How To Create a Nurturing Environment For Your Team's Mental Health & Happiness w/ Sid Pandiya

Remote leaders must intentionally create a nurturing work environment to best support team mental health & engagement to build successful companies.



11/7/202243 min read

Here's the recap..In today's episode, I spoke with Sid Pandiya, CEO of Kona. I've been a huge fan of Kona since their earliest beta days. I've been a big advocate in supporting the mental health of my team and understand I need help in gauging and gathering feedback to better understand it. Where Kona comes in. Today we did a deep dive into what leaders need to be doing today to better support their remote team's mental health and happiness. Both are linked to better engagement within the workplace. We discussed what we've done, the tools to use (including a bunch of free ones), and most importantly what to do when we get the information we're after.

Sid on Linkedin

Sid on Twitter


The mental health america report noted in the episode

How can you gather insights into your team's mental health?

We discussed 3 different approaches to regularly gather insight into how your team is doing. The first is simply ask. That can be done using tools like Kona and by simply asking. The other is training your perception skills to notice changes. So let's dive into each.

There are tons of Slack bots, polling tools, and similar that can pose questions to the team on a regular basis. Regardless of the tool at least one of the regular questions should be something like, "How are you feeling today?" The most engaging way to gather this feedback is with emojis. Because some days you're having a tough day because the kids were up all night crying. Rather than a 🙁 the better emoji would be 🥱. Why you may ask? If I see a tired face that tells me the person had a rough night. So as a leader perhaps today I understand if they are less productive or less engaged in a meeting or Slack. I may also suggest to them to take a long lunch and get a nap in. For a sad face, to me is a 🚨. It means I need to reach out and start a deeper conversation trying to get to a root cause. Which in the end is a false alarm.

Regardless of what tool you choose the most important feature that you should not live without is analytics. It's crucially important to understand trends over time. Is someone trending happier or sadder over the last X weeks? Is someone always down on Monday (yep, the case of the Mondays is real)? It will help you better engage that employee when you see the big picture. This is a mistake I recently made with a tool I onboarded. I was trying to mix both happiness and regular standup questions into a single tool. The problem was missing analytics in the happiness piece and I'm sorry I chose that tool for that reason. Or at least didn't use a tool like Kona too for that crucial bit of information.

What should be done with the feedback gathered?

This piece is as important or perhaps even more important than gathering it. Simply, if your team shares feedback and nothing comes out of it they'll simply stop sharing. You definitely don't want to go there. So step 1, is acknowledging the feedback. Repeat the feedback they've given you. I hear you're a bit down recently because someone left and you've had to take on extra responsibilities outside of your wheelhouse. Or whatever the case is. Your team starts off knowing you understand exactly what they're telling you. The next step is sharing what can be done about it (if anything).

Sometimes you can make a positive change to support them. Handing off tasks or switching with a colleague, requiring them to take a vacation, giving them a project they're passionate about, etc. Sometimes you can't. Going back to the team member leaving example. If that person is being replaced, let the person know you're actively looking to hire someone, and perhaps they can be involved in the hiring process. And once they are hired and ramped up, those tasks can be moved to the new person.

Finally keeping them in the loop. Back to our replacing an employee example. Keeping the person in the loop with candidates moving across interview stages, offers, and when they're expected to join and take over the tasks. Or it could be getting that sense that burnout may be happening to others as well. So you've acknowledged it. You've suggested more time off. And the company decides to shut the office down for a week each quarter to give everyone a break. Letting them know that policy is going to be implemented. Doing the above will help you continually gather more transparent and honest feedback.

Scott - [02:46 - 02:49]

Hey, Sid, how's everything going today?

Sid - [02:49 - 03:02]

Hey Scott. Good to, good to be on the show and it's, it's a great day. Super excited. It's it's early morning here. Early-ish morning here in San Francisco. it's a nice cloud, slightly cloudy day. having a good one.

Scott - [03:02 - 03:10]

Nice. I know you're in the New York Yorker for a little while, so I guess you're back in SF now.

Sid - [03:10 - 03:17]

yeah, I split my time between New York and San Francisco. I spend summers in New York and usually around labor day or after that I come back to SF.

Scott - [03:17 - 03:25]

Nice. Very nice. Yeah. Once the season starts to change, you wanna avoid the cold as much as you can and, and get, get out of there as quickly as possible.

Sid - [03:25 - 03:33]

Exactly. I, I'm not a fan of the cold and thankfully given I live in SF, I only have to deal with a mild cold year out.

Scott - [03:33 - 03:48]

Yeah. That's, not so bad. My favorite thing to hear about being in Israel, it's like, I'll take the hot summers anytime, anytime, as long as I don't get the New York cold winters. So gimme hot. Just don't gimme those cold, cold winters, especially without any snow.

Sid - [03:48 - 03:57]

Exactly. Snow is my I've only been in snow like twice in my whole life I or three times. I don't plan on living in it just yet.

Scott - [03:57 - 04:07]

that's awesome. so yeah, usually the way that we start off each episode, now tell us a little bit about yourself, and would love to hear the origin story of Kona.

Sid - [04:07 - 05:38]

Absolutely. it's a longish story. I'll try to keep it short, obviously goes into my own personal story as well, but I'm Indian. I was, born in Dubai then lived in Hong Kong, then lived in India. spent some time in LA, spent some time in New York. Now I live in San Francisco. because I moved around so much as a kid. I picked up accents wherever I went, and so nice. I lived in Hong Kong and went to a super English school. All my teachers and friends were English. So I actually have like a perfect London accent that I switched into and I speak to English people. And then of course I'm Indian. So technically my real accent is my Indian accent. It's one speak <laugh> and then move to America, picked up an American accent here. I've always just been the kind of person that, I'm super social I'm like off the charts extroverted. I love being around people. I love kind of making people feel comfortable. and so like the kinds of problems I've always been interested in solving have been what I like to call squishy problems, quote-unquote, so problems related to mental health community, making people feel part of something, bridging gaps. and, and so I've been a founder since I was like 15 years old and, and most of everything I've ever built has been in this general space, like built community tools for high school debates in, in high school, built, a platform to bridge the gap between the political left and right here in the US when I moved to college and then, started Kona with the, with the goal of like helping remote teams actually build that human connection.

