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Seattle Tech Community Leaders Share How They’re Dealing with COVID-19
In today’s socially distant times, many of us find ourselves craving human connection. Whether putting your infant daughter on FaceTime with grandpa, hopping on a ZOOM happy hour with old friends or simply calling your mom, this slower – albeit much busier – period of life has us prioritizing relationships and finding a new meaning for “normal.”
Here at WTIA, we too are looking to build stronger connections with our members, the tech community and the larger Washington community. While it may feel like there are too many problems to overcome today, we believe in our collective power to work together and solve them by sharing best practices, resources and our own experiences.
With this in mind, we have launched a new series to share real-life examples of how current issues are being navigated. This month, we’re exploring actual experiences in the wake of COVID-19, and are proud to share perspective from our colleagues and friends across the state.
Leslie Feinzaig, CEO, Female Founders Alliance
What are some strategies for deescalation in this high stress environment?
One great idea that my husband had this morning when I had a rough moment was to do something good for someone else, which is a really easy thing to do right now because so many people need help and support. So if you are having a moment of high stress and anxiety try to focus off of yourself and onto someone else, it’s a great way to keep perspective and to find a moment of solace.
Have you or a family member felt unsafe or disoriented in this environment?
I have felt unsafe and disoriented. My family, my team, all of us have gone through the same process of denial and then anxiety over facing the reality of what is happening and how scary it is. I have been doing my best to stay calm as much as possible, and when I can’t stay calm I try to let myself feel the true emotions of what is going on. I’ve tried to rely on people like my friends through old school phone calls, I’ve opened a glass of wine and had a virtual drink with friends too. We have dance parties for my toddler three times a week — I think just connecting with people is the best way to get back a sense of normalcy, even for a short while.
How are you supporting those dealing with the loss of child care?
The loss of child care… sucks. But I feel lucky that my husband spends a lot of time helping and we take turns watching the girls. As you can tell I try to work with one of the girls on my lap as much as possible. They have crashed many conference calls in the past couple of weeks. Dora has found her inner confidence and has started to chip in during my meetings and make her voice heard (as all little girls should do). So, we are just doing our best and not apologizing for having to integrate work and home life. I’m trying to be easier on myself for not accomplishing as much as I’d like to be accomplishing, which is crazy making, it really gets to me that I’m not being super effective, but what else are you going to do? I try to remind myself that we are all in this together. It is such an acid test of privilege if you are able to continue working as normal, it’s just not what the majority of us are going through — the majority of us are somewhere between exhaustion and pure survival.
What’s one thing that you’re doing differently for your company today that is working well overall?
I don’t know that what we are doing is working well overall, I think it has been an opportunity to unite my team and to feel like we are going through this together. I feel so connected to my team even though we can’t be in the same room. Although I miss the ability to spend time together– I miss the human contact — we are checking in virtually every morning now, which isn’t something we used to do. Even when we don’t have a lot to talk about it’s such a joy to start my days talking to my team every day. It’s been wonderful and helpful both for work and for me personally to start my day with them.
Xiao Wang, CEO and Co-Founder, Boundless Immigration
How am I managing personal stress?
It’s almost by default – by having a newborn you have someone utterly, blissfully unaware of what’s happening in the world today. That’s amazing. What my son Felix cares about is: Where am I going to get food? Rest? Cuddles? The idea that outside of work and everything that needs to happen with the business, that you have a life fully dependent on you is powerful in mandating a mental shut off. As of right now, I don’t know how to be a good Dad yet, so there isn’t much mental capacity to multitask. It’s also a lot about how you balance getting the information you need to stay informed without getting so much information that it detracts from the rest of your life. I think we are in a moment in terms of what’s going on with TV, digital communities and online news, that you can find information about COVID-19 any second of the day and 90% of it will be negative. One strategy I’ve adopted and shared with my team is to only check the news once a day, at most twice. By staying away from the headlines and continual stream of negativity, by turning off push notifications, you can keep living the rest of your life without constantly spending cognitive load and mental energy reading about what other governments or your own has done poorly throughout this crisis.
What are the most useful resources available to you and how do others get access?
I do appreciate that there are a number of companies that have been working from home or remote for a long time. They’ve been phenomenally helpful about sharing their insights online. Between Medium and other long-form articles, there’s a lot of resources about how to WFH better. A couple that have stuck out are:
- Treat working from home as if you are working in the office. We have a natural tendency to blur the lines when we’re home, when you may or may not have to put on pants. You never stop working and you never start living. That gets draining very quickly. I encourage everyone to have a set morning and evening routine. You don’t have a commute anymore – that’s fantastic. Whether it’s doing exercises at home (Arnold Schwarzenegger has sent workout plans on Reddit), taking a walk, taking your pet out or spending some time with your family. Get a routine to prepare you for your day. Once you’re done with the work you need to do, have some way of decompressing so everything doesn’t just meld into what you were going to do next.
