How we support the Kalda team's mental health

While we focus on creating a digital product to improve people's mental health, it's important to create a healthy work environment for ourselves.

Monday, 11 January Charlotte Fountaine
  • kalda
  • mental-health
  • start-up
  • workplace
  • lgbt
  • lgbtqia

I’m Charlotte the Chief Product Officer at Kalda. I’m writing about what we’ve put in place to support team wellbeing at Kalda. In October 2020 Al Dee, Daniel Botcherby and I teamed up to develop Kalda. Kalda is the mental wellbeing app for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Creating a new start up some of my main stresses have been: overwork, worries of being incapable, and miscommunication. Building Kalda involves wearing many hats, feelings of “how do I do this?” are inevitable. We often ask ourselves: “Is this what users need and want?” which is a brilliant north star. Miscommunication occurs because we are moving from a rough idea of a business, into a real product that people can touch and use.

I’m happy to admit that looking after our team’s mental health is a work-in-progress, rather than something we have sorted. Here I record the practical steps we’ve been taking.

User manuals

When we started working together one of the first things we did was create ‘user manuals’. Cassie Robinson wrote a great post on user manuals which you can read here. I used to work for Mind, the mental health charity. Mind encourages people to create Wellness Action Plans. Both the user manual and the wellness action plan encourage each team member to think:

  • - What do I need at work
  • - What are the signs that I'm not doing so well
  • - How do I like people to communicate with me

Writing our user manuals was one of the first things we did together as a team. We had a session where we each wrote our user manuals, then shared what we’d written with the rest of the team. We’ve been able to look back at them when the team stress levels are high, to understand what people need and how they like to communicate.

Each of our user manuals is about 1 A4 sheet long and it outlines:

  • - Conditions I like to work in
  • - Times/Hours I like to work
  • - The best ways to communicate with me
  • - The ways I like to receive feedback
  • - Things I need
  • - Things I struggle with
  • - Things I love
  • - Other things to know about me

We learned we all like deep-work time. Now we bundle meetings together on Monday’s and Friday’s so that each of us have time to get into our individual work. We also recently tried an ‘under-the-sea’ no meetings day, where we turned off Slack and got our own thing done.

Creating a user manual takes a bit of self-reflection. You have to think about what makes you stressed and what makes you thrive at work. You can always update it as you go.

I wrote in my user manual that I have to eat lunch at about 12.30. I’m grateful to the team that they always take this into account! They always make sure we don’t book big meetings at that time.

Feelings check and stand down

Because Kalda is moving very fast, and we are all working remotely, we actually have a stand-up and a stand-down. It’s a space to bring up anything that needs actioning within the team. At stand down we do a feelings-check. Creating a culture where people bring their whole selves to work, and people are able to talk about what’s troubling them has been helpful.

Health and wellness questionnaire

The pressure of trying to gain investment, launch a product mounted. Exercrise, drinking water and getting enough sleep seemed to fall by the wayside. We set up a Health and Wellness Questionnaire so that each team member could keep track of how they were looking after themselves.

“We try to help each other be accountable to our health (and wellness) goals…telling each other about how we are doing in terms of getting enough movement has been really useful as a motivator” Al Dee

We each have a little Slackbot reminder to complete the questionnaire each day. It asks:

  • - Score my movement today
  • - How is your sleeping?
  • - How is your hydration?

And this allows us to see a graph of these things over time. It’s a nudge and a reminder to move a little during the day, make sure you drink some water.

Remote coworking sessions

Users in our Kalda community instigated co-working sessions. At the start people say “Hi” and talk about what they’re working on. Then everyone goes on mute and gets on with it. Having people silently working in the background on their own thing is very motivating.

Team therapy session

Get the professionals in. At the peak of the team stress we booked in a team therapy session. We found a therapist who often does couples counselling. It was a revelation to talk in a safe space about the stresses we were going through as a team. A founder-relationship is a friendship or a partnership. We’re spending a lot of time together and getting on is integral to the business. It’s worth spending time and energy developing those relationships.

Fortnightly retrospectives

We have a retrospective every couple of weeks. This is a space for people to say:

  • - What worked well
  • - What was challenging
  • - Moral compass check-in
  • - Actions to take

We start with the challenging things, to discuss anything difficult. The moral compass check-in is about looking at what we’ve been building, to evaluate whether it aligns with the Kalda mission. It’s a constant: “are we doing right by our users?” check. We like to end on “What went well”, it’s a chance to celebrate other team members work and talk about the big successes of the last 2 weeks.

Drinks every other Friday on Zoom

We’ve been a remote team from the start, due to lockdown. Having a little Zoom drink on a Friday has helped us through. We’ve become so accustomed to Zoom that it kind of feels like an in-person drink, chatting away. And whenever someone says something ridiculous it ends up on the #Kalda-quotes Slack channel.

I hope you can integrate some of these practices into your team. None of these things stop people from feeling stressed at work, but they can alleviate the feeling of having to hide and deny those feelings from your team mates. Give each member the space and time they need to look after their own mental health.

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