Sid - [05:38 - 06:58]

And so the story is, I met both my co-founders Andrew and green in college at UCLA where I studied computer science went to UCLA as well. We all kind of bonded. I've always had this weird passion for solving squishy problems specifically at work. and, and they've shared the same thing. And so we kind of bonded over our desire to solve emotion, people-related things, emotion related things. and we had a couple failed companies in this, in, in the general like tools for work space and, and tools for relationships at workspace. And then in October, 2019, we all kind of realized like we've all been burned by remote work before we've had poor experiences with it. We believe it's the future. at the time of the future, of course, now's the present. and, and even then remote work was very much on, on the up and up. And we, we genuinely believed that that that was how knowledge economy was gonna function. And, we'd had our poor experiences with it. So we said, okay, we've made so many mistakes as founders before. Let's just learn about this space this time. So we talked to 200 remote managers before we wrote a single line of code and just asked them, like, what is the hardest part about your job? What do you find difficult about our day to day? Why is that hard for you? And we kept hearing the same set of problems again and again and again, which was as a manager, it's the relationship building? It's the trust building? It's the human connection. It's the squishy problems.

Scott - [06:58 - 06:59]


Sid - [06:59 - 07:15]

That I find difficult and they were struggling. And that's why we built Kona to solve that problem that we kept hearing of. I don't know how to build a relationship. I don't know how my team was feeling. and as a result, I can't build trust in human connection on my team.

Scott - [07:15 - 08:47]

Interesting. So I, I love, I love the origin story. absolutely the biggest need now. And certainly as we move to the future of work is solving those squishy problems. I've been saying that, I mean, the world found out like magically how productive people could be during the pandemic. Like it just blew people's mind cause he thought he'd be home and like nothing would get done. and, and I've always tried, tried to say, it's right, because for 10 plus years, you know, I go back to the early envision days. Even when people working in office, we were still using cloud-based tools, right. We were using envision for prototyping design. We're using Trello for product management and we're using Google docs for documentation. So we're used to working with cloud-based remote tools, even when sitting next to each other in an office or a conference room, pandemic hits, you kind of take the office away and people are still using the same tools that they had been. So like the workflow was still, nothing had changed outside of the physical environment, but what was missing was the squishy part was the relationship building was the engagement, was the water cooler moments. And, all those other pieces that just happened kind of right. Naturally happened in our office, but needed to be recreated in the office. And it's exciting to see that now there's so much effort and emphasis on companies trying to solve these issues. Cause the work stuff, okay, that's done. We've solved that. But now it's like the big piece. It's kind of exactly why Kona started. How do you gauge people? How do you get feedback? How do you understand if they're burning out or they're how they're feeling when you can't see them and you can't see like they're tired or they're frustrated or whatever it may be.

Scott - [08:47 - 09:57]

So it's love, you know, love to hear it definitely, the right timing, which, is always another good thing when, when building early stage, startup getting the right timing. so we saw through the pandemic, right? And the number one topic that everybody was talking about was around mental health, which of course was obvious. I don't, I don't think there was a person on this planet that didn't have some type of mental challenge, a mental health challenge. I know I was definitely in that bucket. but as we move on, know, you kind of starting to hear a little bit less and less about it, but I think it's, it's still continues to be the most important thing that companies should need to be focusing on should be focusing on. so kind of, I would love to hear from your perspective from let's, let's start from a company base, cuz I, I would love to then dive more into like the individual manager. I know a lot of especially season two and a later half is very focused on an individual manager within a remote company. That's maybe not doing the best practices of remote. Like how did they do those, the right things within their team. but let's start from a company. Like what should they be thinking about? What do they be focusing on? Like tools, ideas, so on, so forth for around mental health, especially if the pandemic fingers cross is making its way out the door.

Sid - [09:57 - 11:59]

Great question. I think the big realization that we've had or the few things I'll say in this regard is one mental health issues have not reduced with the pandemic subsiding. One in three Americans still suffer from some form of anxiety or depression. and we are still and have been even pre pandemic, have continuously been in a mental health epidemic. and, and, and it's not being talked about enough. And, and, and I think the big thing I would say is sure, the, the forced isolation due to COVID might be on its way out, but people's mental health issues still remain, the anxiety, the stress, the burnout, those things haven't really gone away. and, and those things are not purely COVID related. They're not just as a result of being cooped up at home. and companies need to be thinking about mental health in a more holistic manner. It's not mental health is not just something that if you're suffering from anxiety or depression or you're diagnosed, it, it like it's a, it's not a clinical diagnosis per se. Although of course that's a big part of where a lot of the mental health resources go towards. Yeah. I think the thing that companies need to be thinking about, even from a purely like profit and, and like selfish capitalistic perspective is prevention. yeah, because one, whatever percent, one or 2% of people that actually seek mental health support, what about the 98, 90 9% of people that might just be going through a diff difficult time and, and they just need some support and some care from their team or their manager or their, their community and, and their community at work, and how much pain and suffering you can prevent.

