Techstars-backed employee experience platform provider Kona has raised $4 million in seed funding to boost its mission of helping companies boost the mental health of employees working remotely.

Today’s round in the company, officially known as Sike Insights Inc., was led by Unusual Ventures and included participation from Evolutionary Ventures, 2.12 Angels, Louis Beryl, David Carrico, James Beshara and former Amazon.com Inc. executive Jeff Wilke.

Kona has created a “culture platform” for managers of remote teams, which has the aim of preventing employee burnout and promoting greater wellbeing and satisfaction. As it explains in its pitch, there’s a big need for such a platform.

The company points to a number of studies that suggest that up to 75% of American workers have experienced burnout since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, costing companies more than $300 billion in lost productivity. It says the tech industry in particular has suffered more than most, with resignation rates of greater than 5%. For companies, that means one of the most pressing challenges they face is establishing a remote work culture that ensures the wellness of employees who primarily work from home.

According to Kona, the responsibility for doing this falls squarely on the shoulders of managers. The problem is that many are ill-prepared, with Kona pointing out that almost 40% had no prior experience in management prior to the pandemic-led shift to remote work. Yet managers are expected to become stewards of trust and mental health.

That’s why Kona’s employee experience platform, available as a Slack integration, is aimed squarely at managers, making it easier for them to build the people-first leadership skills required to succeed in the remote work era, the startup explains. The platform helps managers to build “daily habits” that are designed to promote trust and stay on top of mental health issues.

Central to this is encouraging employees to share how they feel about work each day, using emotional check-ins in Slack. This enables managers to immediately identify instances of burnout, Kona says, and take action to mitigate it, all in real time.

The company explained that this provides managers with the training they need to support team members when they’re feeling stressed or frustrated with work, while providing nuanced, real-time analytics that can provide insights on why burnout occurs. The idea is that managers can take action to prevent team members from feeling overwhelmed and ultimately prevent burnout attrition.

Co-founder and Chief Executive Sid Pandiya said that “squishy skills” such as empathy, coaching, connectedness and team culture are vital for modern managers, yet they are rarely taught. “Companies can’t afford to neglect them,” he insisted. “We are building a platform to measure and embed soft skills into every aspect of running a company.”

Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. said the future of work is evolving not only due to the pandemic but also generational changes in the workforce, new technologies and market conditions. “This new reality is not reflected in the traditional tools used to manage teams and work,” the analyst said. “This is why innovation is coming into this area from the startup corner, with the likes of Kona emerging to address new challenges around employee experiences in the future of work.”

Kona claims to have seen some impressive results at companies that have implemented its daily habits. For instance, one 300-person strong financial technology company managed to reduce burnout-related attrition from 13% to zero in just nine months, Kona said.

Unusual Ventures General Partner Sandhya Hegde said employee engagement and attrition are issues that affect businesses of every age and size, in any industry. “Kona brings a unique approach to solving this problem, and has a bold and achievable vision for bringing empathy into the workplace at a time when it’s needed most,” she said.

Image: Kona

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