As we move toward a full re-opening of the economy there remains some uncertainty about how often we will return to offices. A leaked Whitehall document recommended the Government should not actively tell people to go back to the workplace after 19 July. While different messages have come from Ministers, it seems likely that an element of home working is to continue. Most companies seem set to operate at least a part hybrid model, between home working and coming into the office. A recent survey from Gemsatwork found that more than three-quarters (77%) of workplaces that fully closed during the most recent UK lockdown have reopened, with 47% of staff back to the office on a day-to-day basis.
Responsible employers will want to tread cautiously in how they approach the return to offices during what remains a difficult time for many people. It is important to be mindful about employees’ mental health, with many peoples’ emotional states fragile to say the least. Employees will need to adapt to make sure they take the right steps to ensure they can manage the very different challenges of hybrid working compared to solely working from home.
At Gekko we have worked with both physical and mental health experts to ensure our staff have been supported as best we can. So with the support of our practitioners, Bianca Sainty & Bep Dhaliwal, I’d like to share our best tips for looking after yourself as we mix between the real office and the home office.
1) Embrace the outdoors every day to lift your mood
There is a great volume of research showing that spending time outdoors gives an immediate and lasting boost to mental wellbeing. A KCL Urban Mind Study in 2018 found that “Seeing trees, hearing birdsong and seeing the sky has significant immediate associations with mental wellbeing”. Meanwhile another study by the University of Michigan in 2019 revealed that taking at least twenty minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels.
To achieve this, actually diarising your walk can have a positive impact. This applies equally to being in the office and working from home. According to fitness coach Bianca Sainty a fitness and wellbeing coach and founder of Pod Fitness: ‘When you are WFH, start your day with a ‘fake’ commute. Plan a 30 minute route that starts and finishes at home and walk this every day. As you walk, you create the mental space you need to shift focus from home life to work. This will help to maintain a vital boundary between your home and work lives.’
2) Keep a consistent sleep routine to maintain productivity
As we ease back into a hybrid situation, the changes in rhythm to our day can actually play havoc with our sleep. Setting alarms at different times is likely to confuse our bodies and impact the regularity we need to remain on top of our productivity game. According to Bianca: ‘Better to stick to the one, earlier wake-up time, every day, regardless of whether you are commuting. For optimal wellbeing, adults need between seven and nine hours sleep every night. Work out your ‘lights out’ time by using this formula: Lights Out time = Wake Up time MINUS 7 to 9 hours (insert the amount you need).’ She adds: ‘By adopting this consistent routine, you will ensure you don’t fall into sleep deficit. Plus, on the days when you work from home, you gain extra time for self-care. Win-win!’
3) Nurture strong relationships to help make you stress-resistant
As we return to the office a real bonus is the chance to interact with colleagues and friends (those that we get on with anyway!) It may seem overwhelming at first but we are fundamentally social beings and this period of isolation has been unnatural for all of us. According to Bep Dhaliwal, Founder of Thrive365, a Resilience coach that has worked closely with the Gekko team: ‘Cultivating strong relationships will make you more resistant to stress and have a strong support network. Connection is a fundamental human need.’
For those continuing to work from home – remember your other colleagues will likely feel the same about the feelings of isolation, so that should help feeling less alone when you are working from home. Zoom or Teams meetings don’t seem to be going anywhere in a hurry – so perhaps we need a new approach to how we handle them. One strategy is to not view the screen as a block to normal social interaction. According to Bep: “We can still make time to connect before/after a video call, where you talk about things unrelated to work.”
4) Remain curious and flexible to help you ‘lean into’ change
The Buddhist philosophy of accepting that things change has really been put to the test during this extraordinary period. Our lives have been dramatically altered and there is an increasing realisation there won’t just be a swift return to the pre-pandemic era. We all need to accept change and ‘lean into’ it. For a rapidly changing job market and new hybrid work environment a flexible, progressive approach is the best way to remain employable and also help you cope.
According to Bep: ‘Know that things change. The more you are open to this, the quicker you learn, adapt and grow from setbacks. Just because things have been done in a certain way beforehand, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way for them to be done now. Present the challenge to the team and invite a creative new alternative…..enjoy being curious.’
5) Have an optimistic outlook and focus on your goals
During this time, the choppy waters of the pandemic have knocked many of us off the course in life we may have set. This might be career, health related or even your relationships. What is crucial is that we keep sight of our life goals and objectives to give us a focus for this next period. Setting goals is a crucial element in recovering from mental health challenges and this period has arguably given everyone a form of PTSD. Having a positive attitude to getting back on track can certainly help. Bep says: ‘Acknowledge what’s in your control versus what you can’t control and look for the good. We’re used to looking for the challenges in most situations, use a bit of neuroplasticity to carve a new path.’
Old certainties about life and the future certainly don’t hold water today. A hybrid way of working looks set to dominate in the future. Perhaps it has given us all a chance to think about the best way to work ‘your way’. But also remember to not be too hard on yourself while adapting to changes you can’t control. Make the best of the situation to embed some positive new habits. Having a plan to cope is essential as we adapt to hybrid working and the return to the office which is inevitable for all.
This article was originally published with Business Express