Sid - [11:59 - 13:31]

And as a result, how much happier and more productive your people can be? absolutely. And so that's the way the companies need to be thinking about it is it's something that needs to constantly be invested in not necessarily curly only where I see a lot of investment going towards like very important like therapy and, and those kinds of, services where people engage in them once they have a diagnosed issue, or when they, they have a diagnosed, but 98% of the 99% of the people don't even realize. And it's like, oh, I'm havi ng a bad day. I'm having a bad week or a bad month or about a year. Yep. I just need some support. and so that's the way companies need to be thinking about it. And, and it, it, it, it really requires a fundamental shift in thinking, and that's naturally happening by virtue of gen Z and millennials being a more and more pronounced part of the workforce, where we grew up with mental health support in high schools and colleges. This is just what we expect when we interesting when we go to work, or, or when we participate in work conversations is like, we talk about our feelings a lot more than any other generation did. We're much more touchy, feely generation. Interesting. and as more gen Z more of gen Z inches, the workforce, this is just how we talk. We're open about our mental health. We're open about our struggles and we expect support, and we expect these conversations to be normalized. And so the most important thing is, however you do it, create a safe space to have these vulnerable conversations and to actually like connect with your team over, over these kinds of things.

Scott - [13:31 - 14:55]

Yeah. That's spot on. And I think what you ended off with kind of opens and leads me to my, to my next question again, now diving more to like the individual leader. so I've said how many episodes I'm a big believer that there is three types of remote companies. You have your OGs and the companies that went remote before the pandemic, you have bucket number one, bucket, number two, that remote companies that, went remote during the pandemic said, Hey, we're gonna embrace all the best of the future of work, right. Hiring globally. And AYQ by default at four day work weeks and all that good stuff. And where a majority of remote companies sit, it's kind of holding onto those old practices where they're not really embracing the best of, of what the future work has to offer. And in a lot of those cases, you know, I've spoken to individual managers who have been sitting within those teams who are like, Hey, we wanna do better. I wanna do better for my team. Even if my company is not, not there yet. So I wanna focus kind of on that, like individual leaders, like kind of get, what can they be doing, especially with companies that aren't again on board or doing these things. Because I, I saw a recent, a mental health America report for 2022 that said, you know, two thirds of employees aren't comfortable discussing their mental health. Maybe they didn't did interview too many gen Zs, or maybe the one third were the gen Zs. But, so for me, improving the stats really comes by leading from the front, right? You being the leader, you're the one who kind of sets the path and blazed the path and what you do, your team will follow.

Scott - [14:55 - 15:08]

So I would love to hear from your perspective, as a leader from maybe conversation that you had with other leaders, tell me what and how that you've been sharing and things that you've been hearing about your own mental health story to create that environment where others will share.

Sid - [15:08 - 16:46]

Absolutely. I, I love that you asked that question and, and of course we work with 400 plus of, of the best managers out there across companies like masterclass. Can we oyster for you name it, the remote OGs, newly new companies and, and, and all that kind of stuff. the thing that we always talk about is one, it's all about trust and psychological safety. I'm a big fan of Brene brown dare to lead vulnerability as a strength is something that we talk about. And I genuinely believe in, I think that the old school of mentality is as a leader, you have to be strong and put up this facade and kind of be the, be the person that everybody can rely on to always be. Yeah, like, okay. During tough times. and that has felt in the past incongruent with vulnerability. But I think like, so the advent of what Brene brown talks about, or, or, or what I infer from what Brene brown talks about is being vulnerable is the best way in which you actually build trust with your team and trust at the end of the day is the, is the most important thing you need on a team when, when your team trusts you and trust each other, that's when you do your best work, that's when you have the important conversations. That's when people don't quit and people don't leave. and in an environment where we have global access to opportunity and global access to talent, the best talent is going to go to the best teams and the best companies. Sure. And so, if you want to perform at your best level, you need to create an environment where you're able to keep your best people.

Sid - [16:46 - 18:28]

And that comes at the end of the day down to trust. And the biggest element of trust is psychological safety is how comfortable do I feel being myself, making mistakes, being honest, to speak up. and, and psychological safety is tons of research long since been proven as the number one predictor of successful teams. and the way to build psychological safety is lead with vulnerability. Yeah. as a manager, when we talk about Kona, obviously quick summary of Kona's really simple daily emotional check-ins for remote team. So it asks you every day, Hey, how are you feeling today? Red, yellow, greeny put emoji in a comment. The number one thing we talk about is people aren't going to be honest with you about how they're feeling, if you, aren't honest with them about how you're feeling. Yeah. And so, as the manager's critical that you are sharing when you're struggling, what you're worried about, and, and you don't have to go overboard with it, but giving a level of, of insight into here are my struggles. I'm a real person. and this is what I'm worried about is, is the number one way to build psychological safety and get people on site, and, and, and rally people around you and, and, and this cause, of whatever it is that you, that you're trying to build or work on. and so, that's really the thing we, we tell managers and hear from management all the time is, is when I am opening up, other people start doing the same. and then it creates this kind of like cocoon of silence, cocoon, whatever you wanna call it of. I can actually trust the people on my team with how I'm feeling, what I'm worried about, what my struggles are, and that leads to all sorts of important conversations, even related to like unrelated topics. Sid - [18:28 - 18:38]

Because once you have that trust, you start doing important work related conversations and speaking up and, and pushing back in healthy way. and that's what leads to the magic of a, of a high performing team.

Scott - [18:38 - 19:54]

Now I'm, I'm a complete agreement. I think there are two points that I really like that I wanna follow up know from my, from my own story. the first is we don't yet use Kona. We're moving in that direction. So apologies that as we start now, but we do a daily standup in one of the questions that have implemented there is similar how you feeling. And it's kind of a list of emojis from like a super happy face to come sad face. And I've read and read with my team. It's like, when you're having a bad day, like you didn't get to sleep, something's gone wrong. Like, it's good to put a sad face. Like, I want you to put a sad face. I don't think you have any fear. Like, oh, if I look like I'm having a hard day something's I said, I want you do that because what it is, it's a flag for me. I religiously look at those every day. And if I see so like a fr face on someone, that's a, like, I need to automatically right now, stop whatever I'm doing and go message that person, check in. How's everything going. Like, if you wanna jump on a, like a five minute conversation, super critical, even same with like a neutral face. Like if I see a neutral face for like three, four days in a row, like for me again, that's a flag, Hey, something's going on? Cuz in theory, right. We want people to be happy. So if something is even just like in the middle, is there something I could do as a leader? Is there something I could help with just even a conversation or a person to talk to? so I, I love that idea of, you know, with Kona, how, how that's built in and how that helps managers and starting off, I think it was before the pandemic.

