The Challenge: supporting mental health for hybrid and virtual teams


Covid-19 has brought countless changes to all aspects of our lives. Work, home and everything that lies between has been deeply impacted by the pandemic. Logically, with all this change we have seen and will continue to see, workplaces are adapting. As we’ve found out first-hand at Koa Health, supporting mental health for hybrid and fully-remote teams isn’t easy. But as a company that made the switch from an office-based environment to a completely virtual workplace during the pandemic, we’re happy to say we’ve learned a lot.

The Challenge: supporting mental health for hybrid and virtual teams

Now with vaccinations rolling out and restrictions lifting, we’ve taken our learnings and landed on a flexible hybrid working arrangement as what’s best for our team’s wellbeing moving forward. We’ve seen first-hand that mental health (and successfully supporting it across an entire organisation) is a complex issue. Prioritising wellbeing starts with company-wide values but also has to carefully factor in employees’ diverse backgrounds and changing needs.

Post-confinement, we know that while some employees may feel more comfortable working from home, others prefer the stronger boundaries between their professional and personal life, which going into a physical workplace can create. While others are happiest with some mixture thereof, as industry studies and our internal research confirm.

But when some people are at home, some are in the office and teams are dispersed in space and time (we have teams in Spain, the UK, and the US), how can companies support mental wellbeing? Here’s what’s working for the team at Koa Health.

Flexible working conditions...work

We provide a central office space for our teams and access to a network of coworking spaces for convenience and comfort. By making where, and to a large extent, when our employees work more flexible and more accessible, we hope to accommodate everyone’s needs more effectively.

We’ve given choice to our team members and trust them to find the ways of working that are most productive and comfortable for them, which includes where and when they work. What works well for someone and supports their mental health during one season may not be the best choice the next.

Connecting matters (a lot)

Building relationships is a crucial part of workplace wellbeing. One of the biggest challenges for remote and hybrid teams is finding regular opportunities to connect. In a traditional office environment, spontaneously encountering someone in the kitchen or elevator is the norm, when teams are dispersed, this becomes far less likely.

So how can we avoid much-dreaded siloing and ensure that everyone gets to know their colleagues on a personal and not just a professional level? While a mixture of in-person and virtual get-togethers is our end goal, at Koa Health we’re still working on best practices to bring our global team together in-person regularly. However, in the meantime, we’ve come up with a few handy tech-based workarounds to support our connections.

  • A weekly company-wide meeting where employees:
    1) complete an engagement survey;
    2) are updated on the business; and
    3) can thank their colleagues and ask leadership any questions they may have.
  • Weekly company-wide virtual trivia to give employees the opportunity to get to know each other and have fun across departments.
  • Weekly one-to-one check-ins between all employees and line managers (so that line managers can keep a close eye on wellbeing and workload).
  • The opportunity to participate in weekly ‘virtual donuts’ wherein employees are randomly assigned a partner and agree on a time to meet up for a chat (about non-work stuff).
  • Themed Slack channels where people can share their non-work interests and hobbies. Some favorite channels at Koa are dedicated to climbing, running, and something many of us are passionate about – food!

Ground rules make collaboration more effective

With some employees working from home most of the time and others together in shared office space on a more regular basis (depending on their preferences), how can we ensure that no one is left out of the conversation? Equally importantly, how can we protect people’s focus time at work and free time at home while doing this?

Setting ground rules is vital. For example, when it comes to meetings, if people are attending in-person and virtually, it’s probably best for everyone to participate from their laptops, even if some attendees are physically in the same room.

Another critical point to consider: is a meeting even necessary? Sometimes, for decision-making purposes – especially across time zones – asynchronous communication (through a shared doc, chat window, or email string) can make it easier to ensure everyone gets to have their say.

More generally, limiting meetings and interruptions is a best practice for all teams (whether remote, hybrid or in-person). When people get sufficient focus time, they can carry out necessary tasks and make progress (which in turn protects their wellbeing). One way we address this at Koa is to require that all meetings have a clear purpose. Many departments also choose a weekly meeting-free focus day. Finally, we make a point of encouraging individuals to put up a ‘focus time’ message on our messaging platform to help limit interruptions.

Flexible work requires flexible wellbeing tools

Hybrid and remote teams need all of the tools employees require in a traditional office setting and more. Beyond an effective cloud solution for sharing documents and resources, as well as working hardware and software, they’ll also need better tools to support their wellbeing.

As where and when remote and hybrid workers are working may change from day to day, solutions will have to be flexible and adapt to their unique circumstances to ensure maximum participation. Depending on your workforce and their particular needs, that may mean adding telehealth, virtual counselling sessions, a mental wellbeing app, or all of the above to your employee benefits package.

Whatever your organisation currently offers, it’s important to recognise that the flexible approach we apply to ways of working can also be applied to mental health support to employees’ and companies’ advantage.

As people director at Koa Health, I’m a firm believer in the idea that it’s amazing humans that truly make companies tick. Covid-19 has taught us, among other things, that mental health matters, and without it, our teams cannot thrive (at work, or at home). The question is, how are we going to support it moving forward?

The author is Noreen O’Prey, people director at Koa Health.

This article is provided by Koa Health.


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