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Nurturing the Well-Being of Isolated Employees Working Remotely

Remote
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

11 May, 2021

Jimmy DePetro
Jimmy DePetro

Senior Director and Head of Engineering at Wag Labs

Jimmy DePetro, Director of Engineering at Wag!, knows that setting up his reports for success means taking an interest in their emotional state, both on the clock and after hours.

Problem

When the pandemic first hit, I noticed that some of my employees were struggling to stay engaged with one another and with the work that we were trying to do together. You want to trust everybody on your team, but, at the same time, too much flexibility may contribute to days that lack structure and accountability.

When everybody is in the office, there is an implicit status update in looking over at somebody working hard in the bullpen, headphones in. As a manager, a fifteen-minute check-in at the beginning of the day will be enough to touch base and not have to worry about the momentum of the team through the afternoon.

You don’t want to throw a bunch of Zoom meetings onto the calendar just to keep tabs; micromanaging can be overbearing, and nobody wants that. The thing about remote work is that you miss out on the day-to-day interactions that build the friendships that make our work so much easier. All deliberate interaction comes with a goal or an agenda. How do you solve that when everybody is working from home?

I’ve worked for so many managers who only cared about output and other hard metrics. Don't get me wrong, those things are important, but if the individual is not doing okay, their productivity will suffer.

Actions taken

At first, we would have a handful of stand-ups through Slack. Now, a big part about going remote has become converting all of those stand-ups into Zoom meetings, and making time for everybody to see each other. There’s value in that. Sprint planning, sprint retro. Making sure everybody’s there, engaged, and talking, even if it’s not about work, it’s still good. We made this a much more important part of our schedules with one another.

I would also increase my frequency of one-on-ones, especially during the early days of the pandemic. Our organization is a gig-based company; we match pet owners with dog walkers, and, at a time where more people were working at home and walking their own dogs, there was a lot of uncertainty about our future. Before, these meetings were much more formal; I would take notes and keep a close eye on the objectives being accomplished, very by-the-books. Now, there is plenty of feedback and goal-setting, but the first five or ten minutes consists of friendly conversation, asking how they’re doing, their families, and whether or not they caught the big game last night.

When not Zooming anybody in particular, I make an effort to reach out and make those ad hoc conversations happen. HR proposed virtual happy hours and trivia nights, fun things like that on Zoom. At the start of the pandemic, turnout was phenomenal.

The rumors are that no offices will be going back to a full, five-day work week. Remote working is far from a thing of the past. We have a lot to learn about the art of keeping our employees emotionally well without the break room to connect with one another in.

Lessons learned

  • Make sure that you’re setting clear goals and that your employees are meeting them so that they continue to grow.
  • A lot of people on my team live alone and are not able to see their families because of the lockdown. As a manager, it’s up to me to be there for my people, to keep them engaged and to keep their morale up.
  • I take it upon myself to proactively reach out to my employees when I notice them suffering in some way. It doesn’t have to be work-related; I just chat with them and make sure that they are socializing. You have to go the extra mile to ensure that they’re okay, both at work and in their personal lives. In order to keep your employees engaged while working remotely, it's up to you to stay engaged with them. Set the example for your team to follow.

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