Scott - [19:54 - 21:16]

So a few months, months before the pandemic, I was, we were expecting my fourth, fourth child and my wife was, you know, getting towards on, so a lot more of the responsibilities, like in the house when the kids got put on my plate and then running teams and like start up crazy. And all the, all these things are going on at the same time. And it was like a Friday night and I felt like I was having a heart attack. I had like numbness in my fingers, down my extremities and like pain, this and the other. And I, I called the ambulance to come over and they check everything out. Everything was good. And one of the, the EMTs asked like, have you been under any additional, extra stress or anxiety recently? And I'm thinking to myself, I'm like, look, this is, this is like a day to day. Right. Got a baby coming world is starting to kind of get like the pandemic was starting. Just, it still wasn't here anywhere. It's still mostly in China or Italy, things gonna work and all this stuff. And like a couple days later I was like, no, I don't know. And a couple days later, like the light went on and I'm like, holy the crap. Like that's totally it. And I came back and I sat in with like a team meeting and I shared that and I share like, here's what happened to me on Friday night. This happened because here's, what's going on with my family. Here's going over the kids, this is going with this one and this baby coming and like things over here. Like I wanted to make sure that I shared, you know, what's going on with me.

Scott - [21:16 - 21:55]

So people knew just so people had an idea, but also as you said to create that environment of trust where, Hey, if my leader's saying that he's has things going on with this family and this, and like, yes, it's okay for me to share the same thing, like the same things going on with me, or I'm just having a bad day for whatever reason, like that opens that environment for transparency, where you see, Hey, I, I can share too. I could be honest to you because if my leader is being vulnerable, as you said, which in the old days, like you couldn't be vulnerable, but if they're being vulnerable, that means I could do the same thing I could feel comfortable about doing it. And most importantly, I know I'm gonna get the support at least some support that I need, at least for my leader.

Sid - [21:55 - 22:08]

So absolutely. I'm, I'm sorry. You went through that and it just highlights the importance of like living those values and, and leading with vulnerability. yeah. 100% agree.

Scott - [22:08 - 22:38]

Yeah, absolutely. So besides Kona, we'd love to hear some different ideas or formats that you've personally used. Maybe again, leaders that you've spoken to you've used, to help people around mental health. So things around like one-on-one conversations, things around like async, as I said, like a Kona type tool, a slack channel for mental health, like tell me some of the things that you've been doing as a leader against the other things that you've been hearing to create this environment, to make sure that it's being talked about and there's a place for it to be talked about.

Sid - [22:38 - 24:26]

Absolutely. I think for us internally on the team, it, it, it really is Kona. cuz cuz it, you, whether you do it through K or otherwise, basically creating a, some sort of safe space, however you're doing it, whether it's in, in the slack channel, whether it's in your one on ones and, and it probably has to be in all of these things, like all of the above, creating a safe space where everybody is sharing things about their life and how they're they're feeling. and it's not just about like a one way traffic of people just sharing and, and that's it, it's about the back and forth, the conversation of like someone's sharing that they're struggling. Okay. Other people are following up and asking why what's let's let's like share more about that. Talk, talk it through because most cases, what you just need is to talk it through and understand and become self-aware and, and have the conversation around, okay, I'm feeling this way, why let's get to the root cause of it and just be aware of it. And that in, in many cases is enough for you to kind of regulate and, and, and solve the problem. If there is one, or just recognize the problem and, and let time do its thing. and so the, the critical thing is not only creating the safe space, although that's step one, step two is then having those conversations and, and the back and forth between you and, and your team as well as among just the team as well. yeah. And so whether that happens in team retreats at off sites, whether that happens in slack, whether that happens in one-on-ones, whether that happens in however, wherever your team connects, creating the safe space and then using that to have those meaningful conversations is the most important thing.

Sid - [24:26 - 25:41]

and so very often we'll see managers, whether you're, if you're doing it in standup, you could do it in, in, in your standup if you're not doing it through Kona, but for the managers that, that we talk to that use Kona for it, when they see a yellow or a red Kona will flag before your one-on-one saying, Hey, this person has been yellow or has had, has had a tough week. Do you wanna bring this up into one on one? And here's how you can do that. And so we have, templates of like, here's how you bring up that conversation. Oh, interesting. In, in one, on one saying like, Hey, notice you checked yellow or notice you've been having, it feels like you've been having a tough week. the story in my head is that it's because of this reason, correct the story, let's talk about it. and, that's another, I think bene brown, like little like sentence step, the story in my head is, and, and that allows you to kind of hypothesize freely without like putting your own opinion on the other person. and, and so yeah, step one, create a safe space. Step two, have the conversations, step three, follow up once, once that person has shared and, and you've talked about it, it shouldn't just disappear to the abyss check in with them after week, you brought this up, add it to your one-on-one doc notes, bring it up the next time, make sure that they know that you didn't forget about it when they, when they shared that. because that's, that's honestly worse than not asking in the first place is if it feels ingenuous, if it feels like it wasn't followed up on.

Sid - [25:41 - 25:51]

and so, so those are, I think the, the actionable, steps I would given, of course, Kona automates all of these things for you, but you can vary just as well do them, by putting an effort as a manager.

