From locked down to looking up
The impressive pivot to remote working saw an initial focus on business continuity. Six months on, efforts are shifting to focus on the evolving needs of employee wellbeing. Inflexion’s portfolio share their experiences at our latest HR Exchange.
An initial focus on the physical wellbeing of employees and clients may have been necessary, but it wasn’t enough: as weeks became months, the emotional toll of lockdown became increasingly apparent.
“Increased demand from both new and existing clients has seen our vets and nurses working constantly over this period and they’re showing signs of burnout,” James Dickens, Medivet HR Director notes. As a result, the firm is focusing on the need for downtime. “It’s really important to make sure everyone gets time to recharge and we are proactively trying to ensure our teams get the time off they need, even if they initially don’t want to leave their practice’’. He admits it’s a juggle, and is teaming up with a number of wellbeing and mental health providers to ensure that all colleagues receive great care and support.
This awareness of the need for downtime is apparent at Rosemont Pharmaceuticals too. “Attendance at the workplace is paramount; having operational and quality employees prevented from attending site due to COVID impacts our customers and consumers everywhere from receiving their medication,” explains Claudette Rushworth, Rosemont HR Director. “While employees are saying they’re tired due to the increase in demand for pharmaceutical products to market and following our recent divesture from Perrigo, our absence levels are very low.”
“We’ve encouraged our employees to take regular holiday but not forced this,” says Val Rees at risk software firm Alcumus. “After the latest announcements regarding more restrictions, we know we need to find new energy to take this next step to support our employees through the winter months. World Mental Health day on 10th October will be a good opportunity to highlight help available to support people in looking after their mental health and we are planning some fun activities for November and December.”
The general consensus from the Inflexion portfolio is that ‘what happens next’ is a big concern right now, with many envisaging a half-in/half-remote workforce is likely become the norm in the long-term. Having the energy to endure ongoing and perhaps further restrictions as the dark draws in will be difficult.
Communication remains crucial
While tactics to mitigate COVID stress vary, the overarching strategy is one of clear communication. Legal rankings business Chambers has seen its communications enhanced considerably, according to People Director Matthew Taylor, with leadership meetings doubling to twice weekly, management group meetings increasing from quarterly to fortnightly and all-employee meetings now monthly rather than twice per year. “We have also provided tools to managers to enable information to cascade down throughout the organisation. Active Q&A opportunities allow a dialogue between the employees and the company.” The firm also encourages a daily informal tea time, hosted by a manager or colleague, to help people feel connected whilst working remotely.
Simon Charles of wealth management firm Succession explains that some of their communication is handled directly by the CEO, who does a video every week to talk about the business’s developments and priorities.
He congratulates people by name and does some guest videos to let colleagues talk about their experiences.
Headquarters to shedquarters
The summer saw a staggered return of many to the workspace. Comparison Technologies' Toria McCahill says, “We learned we were more productive WFH but lost the creative connectivity you get from being in the office.” The firm has now paused its intended return, reflecting the latest government advice whilst it plans a new approach to facilitate those who can't work from home effectively.
Lauren Sweeney of experiences business Virgin Experience Days has told employees to work from home in accordance with the government guidance. “But we are keeping offices open for those who feel they can do their job best from the workplace and no judgment should be passed on any party.” The firm is heading into its peak season and anticipates a blended workforce going forward.
The learning continues, but what is clear is that remote working really suits some people, many of our staff members have told us that going forward they would like to have the opportunity of a more blended approach to home and office working, and companies are being forced to accommodate this. Says Paul McAvoy of corporate administrator Ocorian:
Couch to 5k: Virtual fatigue
Parents who usually lament their children’s screen time may have found they themselves are getting too much of it this year. “While there’s a need for connectivity and being present and feeling part of a team, that can lead to too much time online through Teams, Zoom, Slack and WhatsApp,” points out Lauren Sweeney of VED. This ‘virtual fatigue’ can be draining, and VED are streamlining their approach on the tech they use.
“It was contributing to a lot of the burnout we were facing. While tech has been our saviour, there’s also a lot to be said for streamlining it.” The firm has encouraged its teams to use the headspace app, which offers tools on mindfulness and meditation.
And rather than engage more with tech, many firms are encouraging staff to stand up and get moving. Whether because of financial or hygiene concern, many haven’t re-joined gyms, and so may lack motivation.
Cordelia Dolan commented on the positivity that can come through doing something active with a shared purpose, even when socially distanced, as it is still a team effort. “Whether you love working from home or not, it can seriously blur the lines between work and home life, creating a fluid and sometimes intense environment, so getting outside and sharing an experiences creates a real positive energy”. She is referring to the firm’s Round the Houses initiative, which saw 15 team members walk 36 miles in a single day to raise £250,000 for The Roundhouse, one of the charities supported by the Inflexion Foundation.