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The Isolation Conversation: Managing employee wellness and wellbeing

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We are thrilled to introduce our second episode, ‘The Isolation Conversation – Managing employee wellness and wellbeing’. Featuring Mark Stokes– Chief Technical Officer at Attollo Intranet, Pom Tutt – Founder of Human Method, Rob Foster – Lead on Digital Collaboration teams at Deloitte and Alexandra Losup – HR generalist at Avepoint. In this episode, we’re looking at Isolation and remote working and how we manage the wellbeing and wellness of employees while they are at home and in isolation struggling with the situation.

If you want to watch this episode click here & enjoy!

What lessons have you leant over the last week:

With the COVID-19 outbreak, our working worlds have changed even for those that are used to remote working. We asked our panel what lessons they have learnt this week whilst working in lockdown.

  • The lessons that I preach, I’m probably operating at about 60% myself even though I’m teaching and helping people daily. The past 2 weeks have highlighted that I’ve needed to flip things around a bit. Working from home I can gain so much more headspace in a positive way. So, I’ve learnt that I’m not fully practicing what I preach.
  • I’ve learnt that now, more than ever, technology is so important alongside collaboration. It’s a lifechanging event for everyone and we are still learning to adapt daily. Huge amounts of teamwork and all the above comes into play.
  • Deloitte has been a very virtual organisation for a long time, some people have been working from home for a long time. Now there is the need to share those experiences across the firm. We went from 130,000 people using Microsoft teams to 400,000+ in 10 days. We’ve ramped up the initiative for remote working and tools. Hopefully to keep people in and keep people safe and be able to keep them in touch with employees they work with but also customers. It’s been a wild couple of weeks. I also host a podcast called Techsplaining.
  • Not technology-related at all. The human interaction of reaching out to your team members, having that virtual coffee session and not talking about work. Asking ‘how are you and your family doing physically are you safe and happy and do you need anything’. Those are the things that are amazing to me. To find out that everyone is okay. The technology makes that possible.

Thoughts on COVID-19:

Some would argue that we’re at a perfect place in consumer technology for this crisis to occur and for the world to remain united. You could say that as awful as this is, has it hit at a perfect time in our lives?

  • 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have had door dash or uber eats, you couldn’t really order online or get groceries delivered. The world has been set up in a way that it can now keep people healthier just because of the technology and the apps that are available for our devices. We don’t have to go out and mix with people. It’s a terrible thing that has happened to the world, but we are so fortunate that it has happened to us right now.
  • Although there is a lot of bad stuff in the news, I have to remain positive that a lot of positive stuff has happened to get us to this point whereby we are in the best place possible to cope with this due to the technology that is available to us.
  • This should be our wake-up call for the way that we interact with people. The fact that we don’t ask how people and their families are daily anyway is quite shocking and suddenly it has been brought to the forefront of people’s minds. The only times we tend to have those thoughts and feelings is when something bad has happened. If a family member goes into hospital, suddenly nothing matters, work doesn’t matter, and you drop everything. All these things that seem so important that you can’t visit family, no longer matter. We need to be reminded that those things that are important when it matters are important always. They should come first as a priority.

What do you do to ensure employee happiness normally and is this enough?

From an HR perspective, an employee usually goes through various stages and review cycles. This gives an organisation access and a chance to engage with them. Is that enough for the new world that is shaping? What is the before and after for employee happiness and what could the future look like for individuals and organisations?

  • Very human in our HR approach. It’s normal for us to ask daily about an employee’s family and how they are. So, we are missing it now and try to keep connected and keep conversations going. It’s not the case that we don’t speak to employees unless it’s in their review or part of a process. When the offices were open, we had open spaces in there whereby we used to see each other every day.
  • At Attollo we have started sending a survey every other day (Mon, Wed, Fri) just asking, how you are feeling on a scale of 1-10 from absolutely rubbish to euphoric. Also, when did you last get some exercise. We’ve seen the people that seem absolutely fine rate themselves quite low in mood. This gives us an indication if people are struggling so then we have someone reach out to them for a chat. Likewise, the people that you think are going to struggle to, turn out to be doing well. People have their different ways of coping.