Scott - [25:51 - 26:40]

No, I, I love that. And again, you brought up two points that I wanna kind of to dive into. And, and the first is, obviously remotely, right? Seeing burnout, seeing anxiety is obviously, as we kind of start off, the conversation is not as easy remotely is in the office. Right. You can't see the person's face, you can't see them like with bags under their eyes. It's, it's a totally different story and requires intentionality. So outside of obviously using Kona where you're getting, maybe somebody's putting a red or for like a whole week, but it's like yellow, and then you have that automation, what else can managers and leaders do to gather feedback? And like, what do they look for? I mean, if, if they're getting data like, or, or like, how can they actually notice things are, are a little bit often I'm happy to come share our personal story. I have it, but I'd love to hear know from you, for first Great question.

Sid - [26:40 - 28:11]

And that's where, when, when you're a remote manager awareness of other, like of other people's emotional states is so critical. so, and under Daniel Goldman's for pillars of emotional intelligence there's self-awareness, which is awareness of yourself. Yeah. Social awareness, understanding how others are feeling and having that empathy is so critical. and so noticing, I mean, the people talk about how only 7% of communication is actually the words that you say, something like 30% is hone and another like 60 plus percent is body language. And yeah, The biggest thing you miss in remote is actually the body language part, for sure. and that's why, whatever, whatever you can, whatever you have access to in terms of tone and the little body language you can see on, if someone has their just chosen to have their camera on, it's so critical for you to be hyper aware of that and, and ask the right questions. And really that's the way in which you uncover some of these things where without, in absence of sensing things and, and having the ability to, for your natural social awareness to kick in asking the right questions of sure, Hey, how are you really feeling today? And then sharing yourself first so that they feel comfortable making the other person feel comfortable to say it with their words, because you need to rely more on that in a remote environment. So that's the way that you would do it without Kona.

Scott - [28:11 - 29:38]

Yeah. I think the video part is, is extremely important. No, I'm a big believer, especially in remote environments, right? The idea of video is to not replace, but come as close to like their in real life experience by yes. Seeing a facing body language and how important it's. So all, all these companies that decided again, who had zoom fatigue, which not, not for this, episode today, you know, try to move towards the, okay. And to keep the camera off or do audio only. And it's like such a miss because you miss out on so much when not, not having the video, but it's having like that radar to be able to pick up like little nuanced differences in people, even without a tool. And I remember during the pandemic, I had someone on my team, like a few months in maybe about six months in who on a day to day basis used to always share like an animated Jif, like at least one animated Jif every day, right. Something fun, got like team the laughing or what have you. And then over time, like over weeks, you started to notice, like, it went from every day to like a few times a week to like, down to like once or twice a week. And it was just something like, even seeing the difference in behavior of being outwardly engaged and outwardly sharing something fun and seeing them kind of like pull back. And like, for me, that was like a red flag. I mean, that was like, the RAR went off like, Hey, something's going on? Because again, this person is normally engaged or it could be even on zoom calls or, or meetings, if you're doing synchronous meetings or another, for an episode, someone talks a lot.

Scott - [29:38 - 30:15]

Someone's very engaged, answering questions, giving feedback, and all of a sudden they're kind of more quiet and they're asking less and they're being less engaged and having to have this radar that you kind of notice when there's somewhat of a, like a difference, you know, that comes in. So a second point that you bring in, I wanna filter on this. So let's go with the example. Okay. You've implemented Kona. you're having an environment where you're getting feedback. tell me some examples of specific feedback that you received as a leader, or again, from conversations you have other leaders and what actually happened with that. Like what came out of it?

Sid - [30:15 - 31:36]

Great question. one example I can think of, and this has happened multiple times with myself, Andrew Green, where, where Kona has like proactively identified burnout before it happened. Yeah. but there was a time last year when Andrew, was kind of like moving around in a bunch of different cities. He was deciding where he wanted to live. So he hadn't, he had chosen a, a place where he wanted to, to be for the next few years. and he had just moved to New York city. He didn't know a lot of people there, and, and had started mentioning in his checkins. And I noticed in Kona flag for me, actually that, Hey, Andrew's been yellow all week. and his checkin check in yellow, like three or four times in a row. And he in Kona flag, those, those showed me those checkins and said, Hey, he's mentioned new city anxiety he's mentioned work was getting overwhelming. He was mentioning like increased level of stress and tired. And Kona basically flagged that to me and said, Hey, this is what's going on. and that's, that's it. And that was enough for me to be able to take to Andrew. And we do one-on-ones every week. And so in the next one-on-one, I said, Hey, Andrew, Kona flagged this for me. Let's talk about it. if you do, do you agree with what it's, it's saying? and in, in some cases it's happened where the other person was like, no, it's just, just an off week. I, I think I'll be good by next. and in the conversation I, we had about it with Andrew about it, we were able to uncover that Andrew was feeling a little bit more overwhelmed than usual, and we realized he hadn't taken any time off and forever.

Sid - [31:36 - 32:35]

And so I convinced him, he could take some time off. I, I, we, I, we were, you hold each other. Kona allows us to hold each other accountable for that kind of thing. And he's done the same for me. We've done something for cream and so on and so forth. But in this specific case, I was able to convince Andrew, Hey, take some time off, go on a trip, go somewhere with friends, see something fun or spend time with family. And, and he went to Orlando, and, and had a great time, came back and felt a lot better. And he was calling the check-ins. he started mentioning green more often, things like that. And so that's Awesome. That's an example. And, and same thing happened to me. The same thing happened with green. and, and, and often it can be as straightforward as, Hey, when was your last vacation? When was your last yeah. Time for, but sometimes it's, it's deeper than that. And it's helped our customers. We've had a director of engineering tell us that he noticed his engineering managers getting more overwhelmed with the amount of work that they had to do and realized that they misplanned their head count. And so they, that director of engineering was able to use the data and Kona to make the case, Hey, look, there's a spike in yellows and reds. We need to, we need more people.

