A guide to mental health in remote work, with a little help from our friends at Oliva.
One of the greatest challenges of remote work is that managers can't casually check the "temperature” of their direct reports. Contributors spend nonstop hours on a project, unaware they’re on a high-speed road to burnout. Parents of toddlers hide their bloodshot eyes after a night of not sleeping. Conflicts go unresolved for days.
When it comes to the challenge of mental health in remote teams, there are two main questions leadership must grapple with:
Remote teams have figured out how to optimize for freedom, but often that freedom feels paralyzing and unstructured. But, as we all know, constant oversight and pressure for constant productivity leads to intense stress as well. So, how do you keep the anxiety of hustle culture at bay, while still working towards goals that makes the team feel good as individuals and as a group? How do you strike the balance between control and escape?
We figured we’d ask our own team first - but we’d love to hear from others in similar situations (see the call at the end). Here’s what Sliters have to say about finding that elusive, and imperfect, balance.
What are some of the things you do to maintain a healthy mind?
I go skateboarding at sunrise. But first I ride my bicycle to get there—crossing fields that are covered in frost. That wakes me up in a really nice way.
What time do you get up?
At 7, that allows me to do an activity early to set the tone for the day. I also do yoga and jump rope—that’s my new challenge. I’m trying to get faster at it. And I like that it involves imagination. You can cross the ropes, you can do all kinds of weird things. I love that.
What else helps you?
Whatever activity I do, I make sure to focus on my breath. I think that in life, it’s important to make a conscious effort to avoid getting stressed out. Conscious breathing helps do that.
I also love cooking. It brings me peace to slice things in very thin ways. I love for my food to look good, so for breakfast before my activities, I create a “rainbow bowl.” This involves taking as many things out of my cupboards and fridge as possible, and arranging them beautifully in my bowl.
As a designer, visual satisfaction is very important. My rainbow bowl is my first design of the day.
What is it about pole that helps you to maintain a healthy mind?
Pole helps me disconnect from everything else. When I go to the studio, I'm just there. I'm not thinking work, home, global issues (heard of environmental anxiety? 🙋♀️ ); I'm just gifting myself 1hr of fun. It's self-care.
How did you get into it?
One of my classmates in Barcelona said she was an instructor at a studio there. I never had a great view of pole, I didn't realise the amount of strength, technical skill, and flexibility it required. When I saw what she could do, I thought "Wow, could I do that?!". I went to her studio and from the first class, I was hooked!
What’s your routine before, during, and after pole?
It's different every time. I usually go a couple of hours after I finish work. I walk my dog, do a physio routine (I'm recovering from two totally unrelated injuries) and head there. I usually walk, unwind, listen to the birds, see the big blue sky above me and just relax on the way there.
Class consists of a warm up so we don't break, conditioning so we get stronger, pole play where we work on tricks, combos or transitions, and then a cool down.
Afterwards, I'm dead. So I go home and make dinner! 😁
What DIY projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a very small cabin, like a backyard office. So far it's been just digging to lay the foundations, then I’ll build a wooden structure.
I actually won’t do everything myself as it requires some special skills. But I'll be ready for the next lockdown! Fingers crossed there isn’t one...
For many people, DIY is a genuine threat to their wellbeing—both mental and physical. What makes it relaxing for you?
I'm a developer, so I get a lot of gratification from doing something, then having something to show for it. Just having something physical and tangible, I find that very satisfying.
And I get lots of guidance and tutorials from the web. YouTube is my best friend.
Is there a point where DIY stops being relaxing?
One warning: make sure your project isn’t too overwhelming.
I built some iron shelves once, it was a whole other level compared to the stuff I’d done before. I spent a lot of time and money buying materials and working on them. But until I was able to assemble all the parts and see it was visibly working, I was really stressed that I’d have to throw everything away.
It took me like four weekends to finish the shelves. Don’t over-commit. Make it bearable!
Does working remotely give you extra time or motivation for DIY?
It all started because we bought a house. The minute you buy a house, you have to buy a drill, then you go from there. And my house has become a little bit more important because I work remotely. You care a little bit more about your place when you’ll use the stuff you build daily. It’s like building for your own happiness.
So what’s a soundbath?
It’s a live sonic experience where you lie down with your eyes closed—usually with about eight or nine other people—and a sound therapist (or equivalent) performs to help you relax. They play exotic instruments like Tibetan bowls, crystal bowls, high-pitched percussion, and their own voice.
It goes on for 60-90 minutes, and you just float around to these sounds. Sometimes you sleep, sometimes you snore, but often you’re transported somewhere.
How it helps with mental health
You feel like when you empty the trash on your computer, and you see all the little files leaving. Like being cleaned from the inside out.
It can be pretty intense when there’s 8 strangers making random sounds together (that happens sometimes) but it always ends with me thinking “Holy crap, that went fast.”
I have a wild imagination so the sounds can take me to different dimensions, I have visions, and ironically—I’m often exhausted afterwards.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
The one I go to has started to involve the audience a little more. Towards the end, she invites people to make sounds of their own.
And people make some seriously odd sounds. Like birds chirping, or the sound a wrestler would make in the final move. Or the sounds you make in the shower after a night out drinking, just because you can.
That made me feel a bit anxious and nervous. I brought my mom last time. She didn't really like it.
My advice if you're curious to try it out
If you can listen to music in bed with headphones, you can go to a soundbath. It's the same: once your eyes are closed and you're listening to the sounds, you forget where you are. It's a really nice way to reset your psyche.
While each of us have our unique routines to keep our minds in good shape, there’s one thing we all have in common: access to free mental healthcare from Oliva.
Well, it’s not exactly free—Slite pays for it. Any time someone has a problem that pole dancing or sound bathing can’t fix, they can instantly book a mental health check-in. Or they can start a therapy course with a therapist specially selected to fit their needs.
For the man who picks up the cheque—Slite CEO Christophe Pasquier—the pay-off is easily worth it:
“Three months after implementing Oliva at Slite, it’s already been a great help to a few of our teammates and managers. Unlocking free, open access to mental healthcare for your employees is a̶ ̶t̶e̶r̶r̶i̶f̶i̶c̶ ̶p̶e̶r̶k a must.”
“I keep healthy sleeping habits and carve out some alone time.” —Laure, product marketing
“Freeletics & friends.” —Bobby, developer
How do you check the temperature in your team? How do you maintain your own sense of balance? We'd love to hear from the remote community about how to build healthy habits, or perhaps, how you struggle to. Health, after all, is a continual learning process.
Marc Cinanni is a creative writer who's fascinated by the emergence of remote as a new way of life. His pieces are punchy, absurd, and often personal. He writes for remote teams, managers, and people interested in feeling better about the way they work. Follow him @marccinanni.
Clara Rua is on the Design team at Slite. She juggles with all the Slite's brand codes to make our values and beliefs come to life in illustrations, projects, and visuals, amonst other things. You can find her cycling, surfing, pottery making, jump-roping, yoga-ing from the south of France to the Moroccan west coast.
Simon Dumont is Editor-in-Chief at Oliva. He spends a lot of his time interviewing people about their mental health experiences, and writing stories about how they navigate these at work. Simon's based in Barcelona, where he attempts to DJ and speak Spanish—both with mixed results.