Reaching out to colleagues to ask for help isn’t easy, but the ability to find support in the workplace is critical in today’s environment. Managers everywhere are looking for insights to help better support their teams.
Three Slack executives recently shared their perspectives at the Debug 2020 Summit from Lesbians Who Tech. Erin Figueroa, Megan Cristina and Rukmini Reddy offered their strategies for staying sane, prioritizing what’s important, and connecting with colleagues to help manage work and well-being.
Managing the pressures of working at home
The challenges that emerged in 2020 hit women particularly hard, says Slack’s Chief Privacy Officer Megan Cristina. Cristina and Figueroa, Slack’s vice president of operations, are married and have three children, so the pressures of balancing remote-work leadership and a busy home life play out every day for the couple.
“Women are leaving the workforce at four times the rate of men,” Cristina says. “That’s a big concern when you support diversity in the workplace, as Erin and I do. It means we could go backwards in terms of progress. That’s why we have to bring in even more support for our teams, and give them the freedom to talk about what they need.”
Leading with empathy in challenging times
Vice President of Engineering for Platform at Slack Rukmini Reddy is also negotiating the pressures of remote work while raising her two young twins with her partner. In fact, Reddy joined Slack in the summer of 2020, when remote work was already in full swing—meaning she hasn’t even met her team in person yet.
That has forced Reddy to offer support and build relationships with the tools at hand—Slack and Zoom—while being deliberate in how she reaches out to team members. “Instead of asking, ‘How are you today?,’ I started asking, ‘What’s the most important thing you and I have to talk about today?’ ” Reddy says.
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The idea is to get past the boilerplate answers and uncover what the team member really needs—whether it’s time off to take care of a sick child, or a solution to a thorny engineering problem.
Asking for help should never be seen as a sign of weakness. We should try to create an environment where it’s OK to say, ‘I can’t do all of this.’
Flexibility creates freedom
Structure and frameworks are great, but in the middle of a pandemic, team members need to know that their leaders are willing to be flexible—and that when they ask leaders for help, they’ll find a willing listener.
“Asking for help should never be seen as a sign of weakness,” says Figueroa. “No one should think that asking for help will turn up in a performance review. We should try to create an environment where it’s OK to say, ‘I can’t do all of this.’ In cases where a team member is struggling to manage work and family, it’s important for colleagues and leaders to seek out alternatives, like seeing if someone else has bandwidth to help.”
Also key, adds Cristina, is factoring in which work projects are truly important at that moment. “Right now, we have to focus on what’s critical for the business—what has to be done now, and what can wait,” she says. “We have to give people more freedom to ask for flexible schedules, if that’s what it takes to do their best work but also take care of their children.”
Along with learning that it’s OK to ask for help, Reddy says another good skill for both managers and team members is learning to say no. “That’s always been very hard for me,” Reddy says. “I used to feel as though I had to say yes to everything to prove I belonged where I was. But the realization that you don’t owe anyone anything is hugely powerful.”
The future of teamwork
The changes in workplace culture created by the pandemic won’t go away even when teams can meet in the office and get closer than 6 feet to their colleagues. Thanks to tools like Slack, where team members can check in frequently and move projects ahead regardless of time differences and distance, the new way of working is here to stay.
“People who used to be hardcore about being in the office all of the time are seeing the value of flexible schedules and working remotely,” Cristina says. “We’re not going to go back to the way things were before.”
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It’s also clear that work can get done and teams can support one another even when working remotely. Figueroa jokes that on a brief visit to the Slack office to gather some belongings, she realized that her “relationship” with the office had changed, and “we’re better off as friends. The office needed more from me than I was prepared to give out.”