How are tech leaders managing mental health in the pandemic

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How are tech leaders managing mental health in the pandemic
Injecting a bit of joy and silliness to break up the string of groundhog days is important
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Managers discuss their own mental health and that of their employees...

Shaun Broughton, Managing Director APAC, Shopify

In times like this, my priority is to keep my mental health in order and encourage my team to do the same. For me, having the ability to carve time out to do the things that are important to me - whether that be surfing or spending time with my family - gives me control over my state of mind and consequently, allows me to lead my team from a place of wellness.

At Shopify, we take a compassionate approach to mental health as we understand that every employee has their own individual needs. Things that work for me might not work for everyone else and vice versa. This is why over July and August, we gave all Shopify employees Fridays off to take care of themselves in the best way they know how. Now, among other mental health programs, we have regular check-ins where we give everyone the space to have honest dialogue around work capacity and importantly, mental capacity. It is important to me that Shopify nurtures an environment where employees can unapologetically prioritise their mental health - even if this means taking time off in the busiest of times.

Ian Yip, CEO, Avertro

The first step in managing one's own mental health as well as the team's is to admit it's difficult during a pandemic. It's particularly tough for those who need regular in-person interaction, which has been non-existent for the past few months.

Be honest and tell other team members when things are rough. It helps to have empathetic people who can support each other when needed, and we're fortunate to have such a team.

We also find ways to have fun. For example, every Friday morning, we have a coffee and games session where work-related conversations are banned. This helps the team connect and brings levity to an otherwise tough situation. Most of us look forward to Friday mornings for this reason.

Finally, our team regularly asks each other if we're ok. This happens at least once a week during one-on-one sessions, as well as during team meetings.

Alex Frolov, CEO and Co-Founder, HypeAuditor

COVID-19 along with the subsequent avalanche of bad news brought the world to its knees. Managing my mental health has always been a priority, especially in today’s high-stress environment. I turned to daily mindful meditation at the start of the pandemic to quiet my racing thoughts and it has really helped me stay focused, calm and self-aware. I also practice martial arts which helps take my mind off things and relieve some stress of everyday life.

The mental health of my team is just as important. At HypeAuditor we provide even more flexibility so employees can better manage their mental health. I regularly remind them to take regular breaks to restore emotional balance, exercise and get some fresh air when it’s  possible and safe to do so. I also encourage my team to set clear boundaries to keep work life and home life as separate as possible.

We also changed our ways of working and shifted to a sprint format, whereby tasks are logically broken down into smaller parts, which are then distributed among teams, so that each team is focused on solving one specific problem. It is a much more efficient way of working and also more gentle on everyone’s mental health as each team can develop ideas and solutions in short cycles.

Results-based teamwork helps us stay productive and reduce anxiety.

Kheang Ly, Founder, OWNA

Personally I’m a workaholic so during this pandemic, working keeps my mind occupied from worrying about what I cannot control. But we know our employees are not all like that. So we check on their well being regularly since they are all working from home. We do weekly Friday Zoom sessions where we all have lunch together whilst participating in fun activities such as quizzes, trivia and  jokes. This is to build morale and camaraderie amongst the team even though we are not physically together. Our operations manager regularly calls our employees to make sure that they have everything they need to perform the task at hand and that they're mentally ok since this is not something that staff are accustomed to (the pandemic). The mental health of our staff is very important to us as happy staff are more productive so if we can help with that - that will benefit us as a company in the long run.

Stuart Low, Founder and CEO, Biza.io

Working in technology is often a lonely profession, working in technology during a pandemic multiplies these effects. Communicating regularly with your team is critical to everyone’s sense of connectedness. It is important therefore that business leaders touch base with individuals regularly for no other reason than to ask how they are going and how can they help.

I've also found that trust has a really big impact on a team's overall happiness. Measuring success based on outcomes, rather than hours, is a powerful way to ensure people feel in control of their own time. It seems simple, but trust really makes the difference for everyone's day-to-day mental health by allowing people to work, where and how they want.

Alex Macoun, Chief of Strategic Operations, SiteMinder

At the top of my list is acknowledging that I’m not always OK, and supporting my teammates when they feel the same. Everyone has hit some kind of breaking point during this lockdown, so encouraging and modelling flexibility with work times, camera usage and outdoor walking meetings have all been strategies I’ve gone with.

Away from work, I’d say get off tech and do things with your hands! I’ve picked up knitting and made a throw rug for snuggling under while watching Ted Lasso, and repainted my balcony railing. It gives me so much satisfaction to make something tangible, and it can’t always be baked goods. The added bonus is sharing your creation with a group chat for a welcome hit of external validation!

Finally, injecting a bit of joy and silliness to break up the string of groundhog days is important. We’ve done a “The Price Is Right” style quiz on quirky eBay items, and a virtual cocktail masterclass where girlfriends, kids and pets all dropped in. Treat yourself, you made it through another week, and you can trust it won’t always be like this.

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