Scott - [32:35 - 33:54]

Yeah, no, that, that's, that's amazing. so what kind of like the first story reminds me of when I started my latest role, when the people on, on my team were like support, CSMs was about to go on maternity leave. So she had about, like, when I joined, it was like, I think two or three weeks before she went on maternity leave. And as you can imagine, right, your two, three weeks from going on maternity leave, like all the stress anxiety of having a baby first baby things at work, trying to hand off things to kind of new team, like all that's going on. and all the obviously stress and anxiety of like, what's going to be while I'm gone. And when I come back and at the time the company had a maternity policy of one month off, cuz they didn't have, they didn't have anybody. Right. For all these years, they never had anybody. And as soon as I heard that, I'm like, holy crap. Like that can't be like no way. So I like automatically went no to the, to the executive team. I'm like, we need to give more time like this no month just isn't enough. so thankfully like we were able to add no additional time, like an extra know month or two for the person to have more time to at least in that sense. I not have to worry. Okay. I'm about to leave. I'm trying to hand these things off. I have to focus on a baby and you know, at least kind of remove that, you know, in four weeks I gotta come back and how, how am I gonna deal with having a baby and doing this to at least give that person like a little bit time, it's more rest.

Scott - [33:54 - 34:14]

But like, as you said, the importance of hearing a story and sometimes it's accurate, sometimes it's not, but when you hear something like, and you notice there's a problem, like what you do with it, do you take action? Do you do something to try to solve that again? You may not solve it a hundred percent, but if you can reduce it, no from 80% down to 50% or something like that, who obviously made a huge, and significant impact.

Sid - [34:14 - 34:23]

Exactly. and, and that's a, that's a really great example of, of some action that, that you took based off of understanding how she was feeling and, and what her stress levels were.

Sid - [34:24 - 34:47]

Invariably, what we see as well is people you wanna lean into the areas that people are stressed about because typically people are competent. And if, if they are stressed about something that may speak to a more structural issue with the work that they've been given or the way that their role is structured or something that's actually very actionable for you as the leader.

Scott - [34:47 - 36:11]

Yeah, absolutely. so I wanna kind of pivot a little bit now towards employee engagement, because I think employee engagement, isn't hard and you can kind of throw mental health and all those things into employee engagement, right? Employees are engaged and happy, then it, it, has, no compound effects. So focusing a little bit now on the specific employee engagement side and obviously skip all the data that that's made it crystal clear about how more productive and motivated and so on. So forth that engaged employees are. So we now know that leaders obviously have to be very intentional with creating opportunities for their team to bond, to build relationships, especially so much in remote environments. I had this conversation, earlier I, I recorded an episode, with somebody who I worked with, envisioned who was one of the very early employees there. And we were kind of talking about the early days of in envision and how kind of later on a lot of the culture kind of grew around from the team. So it was very much kind of organic in grassroots, cuz back to 2012, there were like two or three remote companies at the time, right? There were no GitLab manuals there, there was no, one of these remote leaders who were sharing the best practices, you kind of came from that experience in the office. And the, the experience in the office was right in your team. You sat next to your team, you went to lunch, sat in the kitchen, in the cafeteria with your, the colleagues you went for beers after work with the people that you work with. So a lot of like the culture, even in office happen just by teams bringing that up. Scott - [36:11 - 36:23]

But we know obviously in remote, everything is intentional. So how is a leader? What can they be doing? And, and even from your perspective, would love to hear some of the things that, that you've done with your team to build relationships remotely.

Sid - [36:23 - 36:55]

Great question of number of things. One I've I've I've seen a lot of people talking about this recently, so that maybe this is not really a hot take anymore, but I feel like remote work, being the great equalizer that it is and the, the ability that it, and it allows you to have a much more diverse team and, and actually have representation across your team, which is how you make a better higher functioning team.

Sid - [36:56 - 38:49]

Which means that your work related socialization, if it's after work, that's inherently not inclusive because working moms, people that are, that are caregivers cannot inherently participate. Yeah, yeah. In those, in those conversations and or, or in those, in those events. And so our belief is have 'em during work hours, have them during a time when, when people can participate better, still have them AYQ and, and so create opportunities for people to bond and connect in, in AYQ way as well as, so that's, that's one. And, and I can talk more about that. Yeah. Other thing I'll talk about is, and one thing I've, I've seen other companies do really well is allow people given remote is not a, I feel like a lot of companies see remote as something that you have to work around as opposed to something that is a force multiplier. so embrace exactly your team's global and allow people to like, so lean into that basically. And so instead of forcing people to necessarily like come together and hang out after work hours and, and have all deal with all the time zone stuff. Yeah. Have people share something that they went out and did in the community? one thing that I've heard Salesforce does really well is they have their 1% pledge, where, where 1% of their profits, 1% of their time, goes into, social work. and so, for what they've had a lot of people do. And, and I think during in the summer internship season is when they do a lot of this work where obviously having interpreting younger, like college students be part of the team is, is always super exciting. they have people go out and like make masks for the homeless or, or distribute food in your community and something that allows you to kind of like embrace the fact that you're globally distributed.

