“I feel extremely lucky - I have work that inspires me, space and tools to work from home, financial security, a team that is self-organising, team mates that are friends too, a business that’s not severely impacted by Covid and lockdown, a family that is healthy, and children old enough to manage school work themselves - never a dull moment. I haven’t enjoyed not seeing people and having casual chats and coffees, I find Zoom meetings long and tiring and I miss the freedoms we used to take for granted. What I have treasured is having more time - rolling out of bed to start work, having more time with the children around, doing more cooking, and having walks and picnics with the kids.” - Founder

It’s fair to say, a lot has happened in the world this year! Our recent wellbeing session revealed some by now, familiar challenges of working and living in a pandemic: working alone, extensive video calls, work/life boundaries, isolation, anxiety and connection. We’ve noticed that we miss the subtle interactions of the office space; how being connected to people over making a coffee in the kitchen is so important not only for our productivity but also our sense of connection and belonging. And how the physical transition points of the day importantly mark the healthy separation of our different selves. We have all had challenges. Sharing stories and experiences is powerful and as we near the end of this extraordinary year, Unboxeders have been generous enough to share some of the things they have found that have helped their experience and wellbeing from exercise to appreciating the things you have and the people you know.

Miro board for wellbeing session

Wake up and smell the routine

“When working from home it can be difficult to have work and life balance. What really helps me is: Waking up early in the morning, like 7-7:30 (even though I am not a morning person), doing some exercises: going to the gym, yoga, or just a little walk in a park. After that I still have some time just for me and my cup of coffee.

After that working starts. I try to take like 5 min breaks every 1-2 hours, just to stretch, walk around (not always works, but I am doing my best). Have a reminder for that. I try to finish my work at 6pm. 6 pm is when I should close my laptop and stop thinking about work (again not always the case, but I am aware that that is the right thing to do for my mental health)

Basically this kind of schedule helps me to split the day into 3 sections: me time, work time and family time. This way I don’t feel like I am stuck in the ‘Groundhog Day’ movie!” - Developer

Living and working under Covid-19 restrictions has meant we’ve had to make some huge shifts in our routines and organisation. Our homes have had to accommodate our work space, the daily commute has gone, giving some of us extra time in the day, creating more work for others. The markers of school drop offs, or morning gym sessions all shifted. Our private spaces have become our public spaces and as such we have had to organise our environment and our tech to work best for us. Instead of closing the office door we have closed our laptops and moved to a different room at the end of the day. It turns out, routine is important so we have had to create new ones, and be more attentive to daily markers to help separate our experiences and prevent us feeling like we are in Punxsutawney

“I have set up my desk so I'm facing a window (I know not everyone will be able to do that but I like being able to at least look outside). I have also started turning my camera off if I've been on a lot of calls and feel exhausted from 'performing' i.e always smiling. I have a mini routine too - coffee in the morning (usually just in time for stand-up) and coffee in the afternoon (usually around 2.30-3)... obviously, I just want a coffee but the act of getting up and making it also means I don't just sit at my desk for the entire day.” - Product

Having routines unconsciously takes away some of the effort of having to make decisions. I had never heard of decision fatigue until Covid-19! During the pandemic decision making has become even more effortful than it normally is as we experience levels of uncertainty, continual risk assessing, considering choices to make with no real insight into which choice might be best. Biologically our nervous systems have been on high alert for threat for months now. And that is exhausting.

“Tidy your desk every night when you finish so it’s more appealing to return to the next day. I’ve been making the most of the routines and rituals that were challenging when you had to leave the house and go to work, fitting in family breakfasts and children’s bath times - not having to rush for the train is much appreciated! Having set times around coffee/tea/lunch is important.” - Designer

Tidy desk that shows home working

Working and living in our private spaces 24 hours a day, has made a lot of us think about our home environment, the things we have in it, and how they make us feel. Not everyone has been in a comfortable place to work and it has to be acknowledged that for many people it has been very challenging. Being mindful of the space you are occupying and how best to make it optimal and comfortable, as best you can, has supported wellbeing.

“I actually decided to apply Marie Kondo methodology to my own place and Yes I can recommend it. It is smart, very interesting and it does bring a sense of wellbeing. As my client said the other day “we’re not really working from home, we are living at work.” It might be kind of true but either way making this environment as clear as possible is definitely a big plus.” Designer

Getting out and about

“For lockdown (in general) - I have tried several times to 'have a plan' to go out for a walk every single day. This is a great idea in theory but it often doesn't happen so I'm not going to beat myself up over that.. However, when I do get outside for a bit I always feel much better.” - Product

The importance of spending at least some time in green space daily or bringing nature inside, is well documented as being hugely beneficial for our emotional and physical wellbeing. It can improve mood, reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, improve your physical health and self esteem. The experience for many is found to be calming - and calm is what we’ve needed.

“When you go outside (which is important, even in winter), really notice the tiny details that make a difference in nature. We all love the feeling of the sun our face, but take a moment to notice how cold, crisp air feels on your skin, how the leaves change colour, how the bare twigs look against a blue or grey sky” - Developer

Country churchyard at Staverton in Devon

What’s great about this description is that it combines the experience of being outside with some mindfulness, a useful tool for managing overwhelming thoughts and feelings, once you’ve got the hang of it!

