The Covid-19 pandemic has led us all to change our daily routines and created uncertainty about the future. As we continue to face health, financial and caring concerns, it is no surprise that a YouGov poll has shown more than 60 per cent of UK adults feel anxious or worried about the virus. Clearly, this a challenging time and focusing on our mental health and wellbeing has never been more important.
The workplace will likely be a completely different place for all of us when lockdown is eventually lifted. In the meantime, we have a chance to improve our working practices for when we come out the other side – in particular the opportunity to invest in our own wellbeing, explore self-care methods and experiment with flexible working. There are a number of practical steps we can all take to look after ourselves and boost productivity and wellbeing while working from home.
Working well from home
All organisations have had to change the way they work to survive during this time, but working from home is something many will not be used to. It can be easy to slip into bad habits where work life and home life blur into one. While many may have muddled through so far, now is a good time to create or review remote working policies, so that they work best for your people.
As a starting point, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England released guidance to help employers support staff who are working from home. It provides a number of steps you can take to create healthy working habits at home. For example, something as simple as setting up a workspace that is separate from your sleeping area, or encouraging people to take a full lunch break, can make a huge difference in preparing you for work and make it easier to switch off at the end of the day.
Self-care is an important way to manage our mental health, particularly at a time when many support measures are more difficult to access. Exercise or going for a walk, meditating, breathing exercises and ensuring we eat well are all options to consider. If you want to make the most out of your working day during lockdown you need to look after your body and mind, but it’s important to work out what is most effective for you.
You could even replace your usual commute time with a half-hour self-care session to set you up for the day and help guard against burnout. Encourage people to use their extra time constructively elsewhere, rather than on extra work. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout, it could just be time to do something you enjoy. That could be watching your favourite television series, connecting with family or friends, doing something creative or learning a new skill.
We have seen the power of human connections all over the world from the neighbours in Italy singing, playing instruments and dancing on their balconies to the Thursday night #ClapForOurCarers movement. The pandemic has forced us to connect in new ways; we can all take inspiration from these moments and change the way we connect within the workplace.
An entire workforce working from home will have gotten to know each other better than ever. Some may be thriving, some may be struggling to balance their other responsibilities; it’s important we can freely discuss this within our teams. There are fewer natural opportunities to share our concerns with our colleagues, so it’s crucial we encourage this and make time and digital space to connect authentically. You can do this in one-to-one catch-ups through virtual coffee breaks, and socialise as a team with lunch video hangouts, team quizzes and other online activities. According to Google, a workplace where people feel psychologically safe to be vulnerable, ask for support and bring their whole self to work will be more creative and collaborative in the long term.
We recognise these are challenging times for everyone and, while we all want to make the most of our time in lockdown, it’s important to remember we are living in extraordinary times. We may be worried about our own or others' health, our job or financial security, the uncertainty of the situation – all of these and many more factors will be affecting your ability to be productive. Making the most of the situation could be as simple as learning to be kind to yourself in a difficult time. MHFA England’s website has even more resources and tips to support you.
Sarah McIntosh is director of people and organisational effectiveness at Mental Health First Aid England