Sid - [38:49 - 40:16]

we do, for example, people, we have like fun channels, like people sharing things about where they're traveling, what are they seeing? Sure. Channel, because we're a dog themed company, we have a dog spotting channel where we have to spot dogs around the country, around the world, wherever you're going and share a picture of some cute dog dopamine that everybody needs, every day, which is nice. another big thing we do is, is, gratitude. That's actually like a, it's just a hack for happiness in my opinion. And so we're always sharing things that we're grateful for recognition to each other, as well as recognition to like people in our family. And so, yeah, at the end of every week, we go to retros. We're not as async as we wanna be. So we often end up doing this activity synchronously, where everybody just goes around, sharing something that they're grateful for it to be. Someone's grateful for their mom. Someone's grateful for their siblings. Someone's grateful for their partner. Someone's grateful for someone else on the team. and so that's just the way of like getting people engaged, learning about people's lives in an authentic, vulnerable way. Gratitude is at the end of the day, it's still a very vulnerable thing to participate in. and, scientifically proven to boost happiness and, and employee engagement as well. So, there's tons of ay things you can do. but the high level I would say is lean into the fact that you're remote and allow people to do things like shared travel stories, share, like do things in their community, participate in the family. yeah. And, and two create opportunity for, for ay things.

Sid - [40:16 - 40:46]

And of course on our team, Kona is a big one where people are sharing things about their life. Yeah. And what's going on with them. And then people follow up asking for pictures. So someone should come back on Monday and I'm green. I'm celebrating because it was my brother's birthday. And everyone's like, oh, happy birthday, send pictures. Or, oh, I went traveling. I, I, saw this really cool mountain. It's like something that yeah. Would not happen if we were all huddled around an office in San Francisco. yeah. and so that part is, is cool with Kona, but you can do that in any channel. Yeah.

Scott - [40:46 - 42:08]

I mean, there's, so there's so much goodness here to unpack this time. I'm gonna go with three points there. I, I dunno. I had two and then you added a third one. So I'll start with the latter one with gratitude. I I've seen it personally in my life. How much of a difference? Like I have a group in the morning, that we do kind of like morning stretching. we do gratitude, gratitude, journaling, and kind of other journaling as well, like two or three times a week. We get to group as like a two or three people in the group. And we go through like our journal, like where do you grad grateful for? Like, what wins do you have? Like all those different things. I've seen myself what the huge impact that's made for my own mental health. When I just, I just get step out there. Like even days when it's hard for me to not be grateful. And even sometimes I'll put down like the fact that some days I just don't have anything to come up with for, for what I'm grateful for. and I absolutely love that with, with the tool that we've been using, with my team. Like, that's the first question every morning is like, what are you grateful for? So every day trying to build that is like a habit. Like, again, it could be family could, whatever it is. Like, even if you can't think of something like repeat the same thing, the fact that you try to think about, Hey, I'm grateful for this is super important. And I, I have experienced the difference, in my own mental health, around that. the second thing that he said, which I really love is around the idea around inclusivity, that in the old day, when you did stuff outside the office hours, it was on Innclusive, which is always been my argument for the people say, oh, it's the office that makes the culture.

Scott - [42:08 - 43:07]

And I'm like, you're just ridiculous. The office has nothing to do with the culture, right? Cause people who wanna, who want the office tended to be the young professionals who live in the city who like most of their social interaction, their social being happens when the office, so at six o'clock you have the option to go home to an empty apartment or hang out and play pool or ping pong and drink beers with like your colleagues. Like obviously which one you're gonna choose. But once you get married, once you start having a family and you move out to the suburbs, like the last thing you wanna do is be in the office. Like you wanna get home, you wanna be with your family, you wanna spend time in your community. You wanna be doing things like that. And yeah. How much of that focus has been yeah. After hours after this, where, as you said, like people who aren't young professionals who their social being is around work, like that's the last thing you wanna do. Right. I wanna get the hell out of the office is early as possible to like, to get home, avoid traffic and like spend the time with my family. So I, I love, I actually love that point. And the third point now I just is totally escaping me.

Sid - [43:07 - 43:11]

oh, brother, Lean into remote.

Scott - [43:11 - 44:03]

oh man, I should have, I should have taken notes while you, while you're talking here. I totally missed this one. Okay. Well, if I remembered it, I'll come back to it later. So we'll have to shift to, to another question. But for remote leaders today, again, who are part of an organization who aren't really doing these engagement things who aren't really focusing on culture like outside of obviously implementing Kona, what can like a remote leader and individual leader who maybe managing the small team in when these companies, like, what can they do today to help foster better relationships and engagement within our team? Like, doesn't have to be tools, but it could be fun thing as times get to teams together. And again, I'm happy to share things I do with my teams would love to hear again what you're doing with your teams and what know leaders that you spoke do. I've been doing Great question.

Sid - [44:03 - 45:42]

a number of things. I think the high level is the most important thing to do is action. Just doing something and seeing that you're hearing from your team or making your team feel like you're putting in the effort and making it clear to your team that you are trying, and that this is a priority for you is the first step, because after that you can iterate and your team will give you the feedback. And as long as they know that this is something you care about and that you prioritize the rest of it will come with time. Yeah. and so the first thing you can do is make a commitment to your team and stand by that commitment of this is something I care about. I, I wanna make an effort to be a better leader for you. and what that looks like for me is a, B and C. and for me that means ensuring that you feel supported, ensuring that you feel like you can grow in your role and ensuring that I'm caring for you and giving you the, yeah. Really those, those two things that I'm supporting you in the way that you, and that's the number one most important role of a manager and a big part of that support is just being there, talking things through supporting mental health, having those conversations, and, and creating a space for people to connect with each other. and, and whether with or without the manager. And so, yeah, that's the first thing to do is, is make a commitment to your team today. Yeah. and then ask them what, what, what are, what are, what are ways in which you wish we could engage with each other people will come up with ideas and have it be consensus, however you want.

Sid - [45:42 - 45:55]

Yeah. Include other people in, in the process of deciding things to do, then pick something, make a decision, start it, try it, get feedback and iterate. because just like a product culture is something that you constantly iterate on.

