Have a common purpose
This is arguably the most important of all workplace wellness considerations. If every employee in a company feels their 'buy-in' has been requested and given, and that they are on-board with the direction their employer is going in, they're going to want to put the work in, and to ensure that they give their best.
This can be a challenging thing to get right when a business moves from startup to scale up. In an extended growth phase, new hires may join for a variety of reasons - a genuine passion for the company's aims, career security, closeness to their home, and many other reasons. That's the reality of a growing business, and it's something that leaders have to work with.
The best way to ensure a sense of common purpose is to initiate an onboarding process that really works, and that you can replicate across all teams. This means that when you open a remote engineering team, they are given the same training and access to discussions on what your company is trying to do, and that they feel, from day one, not only part of their new remote team, but also part of the wider organization.
Keep interaction at a premium
When people work in the tech industry, it can sometimes seem natural to keep everything online and on a screen. Employees often prefer to solve a problem using Slack or another workplace chat program, and it's just easier for everyone's workflow - particularly if they're focused on something - to answer queries at their own pace, and in a manner of their choosing.
Where this gets tricky is with workplace wellness. While some IT people may actively enjoy the peace and quiet of their own world, or may work under a big set of headphones, in certain people this can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness. Good mental hygiene means not only enjoying the work you're doing, but also feeling good about your workplace.
Encouraging an open atmosphere in your offices can lead to everyone on your team feeling included and wanted, but can also contribute to faster and more effective problem-solving. Sometimes if you're unsure of the next step to take, whether it's in solving a bug or working on a resource planning matter, having someone else to talk to can take you in an unexpected new direction that works better for everyone.
If you have a remote engineering team, you may not be able to be in the same office as them, but you can still encourage the team to talk to each other in person rather than over messenger apps where possible, and to spend some quality time away from their desks at least once a day. Although they may not be behind a screen eight hours a day, there are productivity and mental health benefits in the long term if there is regular conversation and if people take occasional breaks from their workstations.
Implement a buddy system or mentoring system
A great way to get team members who do not know each other so well, or who don't work closely with each other, to speak openly, is to bring in a 'buddy' system. Companies such as Skype have used this with success in the past, with new hires being allocated someone with experience, who can answer any question - no matter how trivial it may seem - and can spend a little social time with the new person.
Why this benefits a business
This is great for workplace wellness for several reasons. It makes experienced employees think again about what it was like for them as a new hire, and gets them thinking about what they would like from the company if they were to join afresh. It also lets the new person know that people care about them not only doing well for the business, but also that they enjoy what they're being paid to do.
A number of mature tech companies also have a 'mentor' system, whereby someone not in the same team as an employee, and who is several levels above them on the org chart, makes themselves available for occasional video calls, where both sides can discuss company matters, their feelings about how things are going, and where the junior person and the senior person can learn from each other's experience.
Both of these initiatives are great for behavioral health, growing a feeling in people of being safe, of being able to trust their colleagues, and of understanding others' point of view. One thing to note: make sure that (unless there are serious matters discussed that require the intervention of HR or senior management) buddy or mentoring discussions take place in strict confidentiality, because that encourages a sense of openness between individuals.
Read more: how to keep morale high when scaling up
Encourage physical exercise - but not to excess
A gym in the office building, or near it, is a great idea for boosting mental health. Base B hubs feature in-house gyms meaning that your remote engineering team can work out before or after work, and all without expensive monthly fees. It's also a good idea to encourage your teams to take plenty of outdoor exercise.
In the warmer months, one way of doing this might be to hold a walk-to-work challenge, using an app to track how far people walked to get to the office, and giving prizes to the best. This was tried by a betting company that wanted to get its multinational team working more closely together, with what were reported as positive results; staff walked in groups, spent the extra time before work talking about the day, and so felt better prepared and more productive when they got through the door of the office.
One word of warning: sometimes people use exercise as a way of getting over anxiety issues, or of masking depression. While physical exercise is one of the finest mental health resources a workplace can use, it is also best when not done to excess, and teams should always look out for colleagues who are perceived to be "overdoing it", as there may be an underlying issue that needs to be discussed.
Provide healthy food and drinks
Everyone knows the old stereotype of software developers, in the middle of a crunch to get a product finished in half the time, getting through box after box of pizza, or treating themselves to beers after a job well done.
We're not here to tell tech workers to stop drinking alcohol or eating junk food - everything in moderation is okay - but everyone needs to be mindful not to make this into a habit. The foods for keeping depression away are almost always natural and filled with vitamins.
Having a kitchen or break room stocked with healthy snacks, like fruit and fresh vegetables, plus fruit juices free of added sugar, helps workplace wellness because when your team are getting vitamins and minerals on board, their focus improves, and in the long term they are less likely to get sick or to feel tired at their desks.
Ultimately, providing healthy food and drinks for your team, and perhaps encouraging group activities after work that don't always involve alcohol, will boost the mood and productivity of your people, whether they are in a local team or a remote engineering team.
Be open about burnout
Many of the people reading this article will have been part of the tech-industry 'crunch' culture at some stage in their career. Before an important software release or app launch, it is customary at many companies to have a so-called crunch, where people work often through the night to get the product up to the expected standard before it goes to market.
It's up to you how you work before a release - we know it's hard, and that hard work is required by everyone responsible. What we are saying is that if your company is taking the challenging step from startup to scale up, and has potentially built a remote engineering team to expand its resources, the ultimate aim should be that goals are reasonable and achievable.
Burnout: a constant risk
Even if that is true, it's still the case that some individuals will take it upon themselves to work with very little sleep, and with no rest days. Perhaps they are covering someone else's workload, perhaps they are afraid of failure, or perhaps they just feel it is part of a strong work ethic to operate like that.
Burnout can affect any one of us, and usually does not become apparent for the sufferer until it is really bad. A good workplace wellness scheme involves managers being clear on the symptoms of burnout, advising that their door is always open to discuss such matters in confidence, and that colleagues should look out for each other, taking care to see how their colleagues are feeling.
Some of the symptoms of burnout are someone shutting themselves off from team conversations and employee events, acting angrily in the office, regularly spending a long time at their desk with declining productivity, and not wishing to share their work with others. Before things get to this stage, managers should be proactive, having regular one-to-one discussions to check in on their teams.
Most important: build a sense of community in your workplace
Workplace wellness, as we've explored, takes many shapes and forms, and a good manager will be aware of how demands change over time, and will adapt to that. One point that is a constant as you work on the behavioral health of your organization is that, if people feel like they're part of a community, they'll feel better about working there.
This doesn't mean turning your office into a holiday camp. Everyone understands that this is a place where people have to get things done. It means taking some lessons from companies like Google, where all levels of staff are given the chance to collaborate on projects that may be linked to the main product, but give people a different perspective on their work. Allowing people to work in different locations from time to time, and change their environment within the office, can also help.
Alternatively, guest talks, where someone from outside of the business comes in and hosts a presentation or discussion on something to inform or enlighten the team, are a great way of boosting the mood of your team, and also of generating a feeling that, while the office is a place of work, it is possible to take time out to have fun, or learn something new, once in a while. Base B hosts occasional talks in its hubs, helping its remote engineering teams to feel part of an enjoyable professional culture.
The main point to remember is that mental health isn't just something for managers to remember on World Mental Health Day, it's something for every day. A truly high-performing local team or remote engineering team is one which exhibits workplace wellness, whenever it is at work.
Talk to us, and find out more about how Base B can build your business a remote engineering team that loves its work.