By: Jeremy Brochue

Date: May 10, 2017

How Subtext is trying to be healthier

All signs point to employee health and happiness having a direct effect on business success.

At Subtext, we decided to make our mental and physical health a priority, both personally, and as a company. In focusing our attention on health and wellness, we realized we had to approach it the same way we tackle any other project—as a team. To that end, we developed a short list of how we can work on being healthier:

  1. Capitalize on small changes that lead to big results
  2. Make the most of what we have in place to change habits (company policies, friendships, etc.)
  3. Stay committed—very rarely does real change come fast or easy

We feel invested in our team and our partners. That means we need to be at our best to keep our part of every project running.


More than just work

Gesalt | noun | ɡəˈSHtält | Psychology : something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts”

The gestalt concept holds true in so many contexts, whether it is examining a winning soccer team or a successful approach to physical and mental health. Breaking our approach to better mental and physical health down into its component parts allowed us to plan and assess on a small scale while engendering effects at a higher scale. When we make each other’s personal growth a priority, the benefits cascade out to the whole team.

To maximize effect, we found that we can use our investment in each other as a means to better ourselves through education and group activities. From Lunch & Learns to Monthly Happy Hour we share in ongoing education and personal fulfillment.

Lunch & Learns started as an informal event for the team to share knowledge on subjects that team members had a particular specialty or interest in. Initially, these Lunch & Learns were sporadic, but have grown to a monthly event lead by a different person each time. Lunch & Learns provide the opportunity to share a meal while showcasing the depth of knowledge our team has.

Building rapport and trust requires ongoing work. One strategy we use to build unity within our team is by volunteering together. In March, we teamed up with Clark Public Utilities and Americorps to spot dead trees at a planting with the StreamTeam. While the day offered the reward of working for a great cause (which coincided with a rare sunny day) and helping our community, it also built team chemistry in a way that day-to-day client work cannot.

Along with volunteer events for local non-profits and causes, we take at least a half day every quarter to convene as a company and map our course forward. We use that time to make sure everyone has a vision into our successes and failures. This time requires a bit of introspection but allows us to adjust how we work and what is expected of everyone to avoid fatigue and burnout.

We also make it a point to take an hour every month for us to just hang out as human beings too. Our monthly happy hour is aimed at keeping up with each other, from recent books we’ve read to hiking reports. Through shared experiences, we are able to weave our team together, like individual threads becoming a fine tapestry.


The ability to live your life as needed

We’ve found that giving our team the freedom to work when they work best is how we make great work together. It isn’t surprising for anyone who works at a job with flex schedules that a classic nine-to-five schedule just doesn’t work for everyone.

This is more than just finding the ideal time to workout or when we sleep best. It may be that one of our team members doesn’t really hit their stride until 10 am. If that’s the case why should they be penalized? We want their best, not their warm up.

Having flex schedules and an open work-from-home policy is a huge part of empowering our team to do their best work for Subtext. It also means that our teammates with young kids can be there to pick them up from school or take them to swim lessons. For my part, flex schedules allow me to volunteer as a docent at the Portland Art Museum. For a co-worker, it means midday breaks to work with the animals at Pixie Project. We’ve adopted a remote work policy and flex schedules because it is just too important to us personally for the classic one-size-fits-all schedule or an office-only work policy.

Working from home also gives us the opportunity to avoid bad traffic or correct bad habits like skipping breakfast. For me, it means that instead of my usual bike ride into work, I get a workout in at home before starting my day. The best part is that when a teammate has a head cold we aren’t spreading it to everyone else just because the boss wants us in the building. The list of reasons and benefits to a flexible work from home policy are seemingly endless.

We’ve designed our flex schedule policy in a way that allows us to always be present and responsive to our clients when they work. We share information about our various projects across the team so everyone has an understanding of the project’s status. When issues crop up we are empowered to jump in and help. In addition, our project management team is engaged in monitoring each other’s projects to cover for vacations or even just a long lunch with an old friend. Sharing the weight of all our projects allows the team to turn off when they need to.

Removing common hurdles and allowing our team to work when they work best is a win-win for everyone. There’s plenty of evidence that happy employees are more productive and get better results for everyone involved.


An ounce of Prevention— More than just Insurance and Retirement Planning

Quality of life, as it relates to personal health, can seemingly shift with the slightest breeze. The little aches and pains can add up to an outsized effect on how we perceive our overall wellness.

Making improvements to our physical health, even incrementally, can lead to big gains in our personal happiness. One such instance for us started with a co-worker’s new toy, an iWatch. Adopting the simple idea that standing for one minute can do a lot of good, we started using it as an opportunity to stop what we were doing, refocus our eyes and stretch our legs. In a subversively good way, it also forces us to take a moment to reassess the small things that we can and should do.

For some of our team standing from time to time isn’t enough. With summer and the dry weather finally here in Portland, more of the team are starting to take advantage of it. Amazingly, more than a quarter of our team walk or bike to work every day, year round. We encourage everyone who can to give it a try because Portland traffic cannot be good for you. Not only do we get to reduce some of our carbon footprints, we get to clear our heads, and stretch our legs. The result is better mental and physical health.

Complacency doesn’t suit the Subtext team. Long-term we have plenty of improvements we are planning and vetting. For example, we’ve committed to having a sit-to-stand desk solution in place soon. Even the little details are worth examining, testing, and if appropriate, pursuing. Healthier hearts make for happier minds.


Why should you care?

The truth is, there is plenty of evidence to reinforce businesses making employee health and happiness a priority. The number of studies on the subject continues to grow and reinforce that we’ve made the right decision.

We’re always in pursuit of making the lives of our team better. We’re invested in each other. It is this kind of deep empathy and consideration that makes us who we are, within the Subtext team, and with our clients. Healthy, happy employees are a sign of our success and we are committed to ensuring we continue to improve.

How do you encourage better health and wellness for your team? Drop us a line and share your ideas.