Sid - [45:55 - 46:27]

Even internally on, on the corner team, as we grow, we keep trying new things. We keep trying and getting feedback on, on, on, did this work? What did you think of this? yeah. And that's how we, we, we iterate. So the first step is make a commitment. Second step is, try something, then iterate on it. and of course, Kona is free to use for teams. Single teams can try it out. You don't need to have your whole company use it. it's free to install the slack and play around. There's a free version of the product. yeah. and you can kind of go from there.

Scott - [46:27 - 47:46]

Yeah. , it's so important obviously, remote, especially in the asynchronous environment, you know, my, my teams run asynchronously and I had, so every other week, like the work meetings are all async, we get together one on ones as a team. We play games every other week, or we do games or show Intels or something. And it was interesting. I had one case where I think two out of six people grow outta the office that day. And I said, okay, I'm gonna cancel this week's, note, team fun because I was thinking of those two people who are not gonna be there and I'm gonna miss out on them. The next kind of like biweekly check-in async check-in that I had, one of my team had said that, Hey, sometimes I feel like we're too ay. Like, I really missed that opportunity on Wednesday to connect as a team and have fun as a team. And I was like, holy crap, like, you're totally right. Like I can't ever cancel this again. I need to focus on the people who are there versus who need like that opportunity to connect versus like the opportunity to miss out on a couple of people. And it was like, okay, I'm never gonna do this again. And then it was consistently, and as you said, asking, like, what else could we be doing? So we've done things like co-working sessions where we'll just open up like a, whatever, a zoom or something call for like half an hour, 40 minutes. And just people could talk about work. People could talk about whatever else it is, and always looking for those opportunities to just spend time together and not really have to be SP specifically talking about work.

Scott - [47:46 - 48:02]

so last question, cause I see that we're, we're kind of low on time, would love to see, obviously you said there are 400 teams, that are using it. You've had hundreds of conversations with leaders would love any data or stats that you have showing the impact, that you've seen from Kona around employee engagement and mental health.

Sid - [48:02 - 49:39]

Yeah. yes, 400 plus teams across amazing companies. Masterclass can oyster buffer, help scout air call. Good RA you name it. Yeah. some of the awesome, like OG remote companies, as well as, newer ones, use Kona. some of the interesting stats we've seen, I would say one is just like really cool now that we have like, like thousands of daily active users to see like when major world events happen, how that impacts how people are feeling. So, so for example, interesting, when like difficult political things happen in the world seeing the spike in yellows and red. So like when, in, in, February, March when, when the Ukraine stuff was happening yeah. Or starting, that's like we, we saw a big spike in yellows and reds then, interesting in January 6th, 2021, the, the capital in the US was stormed. We saw a bunch of stuff. and so just seeing to a large extent how external uncontrollable factors impact the mental health of people at companies is difficult, but also almost reassuring for our customers that sure, Hey, people are struggling right now. All I can really do is be there for them and support them is nothing else is out of my control. and just knowing that as opposed to like, Hey, this is something that I can do something about is, has, has been like a big reassurance factor at, at the, at the company level, as well as at the manager level for the manager to see, okay, oh my God, yellows and reds everywhere on my team. Yeah. Am I not supporting them in the way that they need? No, it, this is actually what's going on here.

Sid - [49:39 - 51:13]

so that's one interesting two, just seeing and, and constantly updating our internal kind of like formulas for like what qualifies as somebody at a, at, at, at a burnout risk, what qualifies as somebody, who's like potentially at, does not have the psychological safety needed, or doesn't feel comfortable to actually share honestly. And so seeing that, those kind of nuances between like, Hey, is this person just having, always having a, like, is it a good streak or yeah. Are they not being honest? Is there something deeper here? Mm-hmm <affirmative> and seeing the different indicators and using Kona, because at the end of day, Kona is just what people share in it. and so using Kona's gauge of psychological safety, as well as burnout and stress levels, has been really interesting. And so those are some of the things that, that we're playing around with right now. And then the other thing I'll say is being able to see what areas of support managers need the most. So it's not just Kona, doesn't just do, Hey, how are you feeling it also actually nudges manager thing. Here's what you need to do when this person's struggling. And you can customize those resources at the level. That's awesome saying like, Hey, here's, <inaudible> provides for managers how to deal with burnout. And so it's been really interesting seeing, like as the head of people at a specific company, you can see here are the resources that I'm providing that managers are engaging with the most or the least. So here's where I need to help them more with. So using it as a real time gauge of how people are, how the entire company is feeling, as opposed to maybe an employee engagement survey, which gives you data only once every six months, which is critical.

Sid - [51:13 - 51:26]

Yeah. And you, you don't, you can't replace those with Kona. Sure. Being able to have more day to day pulse on what is going well and badly at the org, I think is what has been really interesting to see from a company to company basis.

Scott - [51:26 - 51:36]

Yeah, No, I love that. so for people listening who want to get in touch with you, who want to get in touch with Kona, learn more about Kona, what's the best way to find you get ahold of you and Kona as well?

Sid - [51:36 - 52:23]

Absolutely. So website is, Hey, it's super easy to book a demo if you're interested in learning more, but also you can just install the app to slack and, and try out completely for free, completely without talking to anybody, no credit card required or anything like that. There's a completely free version of the product, which gives you just the check ins and the basic like habit building of how are people feeling for free. And then you can see if you wanna get more of the manager support and the data yeah. And all that kind of stuff later on. and so, yeah, website's the best way, but also we are @getkona on Twitter. and, and I, I, myself, you can find me at Sid Penia, on, on Twitter and LinkedIn. so that's, yeah, that's how to, that's how to get a hold of, of New York, Kona. The website's probably the best way. So Hey,

Scott - [52:23 - 52:41]

Awesome. Now, Sid, thank you so much, for joining today and sharing, your experience and your wisdom. As I said, I've been a big fan of Kona probably since like your earliest beta days. I love what you're building super crucial. so thank you so much for joining, and sharing today. And for everybody listening until the next episode, have a wonderful day, everybody.