Deep work is critical — times when people aren’t interrupting your flow is important for all levels — to step back for perspective, think strategically and get inspiration. Many folks get stuck doing this only on nights and weekends. Doing something as simple as time blocking, for example, will force you to take the time you need to find your flow, which should be done while defending your focus and not allowing interruptions with Gated — notifications off.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing CEO and Co-Founder of Gated, Andy Mowat.

Over the years, Andy and the teams he managed have sent millions of emails and struggled with deliverability. Andy himself also gets quite a lot of cold emails, which inspired him to start Gated. Today, Andy’s vision and expertise set the tone for the entire Gated team — as we build a solution and a movement to fix email, for everyone.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

I am a passionate person — as part of this, I tend to give every job my full mental energy and have struggled to “turn off my mind” from work. Over the last 4 years, when we took Culture Amp from $5 million to $75 million ARR, work became all-consuming. I know that it is good to draw boundaries, but I struggled. I worked with a life coach on “finding a hobby” or side project. We did this in order to give me something to focus on besides my job, after-hours. It helped create separation and balance work and family better. Ironically, the side project eventually developed into Gated and so that — as well — eventually became all consuming, too, when I left to start the company full-time. However, I always carry the lessons with me of setting boundaries and setting focus goals for my non-work activities.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

The unseen impact of digital noise and distraction can create micro-anxiety and increase stress levels within the workplace. Even if it takes only seconds to delete or ignore an incoming notification, research shows that it can take up ~23 minutes to refocus, after being distracted. On top of this, I’m deeply aware that startups can be an even greater risk to workplace wellness as there is expectation of moving fast and always working hard. At Gated, we work especially hard to foster enthusiasm for our mission without leading people to burn out.

Despite being a bit early in our process of building out company norms, we certainly place wellness at the center of how we work. Ultimately, the way we define this is less based on the tools we use and more focused around people. One technique we use is to include structured two-way check-ins at 30/60/90 days after hiring, to ensure people are still feeling comfortable in the startup life. We have also successfully implemented Focus Fridays, without internal meetings and with employees blocking off blocks of time for deep work. We try to learn from what we’ve all seen work (or not) at other companies. Finally, we make time for activities such as rose/bud/thorn, to ensure we’re elevating both good and not-as-good emotions as ‘normal’ topics in conversation.

As we work on Gated and re-thinking norms for email more broadly, we have learned that the key to being able to create dedicated focus time is communicating expectations clearly to those who are looking for something from you. We’ve built a norms document that helps set the right expectations across the company and is used to both define and measure wellness here at Gated.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

Our CEO Andy, spent the past four years as an executive at Culture Amp. This question was at the heart of our software and value to companies. We had a team of 15 people data scientists answering this exact question for over 10,000 companies! In a nutshell, with our data around employee feedback and engagement, we were able to directly see a high correlation between company performance and team engagement/mental health.

At Gated, our executive team holds regular sessions to evaluate the wellness offerings we provide our employees with the knowledge that providing support at the individual level will drive success for the company in recruiting, retention, and overall employee contribution to our goals.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Centrally created and accessible norms are foundational to empower your team to draw boundaries and manage the overload of work. This plays into Gated’s core mission to allow everyone to take back control over their attention. We should all be able to determine what is — or is not — deserving of our valuable attention.

For startups, here are a few ideas as to how to make tangible (and cost-effective) progress in this area:

  • Build an easily accessible and collaborative “How We Work” doc to socialize and centralize company norms.
  • Structure 1:1s to include room for what is and is NOT going well and foster problem-focused discussions.
  • Encourage use of PTO for wellness breaks.
  • Foster casual connection between employees in structured ways.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

During the hiring process we ensure our values are front and center so that candidates can see what we stand for (and what we live by) and think about how they fit into that, before joining. While we review and refine our values regularly, we generally focus on staying curious, connected, and focused within our work.

Additionally, sharing our ‘user manuals’ is critical. These are documents written by each employee that go into detail on how we work best. You can view my user manual here as an example. I encourage everyone to take the time to write your own personal user manual and look forward to learning how each of our new employees works best.

This is an asset that anyone can use to understand where you fit in with a team and can be revised as you grow and learn more about yourself throughout the course of your career.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  • Mental Wellness: We’ve implemented Focus Fridays, days with no internal meetings and on which employees are challenged to block out concrete blocks of ‘focus time’ on their calendars. This external signaling to others results in more freedom to decline non-priority tasks and make space for the deep work that often might get skipped. The goal for these days is to focus on things that are important vs. urgent.
  • Emotional Wellness: Making room for asynchronous work. We have a shared band of hours that should be made available for internal meetings. Beyond that, every employee is encouraged to work the hours that work for them. This autonomy has a direct correlation to trust and psychological safety in the long run.
  • Social Wellness: Connecting 1x/week with one member of the company, randomly paired, on non-work topics. Encouraging non-zoom formats.
  • Physical Wellness: Getting out and walking/exercising during the work day. Building in walk/dog/kid breaks. Example: Andy walking to school to pick up his son each day.
  • Financial Wellness: Although we are a young startup, we strive to provide salaries that position our employees to be financially comfortable, solutions that foster saving for retirement, and equity for future benefit in the company’s success.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Overall, focusing on not being overrun by digital distractions is at the forefront of our investments into employee wellness. By ‘eating our own dogfood’ and actively ensuring that our team is using Gated, we are making sure that we’re focused in email and not letting those distractions overtake us and our team. Taking that idea over to other channels, such as Slack, and not letting it run wild with overwhelming notifications has also proven to be beneficial for our workplace.

