Settling down to the new norm

May 20, 2020

Who could have predicted a year ago that we would all be working from our kitchen table or spare room for the foreseeable future?

Over one month into lockdown, and whilst some may be relishing a lie-in before avoiding the daily commute and the chance to slow the pace of life a little, there are others who might find this mentally tough. Maybe the pressures of juggling kids at home 24/7, home-schooling whilst working (if you’re lucky enough to still have a job), worrying about vulnerable loved ones, or perhaps the loneliness of social isolation is the challenge. We’re all facing our own set of circumstances during this unprecedented and strange time.

We officially packed up and moved home on 18 March and so have had a chance to find our feet and bed into our new ‘norm’. With Mental Health Awareness week also coming up, now seemed a good time for reflection…

We’ve always placed great emphasis on looking after mental wellbeing and already had several initiatives in place. Our Mental Health Handbook highlights what’s on offer, including vouchers towards self-care (mindfulness apps or self-help books), information on support groups, e-learning and other resources and tools. Our Mental Health First Aider is also keeping in regular touch with people.

We know the links between keeping physically active and good mental wellbeing (we’ve actually just had our annual free trainer giveaway). A qualified yoga instructor team member is kindly continuing very popular yoga sessions via Zoom. Another budding exercise enthusiast also initiated a virtual running club where members log physical activity on an app, offering virtual encouragement (by ‘liking’ and commenting on each other) and a bit of healthy competition! We’re also in discussions with a mindfulness coach who we hope can start offering online sessions soon.

We’ve introduced suggested new initiatives: daily virtual coffee breaks and Friday afternoon ‘drinks at the pub’ (after all, no-one needs to drive home now) so the team can talk about things other than work! We’ve started a buddying scheme connecting those who may not speak regularly now and are missing out on those office kitchen chats. New team members are buddied with those more established, giving someone to ask all those little questions outside of the bigger forum and extra support whilst starting a new job in strange times. These are all voluntary and part of the working day (no expectation for additional hours!).

Many of our team have families, several with young children. We know this is a difficult time for everyone and don’t want to add to that worry. People are therefore flexing working hours to suit personal circumstances (and that’s not just for parents), so if they need to spread their hours out differently over the week, they can work to suit their situation, whether that means taking a longer break in the middle of the day to walk the dog or splitting the day around childcare needs. We want to make what could be a rocky road a little smoother for everyone.

In our line of work, we know the importance of good communication, and this has never been more key. We are making the most of technology and encourage (virtual) face-to-face contact. We’ve provided guidelines on which platforms to use when; for example, put important decisions in an email (not live chat) so they can be easily traced.

We were already utilising Teams, but with permanent home working suddenly introduced, we pulled together last-minute Zoom training for both internal and client use. You may even find someone turning up ‘on the beach’ or ‘in space’ for team meetings these days! I think everyone wonders how we previously did without these, for work, Zoom exercise classes and Saturday evening (virtual) social gatherings, now becoming the norm for many. Who knows, there may even be a permanent shift to these in the future.

Weekly team meetings are now twice weekly to get everyone together from both a workflow and interaction perspective. Other meetings and monthly ‘Be Proud’ appraisals continue as always, but virtually.

There will always be challenges, especially in IT when we rely so heavily on it. Our IT lead now has sole focus on this to facilitate ‘business as usual’. We have a dedicated email address for reporting issues, which relieves the usual pressures of us shouting across the office to him!

You might think recruitment ground to a halt as soon as we saw lockdown looming. Although not actively recruiting, this is more due to recently filling several vacancies than a decision to stop. We actually welcomed 2 new recruits virtually the first week of lockdown! Another joined us a week before so was still very new to the team (and 3 others just weeks prior).

We were able to get IT equipment to them and set up the usual induction meetings, the difference being these were done via Zoom. Diaries were already scheduled with meetings and their line manager ‘met’ them (virtually!) their first morning. We hope additional touches, like virtual coffees, have helped them settle in and feel part of the company (even if they haven’t met some of us in person yet).

We’ve always been prepared for and offered some home working, but this situation is really testing how robust this is. The challenge has been making an overnight long-term adjustment in such an extraordinary situation. We hope the continuation of existing processes and new initiatives are supporting this and our team’s wellbeing.

We know things are not going to go back to ‘normal’ overnight and it may be a long road ahead. What will ‘normal’ even look like in the coming future? The likelihood is that restrictions are going to be lifted in stages and to varying degrees, so we’ll need to be prepared for that. However, nobody knows what ‘that’ will look like yet. We’ve already begun discussions around possible scenarios; could the office end up a short-term meeting space where perhaps we meet and interview people at a safe distance? Only time will tell as we continue to listen to government guidance and plans. But for now, it will be ‘’business as usual’ until things go back to normal (whatever normal is…).

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