Voices of Remote Work
5 min

Supporting the Mental Wellness of Remote Employees | Siddharth Pandiya of Kona

For Walking Meetings & Remote Work

As many managers have come to discover, building trust with direct reports and forming healthy relationships at work are much harder to do when remote. Given that Spot is a fully remote company, we are always eager to hear from thought leaders who have experience supporting remote employees and teams. We took a walking meeting with Siddharth Pandiya, the founder of Kona, to learn his tips for fostering successful remote teams. 

Spot: What inspired you to create Kona? 

Siddharth: Great question. I’ve lived in different cities around the world (I was born in Dubai and I live in San Francisco currently) and I love meeting new people, making new friends and building relationships, or what I call the “squishy stuff.” That's just who I am. My co-founders, Andrew and Corine, and I bonded over this shared passion for solving "squishy human problems." We could see that remote work made it more difficult for managers and team members to have honest conversations and that psychological safety was lacking. So we created Kona, a people-first employee engagement platform built into Slack.

S: Why is mental health so important?

S: Mental health is physical health. It silently impacts everybody and it openly affects millions of people globally so obviously it's something that employers need to care about. Millennials and GenZ have grown up with mental health support in high schools and college and we kind of expect to be supported and cared for, so it's not too much to ask to be cared for by your employer. “The Great Resignation” showed that people could leave their roles in search of a better culture or mental health benefits. Especially with remote work, it has made people realize, “I can construct my work around my life” and it doesn’t have to be the other way around. People now have global access to opportunities and companies have global opportunities for talent. Given that, people now work at companies where they feel cared for. I believe that the best companies in the world in the 2020s are going to be the ones with the best cultures – they will attract the best talent. And mental health goes into company culture — people who feel like they are supported through the good times and the bad by their employers are people that, and the data backs this up endlessly, are going to be your best performers.

S: It's so true! Prioritizing the mental health of your employees should be a frontline initiative. Related to that, what are your best tips for fostering a successful remote team?

S: Yeah. Great question. The most important by far is to prioritize building a culture of trust. There are tons of studies on this. Back in 2016, Google analyzed their best-performing teams to determine why they were doing well, and the number one predictor of success didn’t have anything to do with experience level or accolades; it was one simple thing called “psychological safety.” Do people actually feel comfortable being honest when things are going badly and do they feel comfortable enough to bring up their concerns? When you create a culture of trust, your employees can surface issues more quickly and become proactive in resolving them. 

Related to this though, managers are the vehicle for culture at a company.

And so, it's critical that your managers feel supported to create the environment and the culture that you want.

So literally just creating a safe space to listen is another tip for building a successful remote team. Managers should be particular about always doing their 1:1s and using them as a space for their direct reports to share what is going wrong, whether with them directly or through a tool they’re using. Everything, from the day-to-day language used to celebrate wins, to how you take time off, and how you give feedback, needs to be rethought through the lens of this “new world of work” where we now trust people — trust by default. And leaders can’t just preach the values of the company, you have to live them.

S: So given that Kona is fully remote, how do you ensure your managers practice what you preach? How do you and your team conduct 1:1s and stand-ups remotely?

S: We use Kona every day — it’s one of the ways that I live our values because I am always being vulnerable and honest about how I am feeling. I’ve gotten feedback that people really appreciate that. If myself and my co-founders didn't do that, then it defeats the whole point of everything we’re building. Kona is my way of showing my vulnerability and the fact that I am human. 

In 1:1s, when I notice or sense that somebody is skirting around an issue or not being direct (we practice radical candor at Kona), I’ll try to double down on what is troubling them and really understand what they are trying to say and how they are feeling. More often than not, there is something under the hood that I want to get to. 

Kona will also flag to me and my co-founders when one of us is burning out or struggling and we use that to keep each other accountable, even force each other to take time off. This allows us to do the same with our teams. It opens the door to say, “‘Kona is flagging this burnout out for you. When was the last time you took a vacation? When is your next vacation or PTO?” And modeling the best practices around rest and rest as a productive action. 

Are you a leader in the remote work space with a perspective on supporting employee wellness? Then we want to hear from you! Book time with a Walking Coach here.

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