- Have a clear boundary that helps you as a mental trigger for work. For me, it’s Felix’s nursery. When I walk into the nursery it’s work time. When I’m out of the nursery I’m not thinking of work and am prioritizing other aspects of my life. This is a great signal to anyone else living in your household re: when to engage with me in terms of other aspects of life. When I’m in here it’s do not disturb, but when I’m outside everything is fair game. That’s helpful for me. I have to take a moment to cross the threshold through the door – am I ready to start working? And if not, I have to take care of those other items before I start my workday.
- Practice self-care. For everyone, that’s different. What is effective for lowering your stress? Find that part for you. For some people mindfulness and meditation is great. For others, going for a walk is great while others need to exercise or cook. Whatever it is, find that thing that works for you and put it in your calendar as part of your day. Our work and home calendars are all blended together now, so if it’s not on your calendar it won’t get done. We just started using the Google speedy minutes feature at Boundless. Instead of hour-long meetings, we’re scheduling 50 minute meetings. This is important for two reasons. First, when you have back to back to back ZOOM meetings, it provides a lot less time to clear your mind. Even if that meant walking out of one conference room into another. People have found they’re way more tired at the end of back-to-back ZOOM meetings because there’s no break – you can’t even stand up. We’re encouraging people to use that time – get some coffee or tea, stretch. Our head of People Ops even taught people how to do face yoga.The point is to find something that works during that period of time so that when you go into that next meeting it doesn’t feel like one continuous meeting.
How are we managing employee and family morale?
This is really hard and I’m always open to new ideas. We’ve erred on the side of high degrees of transparency. I’m sharing our financials and strategies with the team on a regular basis so everyone knows how we’re thinking about problems. But it’s still hard and we’re still learning. We’ve adopted a “no apology” strategy, which I think is working well. For a while there were a lot of apologies – “I’m sorry my internet isn’t working,” “I’m sorry my dog is barking,” “I’m sorry I’m holding a baby.” The idea behind eliminating this is not that we don’t care, it’s that we do care – this is the new normal and it’s a part of your life and all these things are happening. The better we can be at empathizing with each other and understanding that people have good intent and there is so much of life that people are adapting to all of a sudden that it creates an overall more positive and supportive team.
Rebecca Lovell, Executive Director, Create33
What are the most useful resources available to you and how do others get access?
When I think about the plethora of resources flooding our inboxes, I find I strive for four things: 1) situational awareness, 2) news pertinent to my business, 3) stories of hope and 4) ways I can help. I treat it like a solar eclipse – I don’t take it all in directly, but I use filters and time box through daily newsletters like The Evergrey which curates other resources and things like the GeekWire newsletter. I also closely follow the Intentionalist, which has done a phenomenal job of supporting small businesses. I’m part of the “Support the ID” Facebook group that highlights Asian American-owned businesses that have been disproportionately affected. It’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I’ve been deeply inspired by how the community is coming together. Organizations like All In Seattle are mobilizing around food and security, healthcare and small business. It’s a grassroots effort and anyone can donate at any amount. The resources and our innovation community itself is incredible. Local startups are digging deep, and in some cases pivoting their own business models to provide creative solutions. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to support their work.
What are your favorite self-care strategies, resources for virtual support?
On the personal front, it’s not an easy time to be a pregnant extrovert. We are delighted to be expecting a baby girl in July, but at six months pregnant I’ve been sheltering in place since March 4, with the support of an amazing team and a supportive partner. I’m fortunate to have a job that enables me and my colleagues to work from home and have access to healthcare. When it comes to caring for myself and others, in addition to trying to consume news in the most responsible way possible, I ensure I’m in touch with loved ones on a daily basis, and both start and end my day with a workout to replace my commute. Particularly, it signals the end of my work day and allows me to establish some boundaries. I also sing every day. Science suggests my baby girl can take in sounds from her environment over the last couple of months. And anyone who knows me knows that karaoke is my own personal form of therapy. My partner is a musician and we have a sweet home-aroke setup.
Have you changed any expectations around productivity at your organization with dispersed teams?
On the work front, I’m constantly thinking of the best ways to support the Create33 team– to let go of the old normal and its associated expectations. We’ve kept our weekly stand ups to check in on priorities, ask for help, give thanks and kudos. I think some routine continues to feel healthy and provide structure. With the enormity of this crisis I’ve found it critically important to find new ways to celebrate small things. What’s one achievable goal you have for this week? Maybe it’s to get a second meeting or get to know another team member. In many ways, this crisis has been a forcing function for us to innovate. We’re executing earlier than planned against our larger vision to provide content, connections and community beyond the physical space. In leading the Create33 team, I’ve found that while now it’s important to be bold and decisive, it’s not at odds with being deliberate and above all, kind.
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