Entrepreneurs in the tech space face a formidable challenge in constructing and maintaining a healthy environment inside their startups. 

This was clear enough five years ago in a survey of employees at the industry’s giants; it goes double for those at small companies that have sprung up or scaled up in the time since a global health crisis transformed the nature of work.

5 Ways To Help Employees Thrive

  1. Emphasize positive communication at work
  2. Value emotional intelligence.
  3. Make room for tech-oriented play at work.
  4. Show gratitude and love to your team.
  5. Stay open to suggestions.

Startups have a rough go of it right now, with concerns about an economic downturn inspiring uncertainty in prospective customers and investors alike. So it’s more crucial than ever for leaders to get their internal ducks in a row. A startup is only as strong as its team, a team is built on trust, and trust is binary —  your workplace either has it or doesn’t.

To that end, here are five key tips for fostering an environment of trust and openness.

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Get People Talking

First and foremost, there has to be an emphasis on a positive communication culture. Communication practices are established and normalized from the top down, so it’s up to you as a leader to set and uphold good policies.

For instance, you believe your introverted and extroverted team members’ opinions are worth the same. So, in group talks, try to strike a balance that makes everyone feel heard. Do an icebreaker activity that gets everyone to speak within the first five minutes, or set a time limit that prevents any one speaker from dominating the conversation. All this is easier said than done even in person, let alone on video calls, which means it takes active moderation on your part.

You must also lead by example. If you are unafraid to ask questions, you’ll have a better chance of getting people out of their shells, asking questions of one another and of you. A diversity of opinions and perspectives is necessary for a sustainable, innovative work environment.

Beyond structured meetings, whether you’re on-site or remote, make space for dialogue among peers. It’s all too easy for individuals to get stuck in their heads as they labor to complete a task or solve a problem, and the hypotheses they develop can congeal into perceived truths. Talking it through with even one other person can keep them from getting mired down in distorted viewpoints and lend clarity to the challenge they’re facing. Giving your employees plenty of room to chat and brainstorm will improve their teamwork and their mood.


Value Emotional Intelligence

Your primary role as a leader is to set and manage expectations for your team. One of the ways you can do this is by demonstrating that you put a premium on emotional intelligence. This kind of sensitivity is often overlooked, particularly in remote workplaces, where it’s all too easy to reduce people to faces on a screen. But emotional intelligence is even more crucial in an environment where colleagues are not physically together.

Interdependence, rather than independence, makes for a harmonious workplace.

Be sure to avoid typecasting team members in prescribed roles, whether they’re asking for help you deem unnecessary, criticizing the way something is done or stepping in with the belief that they can solve a problem. Recognize the well-intentioned place that everyone’s actions are likely coming from, give your team members the benefit of the doubt and work with them, not in spite of them, to address their needs.

Listening to your team members and meeting them where they are, as opposed to acting independently according to what you think is best for them, shows that you possess emotional intelligence as an employer and that you trust that your employees are emotionally intelligent in their own right. Interdependence, rather than independence, makes for a harmonious workplace.


Make Room for Play   

Remember to put the “tech” in your tech startup beyond your product or service. Encourage playing tech-related 3D games as a means of engaging people’s work skills, participating in team building and getting to know one another. These activities will draw on each team member’s particular passions and abilities under the wide-ranging umbrella of tech. They’ll also bolster the team’s creativity and problem-solving chops and refresh their minds with a fun midday break or evening palate cleanser.

In an office setting, you can cordon off a space for this play (a step up from the ping-pong tables startups are notorious for). In a remote setting, you can block out time as a group for a virtual game; attendance on a video call ensures that no one works straight through and denies themselves (and the team) their participation and ideas.


Show Love to Your Team

While doing any or all of the above, make the recognition of team members key to your leadership style. This goes not only for milestones and KPIs but for efforts beyond the job description, like training coworkers on software or bringing great energy to a call. Start a system for team members to send one another shout-outs highlighting their hard work, such as a “high-five” Slack channel.

When publicizing a recent win, acknowledge everyone who had a hand in it.

And when we say team members, we mean all of them. A given success usually involves multiple people,  even if only one name is attached. When publicizing a recent win, acknowledge everyone who had a hand in it. Be sure to spotlight different types of wins in front of the whole group and thank individuals for their diverse contributions in private. Direct appreciation goes a long way.

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Stay Open

Making your expectations clear is the best way to ensure that everyone in the company is on the same page about where the venture is now and where it’s headed. But you also need to be open to suggestions for adjusting or reimagining those expectations. Your internal environment must be as receptive to sharing, feedback and growth as your customer-facing side is.

Even a startup that produces or uses tech is, at the end of the day, about people, both the creators and the consumers. Ultimately you want your team to feel supported and empowered to be their best selves in and out of the office. As a leader, you can make that happen by seeing them for both the work they do and the people they are.

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