Is Your Team Depressed or Apathetic? Niko Niko Will Tell You

June 30, 2014

11:00 am

When some developers leave the office at the end of the day, they stop at a calendar on the wall and draw a smile, frown, or neutral face. This is called a “niko niko calendar.”

niko niko calendar

Source: Agile Trail

Part of the agile development methodology, niko niko calendars have everyone record their emotions for the day for the whole team to see. It might seem like a strange practice, but it’s part of agile’s focus on productivity and rapid improvement. Situations where everyone is upset, or only one person is upset, might be cause for investigation – why aren’t we happy? Are we creating bugs? Managers can also take the calendar as feedback on their performance. 

A niko niko calendar only goes so far, though – it doesn’t explain the reasons behind the smileys, and the most primitive version doesn’t save data over time. So Chris Schultz, cofounder of FlatStack, decided to build a better way to get a pulse on his 50 remote developers.

Niko Niko is a way to survey your team’s mood, engagement, and other feelings day to day. With the input of psychologists, they developed questions around how the team feels, how energetic they are, how they feel about challenges, and their plans for personal growth. Team members respond with an emoticon and up to 140 characters of text.

“You have metrics on every possible driver of your business, except for the most important, which is your people,” says CEO Max Webster.

How might these metrics be useful? Webster himself has noticed that when he exercises or meditates at the beginning of the day – vs. jumping straight into social media and news – his smiley at the end of the day is a happier one. Niko Niko may not provide all the answers, but it can boost the team’s self-awareness and give managers a topic for discussion – what’s been bugging you lately, or how could we help boost your energy? 

Niko Niko isn’t the only employee feedback tool out there, with TINYpulse focusing on culture and the Employee Net Promoter Score focusing on engagement. But Niko Niko is more concerned about the psychology of work. They understand that happier people are more productive and we need a range of things to feel fulfilled – namely positive emotion, meaning, engagement, relationships, and achievement. In the future, they hope to use the science of positive psychology to suggest interventions like walking, breathing exercises, and more.

As someone who’s certainly not happy all the time, I wondered if team members would be hesitant to broadcast their less-than-chipper moods. Webster assured me that big companies using Niko Niko can make responses anonymous, but he’d honestly like to see less stigma around being unhappy. Of course, that’s part of the problem he’s trying to solve – the reason we need a tool like this is because employees are often too scared or embarrassed or frustrated to pipe up about their problems. 

Niko Niko is available for mobile and web at $9 or $49 per month, depending on the size of your company – sign up here.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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