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Building an Emotionally Sustainable Company

In many ways, our company seemed well-positioned for the COVID-19 pandemic. We’d already been a 100% remote company, spread across many time zones and countries. We’d learned to use tools (like Discourse!) asynchronously to communicate and work effectively. When push came to shove, though, it didn’t help much. Our employees were as negatively affected by the virus as anyone else.

Even though we already knew how to work from home, we still relied on others, and our support systems crashed. We suffered through illness and death. We struggled with child-rearing and relationships, with mental illnesses, and burnout. For those who first experienced remote work during this difficult time, you should know, this is not what it’s normally like.

It was touching to see our company come together. Many of our employees felt comfortable sharing and helping each other. There were open discussions about personal development, therapy, burnout, strategies for dealing with loss and illness, marriages, and countless other personal things.

It’s really made me wonder about growing an emotionally sustainable company.

Many companies default to cold and uncaring. When making decisions that affect employees you’ll often hear “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” That’s always struck me as horrible. Why should it be enviable to pursue profit above decency?

There are leaders in our industry who have been openly abusive, and I’ve seen them admired for it. In my opinion, those people have succeeded despite their abusive actions, not because of them.

Don’t get me wrong. All businesses need to make money to survive. But, surely, there’s a way to grow emotionally that respects the feelings and experiences of everyone who works there.

Here are some ideas I had for strengthening our company from an emotional perspective:

  • Really listen to people: Even if you disagree, focus on what they say and try to see things from their point of view. Be compassionate.

  • Reach out, share your stories and experiences: We are stronger when we understand everyone’s backgrounds. Having said that, some people are uncomfortable sharing certain details, and we should respect that, too.

  • Recognize that people have moods: Maybe someone replied in a rude way because of something in their personal life? Allow people to make mistakes and try to forgive them for it.

  • Give yourself permission to walk away: Everyone gets overloaded. Don’t reply right away. Take the time you need to cool down. Sleep on it. Afford others the same luxury. There are very few things that need immediate action.

  • Encourage and enable friendships: Do you have close friendships at work? If not, are there activities or things that can be done to encourage it? When was the last time you randomly reached out to someone on chat?

Companies spend a lot of time brainstorming ways to grow from a business or technical perspective, but I think this stuff is just as important. We are all emotional creatures, and we have to work closely together to produce great work.