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Future of Work

Red Yellow Green Check-Ins: Build A Happier Remote Team With This 1-Minute Exercise

August 30, 2022
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9 minutes

The best way to generate employee engagement and connection is to create psychological safety. Here’s how you do it in one minute per day with Kona’s daily check-ins.

Nouran Smogluk
The best way to generate employee engagement and connection is to create psychological safety. Here’s how you do it in one minute per day with Kona’s daily check-ins.

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When you hear “employee engagement,” your first thought is probably about surveys. 

Surveys are a great tool, but they often take weeks or months to prepare and analyze—and even longer to act on. 

Similarly, when you think of “remote team-building,” you probably imagine some mixture of Zoom icebreakers, virtual games and parties, and a variety of Slack channels like #cats or #gaming.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these options (although sometimes we all get tired of cheesy icebreakers and feel overwhelmed by Slack). Each of these things just takes time. They often force people to stay attached to their computers for longer than they might want to, limiting participation or competing with other non-work priorities. 

The good news is that there are other, simpler (and better) options for doing wellness checks on employees. A short, 1-minute exercise done every day can help your company increase both engagement and camaraderie. 

The isolation of remote work

Remote work can be isolating. 

Traditionally, many people rely on the social interactions that they have at work for creating a sense of connection and camaraderie. When these people transition to working remotely, they quickly fall into the habit of spending most of their time at home. Being physically separated from coworkers often unintentionally leads to isolation in every area of life. 

Buffer has run the State of Remote Work survey for many years, and loneliness remains one of the top struggles people have with working remotely. It comes up every year. It’s always a challenge.

Companies often try to solve this by trying to shoehorn virtual replacements for everything they used to do in the office. They create #watercooler Slack channels—as if any Slack channel can create a meaningful, long-term sense of connection. It’s well-intentioned, but frankly, it’s a dumb approach.

Pretending that all in-person interactions can happen digitally doesn’t work. It’s a flawed premise. And trying to transfer these interactions to Zoom or Slack usually just makes for awkward moments or unengaged participants.

Enough is enough. 

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How do you create a sense of connection in a remote team?

Creating a sense of connection and psychological safety in a remote setting probably won’t happen organically. It’s fundamental in developing a company culture, though, and it’s worth investing in because there’s no way around it.

Social connections between employees also impacts engagement. 64% of employees with high social connectivity report being highly engaged, whereas only 11% of employees with low social connectivity consider themselves highly engaged at work. 

So if copying everything you might have done at the office is the wrong way to build connections, what’s the right way to build a connected and happy remote team?

The best way is to use a tool that’s designed from the ground up for remote workers, like check-ins with Kona. 

Kona is a dog that lives in your company’s Slack. It asks your team how they’re feeling every day. Your team can check in as green, yellow, or red. They then choose custom emojis like 🤒 or 🥳 and add a sentence or two to provide more information on how they’re doing.

Sounds simple, right? But don’t underestimate its power. Simple things done consistently can be transformative. 

Check-ins are great because they take no time and can be folded into your regular work routine with almost no effort. They’ll still create opportunities for spontaneous chit-chat, while also giving you a good overview of how your team’s doing daily. 

Here’s how to set it up. 

1. Set up daily emotional check-ins

Getting started is very quick. You need to connect Kona to Slack, set up a dedicated Slack channel for each team (#marketing), and choose the time you’d like Kona to ask, “How are you feeling today?”

Dedicated Slack channels are recommended because they keep check-ins specific and personal. Trying to have everyone in your organization do a check-in in one Slack channel becomes overwhelming, making it hard for anyone to engage with anything. Small, team-focused channels make it easier to have more substantive conversations with the people you work the most closely with.

2. Brief your team

After the initial setup, explain to your team what Kona is, why you’re implementing it, and how to check-in. Their check-in contents can be work-related or not. The goal is transparency and vulnerability, so it should reflect whatever is most pressing on your team’s mind at that moment. 

