driven dance party.
“Many of our teams have used gaming sites like Jackbox Games to socialize. Some folks connect on exercise platforms like Strava, joining challenges together and supporting each other.”
How Q2 supports teams: “Using our chat software, we created different channels to help support people in different ways. For instance, we created a channel for home-schooling. There, parents share resources to help them better home-school their children. Additionally, we have channels dedicated to working-from-home and entertainment. These channels enable people to quickly find important resources and connect with others sharing similar experiences.”