Technology – a barrier to understanding how employees feel:

With the only way to contact colleagues now being digital, how does that impact interaction? Are we able to see the full scope of how an employee is feeling or will technology act as a shield?

  • Technology can act as a barrier to understanding people feelings. I think it’s incredibly important we have physical face to face interaction to judge micro gestures. Obviously, this can’t happen at the moment.
  • I think technology has enabled us to have more conversations than we usually do. Since working from home, I’ve set up calls and meetings and my colleagues know to reach out to me if they need anything.

What is happening with the people in your organisation?

Each organisation seems to have their own responses on how to handle their employees during this pandemic, based on the needs of each organisation. It’s great when a business can continue to operate, and all employees can still work full time, but this isn’t possible for some organisations or employees. What are organisations doing? Are employees out of the office and working from home or been furloughed.

  • I’m on my own, it’s just me and my business is completely different. I’m usually face-to-face coaching. I’ve always had a hybrid model whereby I do remote coaching and in the space coaching. This has been an opportunity to go fully remote. It was an easy transition as customers were already aware of that side of the business. For me, it’s business as usual.
  • Amongst all this, the most surprising news that I received last week was that we have been able to retain all our employees. We seem to be thriving through this in that we can provide a good level of service. Deloitte has adopted a flexible where you work approach for the last 10 years maybe longer. We’re not paying you for where you do your work but the work that you do. We’ve been able to take our experience and bring it to our customers, many have not experienced remote working before.
  • Everyone is struggling through this; employees have really started to adapt to the toolsets given to get people to work remotely. We have seen a 600% increase in the collaboration tools space. It’s giving the people the benefit of still being productive no matter where they are, which is likely to be at home.

Do you find clients have embraced that remote interface?

Will all our communication with clients being digital now, have we noticed an uptake in online conversations and that clients have embraced a remote interface. Or have most clients decided to have a break during this period?

  • We’ve had a few people drop off due to the timing of a project just not being right but I’m still in regular contact with them.
  • Most clients have embraced the video calls even the ones that are not tech-savvy. They want things to carry on as usual so are embracing whichever technology is put in front of them to do so.
  • We have been heading this way for a while now, but this has just acted as the kick start we needed. Our clients have embraced our way of working and we hope for this to stay this way long after the pandemic is over.

How will this pandemic change the workforce forever?

You can’t help but think how is this going to change our workforce across the board? People that traditionally went into an office are starting to realise that they don’t have to be in the office after all. What does that mean for office spaces?

  • When I do go into the office, I don’t have an assigned seat or desk I can just go to whichever one. Where you sit to work doesn’t matter anymore, will that be the future?
  • I think it depends on personal preference as well. Working from home is okay but I’d rather be in the office because I get to see everyone and talk to everyone to maintain organisational culture and relationships.
  • We’ve already had people remote working and people hot desking, so I don’t foresee a major change.
  • All I’ve done for 10 years is look at people avatars and I’ve noticed now that people are turning their cameras on more so you can see people and I LOVE that! It’s one thing I hope stays.
  • I’ve noticed that people with children are now working in shifts, to get through the day and it’s awesome that this is accepted. I love that it’s not a taboo thing anymore and people seem more invested in colleagues home lives.

Managing employees’ workloads:

Traditionally, organisations have had large office spaces where they are required to stay in one place from 9 am to 5.30 pm. However, this is known to not always yield the best results. Could shifting to a project and delivery base help maintain business continuity?

  • There are some people that will never be able to work from home due to the nature of their work, such as factory workers. However, there is a huge majority of office workers that may now have a choice in the future. If people have experienced working both ways, they may know which one they prefer, and organisations may be more flexible in allowing that choice.
  • Some managers just don’t trust their employees which is why you get that 9-5 mentality whereby employees must be physically at a desk to see them working. Essentially as a manager, you can see that you are getting your moneys worth. Why not empower your workforce and shift to a delivery base within your team? It alleviates pressure from managers and allows them to get on with their own workload and not micromanage a team. Of course, you will get people who take advantage of working from home, however, if you have deliverables in place, the truth will eventually come out and it will be noticed if work isn’t completed.  

How are employees coping and how has their mental health been?

