Friday Letter: Don’t forget the mental wellbeing of your firm’s employees

The lines have blurred between work and home amid the pandemic. Laurie Tennant, the human resources leader at Norwest Venture Partners, discusses how the firm has managed through it all in the past year.

In recent years, I’ve reported a few times about how a growing list of venture firms – Alpha Bridge Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Builders VC and Freestyle Capital, to name a few – have begun offering services to their portfolio entrepreneurs to support their mental health and wellness. Click here to read my story from nearly a year ago about such value-add propositions.

Of course, amid the pandemic, supporting one’s own firm employees is also an important attribute.

On that note, I recently spoke with Laurie Tennant, vice-president of people and portfolio services at Norwest Venture Partners.

Tennant talked about how the firm managed things in the past year for its more than 100 employees worldwide and for some leaders of its portfolio companies. And it probably sounds familiar to many others in the venture community. Norwest held daily coffee talks and regular check-ins using BlueJeans video conferencing. Tennant said they didn’t skip with the working from home lifestyle.

“It’s been unimageable what we have all gone through in the past year,” Tennant said. “But we’ve managed to stay connected and I feel more intimacy with my co-workers on video.”

She also noted the talent of her co-workers, with one of the partners leading an online meditation class. Another, who she described as a level one Sommelier, gave a wine tasting demo over video. And yet another setup a video camera in his backyard and held a 45-minute MasterClass-like lesson for barbecuing. The firm also held a talent show in which she said an associate who is a concert-level violinist entertained the firm.

As for the mental wellbeing of staff, Tennant said it’s definitely been at the forefront since the shelter-in-place orders went into effect nearly a year ago.

“When you work in an office, it’s easy to have separate home life,” she said. “But the lines have blurred and with all of us on video, we have a window into each other’s lives more so than ever before.”

She added that the blurred lines of work and home underscores the need to develop a strong culture.

“I’m seeing a lot more focus on mental health, and that is super positive that it has risen to the forefront.”

The next challenge is the return to the office and creating a hybrid workplace. Tennant said they’re preparing to scale that office comeback, with plexiglass in front of executive assistant cubicles and in common areas and setting up a food service delivery with pre-packaged meals.

“Office culture used to mean how one would show up at the office and present themselves there, but now it means so much more,” she said.

Let me know what you think about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. And how you’re preparing to head back into the office. You can drop me a line at agoldfisher@buyoutsinsider.com.