Furthermore, extending the norm of “I’m focused on important things” by having conversations and agreements about how we can best reach out to each other and when/why has been transformative. If you don’t set company norms for this and more, it can all easily break down.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

We work to provide every person in our organization with external career mentors. Gated has an incredible roster of Advisors, in the areas of: Sales, Marketing, RevOps, Nonprofits, Investing, and more. Each of our employees is encouraged to have 1:1 meetings with Advisors of interest and we seek to pair up employees with at least one richer ‘mentor’ from that group.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

One small, but mighty, step I would encourage everyone to get started on is to stop spending time on irrelevant emails, by using a technology (Gated) that only shows you the emails that are core to your focus. By doing this, you can still see the other messages you’re receiving at any time, but they won’t be cluttering up your inbox and causing you micro-anxiety and increased stress.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. Finding flow at work — setting times to focus and get into deep work.

Deep work is critical — times when people aren’t interrupting your flow is important for all levels — to step back for perspective, think strategically and get inspiration. Many folks get stuck doing this only on nights and weekends. Doing something as simple as time blocking, for example, will force you to take the time you need to find your flow, which should be done while defending your focus and not allowing interruptions with Gated — notifications off.

2. Setting what you’re doing on OOO messages — encouraging people to share what they are doing on time off.

By sharing these small personal details with your team, you can find purpose in leisure time, allowing you to feel like your “non-work” time has a goal as well. On Unlock, our podcast, we discussed Doing OOO Right. In this episode, Gated’s Co-Founder and Head of Marketing, Melissa Moody, chatted with the Head of People Ops from Postscripts to share the most impactful OOO practices. Doing OOO right can help others understand that what you’re doing is well-rounded and can inspire other co-workers to take time off too.

3. Building personal connections of value, across remote employees.

Remember that a key part of psychological safety is thinking of your colleagues as HUMANS first. Whether done by hand or using companies like Donut, finding ways to create that watercooler feeling and that personal connection outside of just work projects is integral. We made a conscious decision to go remote here at Gated and while we have had success, there have also been many challenges: draining zoom calls, focus on async via loom, slack, and notion, etc. Therefore, building these personal connections can be especially challenging when fully remote, so we have to be intentional in our actions. At Culture Amp, we were able to use other technology, such as Donut, to meet other coworkers outside of our departments to make connections while remote. We would meet a new person each week from a different area, almost how you may meet someone by the water cooler in person, but remote! Fostering personal valuable connections amongst remote employees is so important to workplace culture.

4. Using technology to protect your attention — working smarter, not harder.

In a world of increasing noise, you should be in control of your attention. Previously, I had to manage an unwieldy inbox, while also trying to run marketing operations for three different unicorns. To make my email manageable, I created my own personal version of Gated and then realized how revolutionary it could be for everyone with an email.

While using technology to protect your attention can be as simple as using Focus Mode on iOS to quiet the digital noise, Gated is the prime example of this: “noise canceling headphones for email.”

5. Clarifying norms at the company level, that everyone can rally around.

While there may be more best practices, clarifying your company’s norms, in a way that is accessible and agreeable among all employees, helps with clarity and owning that shared process. Setting what’s expected allows for more autonomy and a unique experience for each employee within that. At Gated, norms are critical for us. Focus fridays, checking notifications at a certain time, etc., always seem to fail, so we have implemented our own personal document for our Gated ‘norms’. We’ve outlined our expectations and norms for each other such as email response times, clarifying channels, etc., and we are now working to implement efficient focus fridays that involve no meetings.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

I’ve come to learn and value that remote-only companies give employees the opportunity to live where they truly want to live. This allows people to live closer to family, meet the needs of spouses who have to live in different places or move often — without having to leave jobs, find jobs that they might not otherwise be able to take, live in places that are more affordable, and beyond.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

My inbox is protected by Gated — so anyone who wants to be in touch with me can do so… and their message will stand out in my inbox if they make a small donation to my charity of choice: Doctors without Borders. Because of Gated, I’m happy to share my address publicly — and look forward to hearing from anyone: [email protected]. You can also follow what I’m up to on LinkedIn.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.