Tomorrow marks the start of the second year working from home as a team, and we have adapted and re-adapted to new ways of doing our job remotely as we find the best fit for us. With most businesses that can work from home, thoughts turn to the future surrounding the ‘new normal’ and what that looks like for them. Whether the route is full-time home working, or a flexible approach that works for the business and team members, it’s looking like working from home will continue, in some form, in a post-Covid world for many businesses.
However, we need to be mindful of the impact this can have on our team members’ mental health. With 1 in 4 people having mental ill-health at some point in their lives, this unusual situation we are dealing with can make our mental health more fragile and we all must look to support our team members (and ourselves) at this time.
Here are a few things we are doing at Purple Robot to help to combat the isolation and support our team while home working and some tips that can help to maintain and improve your mental health while working.
Communication is crucial when you are not working together so you can share information and keep in touch. We set up a messenger channel separate from our work-related ones to make sure we can say hello in the mornings, let each other when we are heading for lunch and wishing everyone a great weekend. It is also great for those ‘water cooler’ moments like checking up on each other and the family or having a couple of minutes talking about the latest viral boxset. We also like to cheer each other up with a funny gif to start the day. This, for us, as well as frequent video calls, provides that connection with the rest of the team. We have also moved our regular meetings to video calls, and each Monday we do spend time catching up as a team.
Organisation and planning is another key thing to help prevent mental ill-health. Having a project management system for your workload can help you balance your workload and deadlines. Many workplaces already have their preferred system, for example here at Purple Robot, we use a system called Monday.com. There are countless systems out there for you to access, but if you are just starting and are looking for a replacement to a written list, Microsoft To-Do or Zenkit To-Do would be an ideal starting point. Also, use and share your diary to clear show others when you are going to be unavailable, such as in a virtual meeting or away from your workspace for an extended period.
I will mention here how important it is to deal with stress. This helpful website explains a stress container – basically how much stress we can take and for every person it will be different. To ensure we maintain good mental health, this needs to be managed and emptied otherwise it can overflow. I would recommend having a look and thinking about what is in your stress container, and how you look at coping with it.
Our workspaces have another key role in our mental health. Whether we are working from a spare room or a space under the stairs, making the area we work in as comfortable as possible is important. There is the health and safety side of a correctly positioned screen and a supportive chair, but there is the ‘inspiring’ side to it also. Not everyone can make big changes to their work area but small changes such as adding a plant, for example, can help to improve your mood and improve the air quality around you. Maybe it could be a favourite photo framed or an inspiration quote above your desk as a reminder of your motivation. As a Liverpool supporter, I have a liver bird on my desk with the club motto ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ on the plaque on the base, reminding me both of the unity of the club but also the words to the anthem which says things will get better. Think about something that will give you a lift each day and see if you can work that into your workspace.
It’s also so important to structure the day and to take breaks. We all need to reduce our eye strain while we are working in front of screens, but we also need to get up and move around, even if it is just to get a drink or do some stretches. It’s recommended that we rest our eyes every hour and focus on something in the distance, and the same is advised to move around from your desk. As a way of getting away from your workspace, think about turning the time from your morning or evening commute to a walk, or at lunch head to a local business to get some food, especially small independent businesses who need your support. At the end of the day, clear away your things and leave your workspace tidy ready for the next day.
One thing that has been helping the Purple Robot team get through lockdown and working from home is music. One of the positives of being out of the office is that you can choose what to listen to. Whether it is a playlist, the radio or a podcast, the choice is yours rather than one of your colleagues. Personally, I vary between playlists, radio and podcasts depending on what task I am doing or how I feel. As I write this, I am reliving my university days with an indie playlist from the Noughties, whereas I often turn to a podcast or the radio station for that feeling of having others around.
During lockdown, each of us put together a Spotify playlists to work to, and each in our music style (I still prefer mine, but I do love each for a different reason). You would be more than welcome to join us in listening to them, and let us know which is your favourite:
One video that puts things into a clearer understanding for me is ‘I had a black dog and his name was depression’. It is a really helpful way to understand how a person might be feeling, and some of us might recognise parts of it ourselves. It allows you a small insight as to what someone with depression is going through.
Supporting each other at this time can mean a lot to team members, even if you do not know it at the time. If you do think a team member is experiencing a tough time, ask them if they are ok. They might not be ready to talk, and if they say no, that is ok, just say you are there if they need you. Do not push the issue, but do check in with them to see how they are getting on. They might open up another time, so be ready to support them when they do.