The 10th to 16th May is Mental Health Awareness Week, and for many people the last year will likely have been one of the most trying times of their lives. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has certainly been a test for our people and our resilience, and protecting the mental health of our team has been a key focus for us.
The challenges of lockdown
Whilst Dataplan have been lucky to be able to deploy our people quickly and effectively to home-working, that does not mean that it has not had its challenges. We recognised right away that communication and human connection can be easily lost when our colleagues are isolated at their homes, and so it became a priority to combat this.
Additionally, the wellbeing of our people became a genuine concern. Whilst they may be safer at home than they are in the office when it comes to the spread of COVID-19, other threats appear. The stress of managing home-working and young families, or even the loneliness for our colleagues who may live completely alone became a concern when it came to their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Flexibility and autonomy
From the beginning of the initial UK lockdown we have had plans and procedures in place to keep our people connected, provide certainty where possible, and control the elements that we can.
One of our steps was to relax our policies. We took away some of the boundaries to reduce stress, allowing more flexibility with working hours allowing our people to manage working from home around their other responsibilities such as home-schooling children. Managers were given the responsibility of making decisions for these matters within their teams, giving them more autonomy.
Around one quarter of our workforce still have school age children at home, and many others had to juggle working at home alongside other family members working from home too, so there was a big uptake of this.
Providing the tools
To allow our people to work from home effectively, and manage the challenges that came alongside it we implemented several tools and tactics. Our Managers received extra support to help them tackle the mental health issues that could arise during the lockdown as people become scared or feel isolated. They were provided with a “toolkit” which taught them how to identify possible mental health issues and how to start and have conversations around this topic.
In addition, our Head of HR Lesley Wilson is a qualified mental health first aider and has been on hand throughout the pandemic to help where needed. Lesley scheduled regular calls to check in on all of our people, and particularly where it had been highlighted that someone may be having a difficult time. Anyone who was deemed to be vulnerable was contacted on a regular basis for a friendly voice over the phone and support.
To tackle the issue of connectivity, our people learned to use Zoom for regular catch ups and Rocketchat as an instant messenger between individuals and teams. Channels were set up for company-wide requirements such as IT Support, Tax and payroll expert advice and a social channel for some fun.
Returning to work
Whilst working at home has had its challenges, and many people will be relieved to see their colleagues face-to-face again, we are conscious that for some the return to the workplace will bring its own challenges and concerns.
Naturally, it may feel strange to be in the office again having spent over a year at home. People may be wary of the risk of catching the virus or they may be anxious to be spending time in a social setting again. They may even be afraid that it will take time to adjust which could impact their productivity.
To combat this Dataplan will be adopting a phased return to work, meaning that our offices will not be at capacity right away. Initially only people that have been vaccinated, or have been given permission to return to the office without having had their vaccination (for example if they are no longer able to cope at home) will return, with regular lateral flow tests. Gradually, as the situation with the virus permits and more of our people receive their vaccines more will return.
We have also provided some video courses on topics such as resilience that are aimed at helping people regarding the return to work. This will help them to manage any anxiety they have about returning to their normal working environment.
With the theme for this year’s Mental Health Week, ‘Connecting with Nature’, we have also circulated some ideas for staff about simple things they can do to engage more with nature in their daily life.
What do our people say?
One staff member who took advantage of the greater flexibility was Chloe. She commented “Working whilst home schooling three children at secondary, primary and pre-school age throughout the lockdown was a bit of a balancing act. I am so grateful for being given the flexibility to change my working hours to help juggle it all and give us all a healthy work and family life balance and make it so much less stressful!”
Nicola added “Being able to work flexibly during lockdown really helped with two children at home, it allowed me to have the freedom of providing home schooling without affecting my ability to come to work. Without this life would have been very stressful!
Abbie also found the flexibility great in managing her stress levels and commented “Very grateful for the flexibility of working hours during lockdown and with a toddler at home, the work simply wouldn’t have been completed within the payroll deadlines. Working flexible hours saved my sanity although very tiring at times working late nights and early mornings was a much better option then juggling the pressure of work and entertaining a toddler.”