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How to support staff wellbeing during Covid19

31 March 2020

A lifetime ago, in early January, I wrote an upbeat New Year blog about how to look after the wellbeing of colleagues.

Since then the world has become a very different place and it’s safe to say, we’ve all gone through seismic changes over the last two weeks. For many of us, our brains are struggling to catch up. It’s not just that we’re all now effectively under curfew of course – it’s the worries about friends and family, the daily micro-sadnesses…and the feeling that a tsunami is about to hit. All of which is bound to be giving our mental health a battering and making it hard to focus.

A rapid re-think on how we support wellbeing

Transitioning so quickly into a new reality where stress levels are high, and where whole teams are so scattered, has required a rapid re-think of how we all look after our colleagues’ wellbeing.

At Bioregional we acted quickly and closed the office a few days before the government told us too. The atmosphere in the office was a bizarre combination of breaking up for summer holidays and preparing for war. At the end of the day our CEO and I even started singing Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll meet again’ after downing half a glass of farewell prosecco.

But we had a plan in place.

Before we all started setting up mini workstations in our respective sitting rooms/bedrooms/broom cupboards, we shared a set of wellbeing tips for home working. You’ll have seen all this a thousand times now, things like maintaining a structure, eating properly, using video for calls as much as possible and so on.

One thing it’s important to realise though is that different people have different needs at different times. For example I live alone and as a borderline introvert am secretly quite enjoying my new monastic existence, while others are juggling the demands and emotions of children, partners, flatmates and pets.

How using digital platforms is proving invaluable for supporting different needs

We’ve found setting up regular activities, all on Zoom or MS Teams, has helped meet our range of needs and helped us maintain staff wellbeing. So here’s our top five tips:

1. Checking in. We’ve recommended that all teams have a quick morning video check in just to say hi and see how we’re all doing. Our team has also adopted a couple of other workmates who don’t have their own team, and I already feel I’m getting to know them better. No pyjamas have been spotted as yet.

2. Staying motivated. At our morning check-ins we ask each other what our priorities are for the day. It’s so easy to start staring at the wall or worry-scrolling through twitter and wondering what the point of anything is anymore, but identifying and sharing two or three big things we want to get done every day – then reporting back at the end of the day – is really helping me.

3. Calm: as a regular, if slightly erratic, meditator, I’m a firm believer in taking some mental time out every day. So on Tuesdays and Thursdays we now have a slot for ten minutes of silent meditation before work. One of our management team has also volunteered to lead an online Tai Chi session every Wednesday lunchtime.

4. Helping parents. For half an hour every lunchtime, parents and kids can meet up for a wave and a chat, to help take some of the pressure off parents in keeping their children occupied. Tomorrow my colleagues’ children will be sharing drawings of their favourite animals in fancy dress (Grown-ups can play too).

5. Having some fun*. 5pm on Thursday is now pub night. We started last Thursday and our pub landlady-cum-admin switched us in and out of break-out rooms at random to keep the chat manageable. It was so lovely to see everyone and have a natter, and we’ve only just begun – pub quizzes and karaoke have already been mooted/threatened.

My hot tip on this is to share instructions for how to change your Zoom background in advance… and don’t forget to get rid of your Ibiza clubbing background before that online trustees meeting. And no I definitely didn’t just forget to do that.

*See also: banter. As I type, a stand-off has occurred between two people in our organisation-wide MS Teams chat about the relative planetary benefits – and taste – of hemp vs oat milk. Yes folks, that’s how we roll.

As you can see from the things we’ve put in place, Zoom has been our saviour. But in all honesty, an even bigger saviour has been the incredibly supportive team culture that already exists at Bioregional, which we’re determined to maintain. So much so that the comms team has set itself a brand-new objective for the year: to boost staff morale (including our own!) during a time of unprecedented uncertainty.

This is just the start though. We could be working from home for a while yet and Our ‘Health and Happiness’ month is coming up in April. It’s a month where we try out some new initiatives to help staff wellbeing so it’s going to be an interesting challenge… do feel free to tweet me to share any ideas!

Photo: Bioregional Twitter

Julia Hawkins

head of communications and policy , Bioregional

Julia has been head of communications and policy at Bioregional for four years. Bioregional is a sustainability charity that works with partners to create a better way to live, based in the award-winning BedZED eco village in South London. Julia focuses on sharing stories of the many people and organisations around the world that are taking big steps towards achieving ‘One Planet Living’ – a world where everyone, everywhere can live within the means of our one planet, leaving space for wildlife and wilderness.