Flexible working: a natural step forward

It really does feel as if the UK government’s ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ is going to plan, which, after the year we have had is a wonderfully positive feeling! All of the signs point to being able to return to our ‘normal’ lives with the confidence that we are survivors with a new sense of pandemic awareness. Our experiences will shape the remainder of our lives, and we will be more empathetic towards the experiences of others. Marvellous! Job well done then! Let’s get back to the workplace and celebrate shall we?

Except, for some people, the feeling is that it’s a bit early to be ‘hanging out the bunting’ and planning a welcome-back party. It has been incredibly difficult living through the pandemic and coming out of it can present new challenges. The experiences of the last year have left some of us with a new sense of vulnerability and caution, and a daunting awareness that not only has the world changed, we have to change with it.

Remote working

Being forced to work remotely during lockdown has been really beneficial in some ways –  it has provided many of us with a sense of freedom, choice, less commuting and more time to spend at home. In other ways it has been extremely demanding. Most of us have experienced times where we have felt varying levels of stress from the new, unexpected way of working. For those caring for dependants the past year has been a huge challenge in trying to balance the demands of everyone, leaving our own needs relegated to the bottom of the priority list.

Finding solace in nature

Thankfully, the changing seasons from winter through to spring and summer is comforting and so, it makes sense why the Mental Health Foundation has chosen nature as the theme for this week’s awareness campaign in the UK.

Since lockdown, many of us have spent more time outside and nature has provided a valuable escape over the last year. I have personally enjoyed getting out and about with my camera and the sense of constant renewal is a reassuring reminder that the natural world has carried on, regardless of the pandemic!

According to research, going out for walks outside was one of the top coping strategies and 45% of people in the UK reported that being in green spaces had been vital for their mental health.

There’s lots of advice available on improving general mental health and wellbeing and most sources reference these same five themes:

  • Connect – Connect with people to sustain and build good relationships.
  • Be active – Being active is not only good for your physical health and fitness, it can also improve your mental wellbeing. Movement helps get adrenaline out of your system and reduce anxiety.
  • Keep learning – Learning new skills can help you build your sense of purpose and improve your mental wellbeing.
  • Giving – Acts of giving and kindness can create positive feeling. Helping others has powerful benefits in reducing stress. It helps us keep a sense of perspective and feel more positive.
  • Take notice – Mindfulness and awareness of your thoughts and feelings, yourself and the world around you are an important way of controlling anxiety and stress. Remember the simple things that give you joy.

A flexible future

We are all aware that change is needed. Our homes are increasingly our workplaces. This might save money and time for some, but at the expense of ‘sameness’ and less exercise. We have also lost the sights and sounds on our commute, that space to mentally shift from home to work and a contrasting work environment with vital social interaction. We used to talk about work/life balance but boundaries have become blurred and there is a risk of a work/life merge unless we are in a position to take back control. Taking personal responsibility for switching off from work mentally, as well as closing down your laptop at the end of the day can really help to begin to redefine boundaries, and leaders should ‘lead by example’ in this respect. A culture where people are contactable at any time is not healthy for anyone.

Traditionally, health initiatives in the workplace put more emphasis on sickness and safety issues. However, there is also a responsibility for businesses to support employees’ mental health and well-being, regardless of whether people are working remotely or back in the office.

At Hyphen, we have taken the lessons we learned from our Flexible Working Trial in the UK last year and after consulting with our staff across all of our international offices, we are developing a Flexible Working Policy for all of our staff. Our policy will be applied fairly to everyone at Hyphen and supported by our company values “we work as One Hyphen” and “we embrace the future today”. We want to take the positive aspects of lockdown we have all experienced and give people more choice in how, when and where they work. Now and in the future.

Our lives and our business have irrevocably changed due to the effects of the pandemic.  We are using this as an opportunity to build on our experiences at Hyphen and to navigate a future that is supported by positive change. As colleagues, or business partners, we are all in this experience together, and like the changing seasons, we will survive and flourish into the future.