The hyacinths are blooming and there’s no-one to smell them: Remote wellbeing in the time of COVID-19
April 8, 2020
The Unboxed team has been remotely working for three weeks now, and at the end of the second week of lock down, as I write this.
The last time some of us were in the office, the hyacinths that were brought to cheer us all into spring were just about to bloom. That pungent aroma and vibrant purple will now, sadly, be appreciated only by an empty office.
Adjusting to a new way of working
It’s fantastic that we have the tools and capacity to be able to work and communicate remotely, as an organisation. We are all adjusting to a new way of working, connecting differently with colleagues, customers, family and friends and dealing with a frightening and uncertain global situation.
But with good humour, much kindness and good support of each other, we are cracking on with projects, welcoming our newest joiners, and continuing to work and socialise together, albeit from our own homes.
Remote working isn’t new to our team, but it’s usually undertaken through choice, the need and ability to work flexibly, perhaps around caring responsibilities, geography or quiet space. But when remote working becomes “enforced” and for an ill-defined time period during a global crisis, it will inevitably throw up some new challenges and even some opportunities.
Supporting and nurturing wellbeing is an integral part of our strategy for Unboxed and we’ve been working hard on this for some time. It is now as important as ever to support our collective and individual wellbeing as best we can while we are remote and more isolated.
In a previous blog post, I talked about ‘connection’. We found that it could already be a challenge to be ‘connected’ to our colleagues even when we share an office space, with hot desking, headphones and internal communications. Saying hello, catching up with someone while making a coffee, having lunch or chatting through a project face-to-face all provide important moments of connection.
With isolation and remote working, we inevitably lose this way of connecting. The experience of video conferencing all day (while brilliantly enabling us to continue working) can also be challenging and exhausting. Particularly as we now have to communicate with friends and family this way too. Turn taking, pauses and silences, and listening skills all have to be navigated a bit differently. Nevermind your broadband working!
But it’s so important for us to stay connected with each other however we can. On top of ‘physical’ distancing* from friends and family, being remote from work colleagues we normally see daily can begin to make us feel isolated. Checking in regularly on Slack, Zoom weekly breakfasts, daily lunches and the usual end-of-week Whines and Cheers means we are all remaining in touch through regular touch points and supporting each other.
Holding our weekly Friday team retrospective (‘Whines and Cheers’).
One of the pluses of this kind of connection is that we get to see more of peoples’ pets, children and homes. Some of us are having to manage looking after children and young people, supporting housemates, have friends and family who’ve lost jobs, or supporting family members working on the frontline of COVID-19, while continuing to work and manage our own mental and physical wellbeing.
Realistically our day-to-day routines and work schedules will be compromised and our needs perhaps a little different. There is a huge amount of information about the current situation of lock down, looking after our mental and physical wellbeing and it can become overwhelming. We are all trying to look after ourselves, our colleagues and our communities, adjusting to the new way of living and working.
A guide for remote wellbeing
To help colleagues with this, we have put together a guide to remote wellbeing during this crisis, highlighting some of the challenges and some opportunities along with some helpful signposts.
Much of the current anxiety will come from the uncertainty we are surrounded by, and as the situation changes and develops we will iterate on our support as best we can. When we move on from the COVID-19 crisis and begin to return to some sort of normality the office will have some summer blooms to welcome us back.
*I have referred to ‘physical distancing’ as opposed to ‘social distancing’ because while we must adhere to physical distancing from each other, we must also remain socially connected.