It’s also critical to make sure everyone’s on the same page about what green, yellow, and red mean. You don’t want people to use red unless they’re struggling because that will skew your data. 

3. Green Check-ins

Green check-ins mean that everything is great. You can go for green when you have a win to celebrate or something you’re excited about. Or maybe you’ve just woken up energized and happy to take on the day.

As a manager, many green check-ins mean that your team is doing well and you probably don’t have to worry about things like burnout. You can focus your time on developing your team further instead and challenging them with new projects or tasks.

Green check-ins become alarming when that’s all you see. Nobody feels happy all the time. A week of an all green team can mean people don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable. To avoid toxic positivity, managers should check in yellow and give context on a regular basis.

The goal is not to have all green check-ins, the goal is to have vulnerable and authentic check-ins.

4. Yellow check-ins

Yellow check-ins are a way to say you’re doing okay. There’s nothing too bad going on, but maybe you’re a little tired or stressed out. 

We’re all humans, not robots. That means yellow check-ins are normal every now and then. This is especially true when you’re facing a short-term stressful situation, like a big deadline or moving across the country. 

A significant increase in yellow check-ins, though—especially in a short period—is your first sign that something might be going wrong. It’s a good signal to follow up with that team member and see how they’re doing on a deeper level. 

Maybe you can offer additional support, take some work off their shoulders, or encourage them to take some time off. Small but meaningful interventions can often provide big relief and help move employees back towards the green.

5. Red check-ins

A red check-in means something serious is going on, like an illness. They’re a sign that you feel terrible and won’t be able to perform at your best that day.

As a manager, you should expect a red check-in to impact someone’s work. You should pay attention to how many red check-ins you have across the team and their reasons. If there’s a significant amount of red check-ins, even if they’re for seemingly unrelated reasons, that’s a red flag that there’s something you need to work on.

6. Analyze the data

Now that everyone’s checked in for the day, you’ll get a summary directly in Slack, giving you a quick snapshot of your team’s overall well-being.

Kona also provides you with team-specific dashboards to see how your team’s well-being trends over time. You’ll see if there are spikes on specific days or weeks. This enables you to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your team, positioning you to be the best manager you can be.

Kona can help you recognize early signs of burnout. Burnout can fester in an organization, so it’s important to catch it early and react quickly. Kona automatically monitors your company’s risk of burnout and will let you know if there’s something you should act on. 

Building psychological safety in the workplace

The foundation of meaningful connections between coworkers—or any humans—is psychological safety

Psychological safety means that your employees feel safe being vulnerable at work. They know their opinions will be taken seriously, so they give feedback openly. They trust that you, as their manager, have their best interests at heart, so they’re happy to share their concerns and wishes with you. They know their peers won’t jump on them for mistakes, so they’re willing to take risks or show their flaws.

Benefits of psychological safety

Different leadership styles strongly influence the perception and development of psychological safety at work. That means every manager plays a significant role in making it happen. 

It’s vital work, because psychological safety has knock-on effects on almost every aspect of how a team works together. It helps with:

  1. Building trust. Psychological safety makes your team members feel secure enough to be open and honest with you and other team members. Trust comes from knowing that there’s a basic assumption of good intent and care for people.

  2. Building a team. A positive environment where everyone knows their contributions are valued creates deeper bonds between team members, enabling them to encourage and challenge each other in more meaningful ways.

  3. Building autonomy. Your team will feel more empowered and confident taking risks and showing initiative because they know their boss and their team support them.

Build psychological safety on Slack

When Slack is your primary communication tool, finding ways to build psychological safety on Slack is only natural. That’s why Kona is so powerful.

Kona was built for Slack and with the needs of remote teams in mind. That’s why it’s so simple and easy-to-use, while still having a major influence on engagement and wellbeing.

And the best news? You can try it out for free here. 

Meet the Author

Nouran Smogluk

Nouran is a passionate people manager who believes that work should be a place where people grow, develop, and thrive. She writes for Supported Content and also blogs about a variety of topics, including remote work, leadership, and creating great customer experiences.

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