With gyms and leisure activities closed or severely restricted during the lockdown periods many of us have taken to walking or running in our local green spaces and parks.

Some of us have re-discovered things that once felt like a bit of a chore but now feel essential to the day.

“The key thing that has helped me through lockdown, especially during the early months, was dog walking. Whilst I’ve always enjoyed walking Genie, it was usually a quick one before I got on my bike to work, and it was sometimes a bit of a chore to be honest. During lockdown, however, it immediately became an essential part of my daily routine. I extended them to somewhere between 1.5 and 2 hours, to replace the exercise I was missing through not cycling, and my first standup of the day was often done via Zoom in the park. Genie became part of the team on the project I was working on and I actually think the rest of the team enjoyed seeing her in the morning. The excuse to leave the house, the exercise, the chance to be out hearing birdsong without traffic or aeroplanes, was a major factor in me surviving that early lockdown experience.” - Director and Head of Product

Martyn Evans and dog, Genie

Small and achievable goals

“Make a short list of small and achievable things each week - no more than two or three. Something like “find a new recipe for this particular food I like and bookmark it. If they are really small and achievable, they will get done and you will feel a sense of triumph. Don’t set big goals or too many, or you will feel overwhelmed.” - Developer

This is good advice for goal setting. Lockdown brought different expectations of how to spend our time. Toxic productivity is a pervasive part of our socio-economic culture and even more so during lockdown, suggesting all the things we could do with the newly “gifted” time some people had - learn a new language, run a half marathon. As with most things, some new productivity can be really helpful and part of goal setting and focus in times of uncertainty. But if it’s not an achievable goal, or begins to feel obsessive then it becomes unhelpful and starts to influence thoughts of “I’m not doing enough” with my time.

In times of crisis, often just getting through the day is enough and something to be recognised. Setting small and achievable goals can feel rewarding, mark time and boost motivation.

Physical exercise

“What I like about HIIT routines is being able to see quite visible progress on things, makes me feel like I’m not just wasting away months of my life. I think having less social events and things that you can do means there’s fewer milestones, so it’s hard to get a gauge on how fast time passes”- Delivery

We have had some of the biggest restrictions on our movement in a lifetime, and with that many of us found the opportunities for moving and exercising were less! The physiological benefits of physical exercise are apparent - but much evidence shows that it is just as beneficial for our mental wellbeing. It can raise your self-esteem, help with goal setting and challenge and causes chemical changes in your brain which can help to positively affect your mood.

“In the first few weeks of lockdown, the things that got me through - hands down - were yoga, meditation and a bit of Joe Wicks! With normal routines out the window the daily workouts got me focussed, kept me and my son (mostly me!) entertained and filled in the normal commute-to-work time. Unbelievably, YouTube was a lifesaver! I can’t express enough how much yoga helps to keep me mentally and physically grounded. It’s so important to carve out that time - though I’m less often on the mat now than in lockdown 1.0, I’m really trying to step it up again! Remembering to breeeeeathe, be present in the moment and practice mindfulness as often as possible. Self-love is so important and I think it enables us to reach out when we need, and recognise when others need it too.” - Business Development

Unboxeders have been finding that different types of exercise are working to boost mental wellbeing as much does our physical selves. Whether it’s been lunchtime run, a morning workout or yoga, keeping physically active has been important.

Connecting with people

Good relationships are so important for our mental wellbeing, research shows that happy people spend more time with others and have a richer set of social connections. Rich relationships help to build a sense of belonging and self worth, give an opportunity to share experiences, and to both provide and receive social support. Staying connected with our colleagues, friends and family has been made more challenging and even more important over this last year - and a real focus for us at Unboxed. We all miss the face-to-face experience of talking to each other and it is something that I think we won’t take for granted again. Technology has magically enabled us to keep working, keep connected to our colleagues, our clients, friends and families. But it has also taken its toll in terms of fatigue and the loss of nuance.

So when we have been able to meet up for a socially distanced lunch or project picnic it has really boosted spirits. Even an afternoon in the office for a couple of us has felt like a treat.

Graeme McCubbin in Unboxed office in London

“Personally, I have really valued reconnecting with a friend. In normal times lives become so busy and it’s easy to lose sight of those important connections you have with people, perhaps take them for granted. Good relationships enrich your life. The last few months have both prompted and provided an opportunity for walking, talking and supporting each other, through some challenging times. We have made the effort to re-discover our friendship and hopefully hold on to it with more care.

At work I have really appreciated the coffee catch ups, and the other opportunities we have at Unboxed to keep connected. It’s been great to see people at Unboxed breakfast each week, the Women’s Hour sessions and Linkers and Thinkers meet ups. It’s not the same as meeting in real life, but it has felt even more important through this year.” - People and Operations

Looking to 2021

Stepping into 2021 isn’t going to be stepping back into the world we knew pre-Covid but hopefully we’ll come back refreshed from Christmas, seeing loved ones, and importantly having some time to reflect on what has been quite a year. We wish all our colleagues, clients and friends of Unboxed the very best for the holidays and 2021.

Written by Vicky Peel