As anxiety and stress levels increase over the growing concerns of Coronavirus, meditation apps such as Calm and Headspace are seeing large spikes in downloads and uptake in completion of specific anxiety and stress programmes. In these worrying times, employees look to organisations to lead the way on best practice and wellness programmes. What are organisations doing to combat employee’s mental health?

  • At first, it was challenging as we’re not used to it. We adapted and have some great fun ways to stay connected with each other that aren’t always about work. We have happy hours and coffee breaks with everyone. Global workout session at noon, every day, by one of our fitness fanatic colleagues in Germany. We have team huddles that are both regional and cross-regional. We’ve introduced group meditation sessions for employees too and have been pleasantly surprised with the uptake. We also encourage the use of emojis in business communications to give a feel for what someone is thinking.

An uptake in mindfulness:

  • Anxiety and stress levels are much higher than usual and so it’s important to encourage colleagues to express this. Also, making it clear in corporate communications that it’s okay to not feel yourself or as productive as you usually do.
  • There seems to be a stigma attached to meditation, which is just another phrase for focused breathing.  If you focus solely on the breath, it takes your mind away from what’s going on in the world and work.
  • This is something that our company have adopted. We have a group meditation session every 2 weeks. It’s one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever done. I’ve never done this before, but I can’t wait until the next one. I hope this is something that we can do and carry forward to let people have time to meditate. I feel 100% better today for doing that meditation session and to be honest it changed my day. This is something that we must watch and keep moving forward.

Are these new methods here to stay?

Each organisation has adopted new methods to help their employees remain as productive as possible and maintain their mental wellbeing. How long does lockdown need to continue before these new practices are here to stay?

  • These things MUST stay. It makes sense for employees to do this. Should we hire someone fulltime like Pom to lead these sessions for businesses? A metal wellness lead. This is so important for an individual’s mindset, I think it’s crucial, a critical service.
  • When we were in the office employees would work out over lunch and do yoga sessions. Not sure how it will come into play when things go ‘back to normal’. People may want to do their own things in their own time and not be surrounded by work colleagues.
  • Making daily changes, small changes to people’s lives that could help every day. Water, walks, movement, breathing. These are all base camp habits.  We’re operating at such a low point physically and mentally, but still trying to perform at optimum. Being physically and mentally ready for change will mean these methods are here to stay.

Tips on working from home that have made it easier or more manageable:

Based on all the collective experience we have of remote working & wellness and wellbeing, what knowledge or tips and tricks can we pass on to individuals or businesses that may be struggling.

  • Avepoint has a couple of blogs on remote working that they have already created. Click here if you’re interested.  
  • Main takeaways for me are to take breaks, do some exercise, at least 30 minutes a day. Make sure your desk chair is right. Don’t strain yourself in your home office. Try to stay connected with colleagues as much as you need and want to.
  • Treat your laptop like it’s a desktop. When it’s time to walk away don’t take your laptop with you. Have a dedicated space for working. Don’t work in different spaces, work in the same space.
  • Creating a space so it is a working environment. Block out time for working hours. Block out time for play, relaxation, walks and meditation.
  • Routine. Something I preach but I’m not getting enough practice. Getting into routine has been good for me.
  • How do you get people to stop working? Knowing when to stop working in so important. When your workday is done, your workday is done!
  • Own your schedule and take the time that you need to fulfil basic human needs.
  • Since this has happened a nice phrase I’m working towards is ‘work-life integration’ and not that which I previously used or heard ‘work-life balance’. Work and home life are so closely linked so why not have it integrated?

What’s next?

We are thrilled to introduce our third episode, ‘The Isolation Conversation – Education’ which will launch next week. Featuring Mark Stokes – Chief Technical Officer at Attollo Intranet, Alex Pearce – Microsoft MVP at BFC Networks, Darren Hemming – Teaching and Learning Lead at Cloud Design Box and Mark Jones – Head of Physics and Director of E-Learning at Oldham Hulme Grammar School.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please contact us via email or call us on +44 (0)1952 288 365

By Sam Dolan

Sam Dolan is a consultant for Attollo specialising in Intranets, SharePont & Microsoft 365.

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