Return to the Office
10 Steps to creating an Era of Thoughtfulness and Respect
10 Steps to creating an Era of Thoughtfulness and Respect
Supporting mental health and wellbeing climbed higher on the agenda for many organisations during 2020 and this is a hugely positive step forward. Many people have experienced extremely challenging times and it is important that, as we all start to make a return to the workplace or settle more permanently into new working routines, we are all observant of our own thoughts and moods and do what we can to look after ourselves and look out for the wellbeing of those around us.
For many the start of the 2020s has felt like the Age of Anxiety, however, there are simple, positive things we can all do to take what we’ve learnt from the pandemic and start to shape an Era of Thoughtfulness and Respect in the workplace. Here are 10 steps to supporting wellbeing at work through simple, thoughtful and respectful acts that will help you and others feel more in control of your emotions and behaviours.
1. Adopt a practical, information-led approach
Anxiety stems from ambiguity, so focus first on gaining certainty and clarity about simple everyday things. Think about the useful information that will help you make practical decisions day to day and take positive action. For example, find out about any changes to workplace protocols and procedures so you know what to expect. Ask which individuals and teams are in the office when and take the time to pass relevant information on to people you work with.
When world events might seem overwhelming, keep work priorities clear and simple. Create and share action plans and use these to decide on the two or three things you are going to achieve each day. This will give you focus and purpose, help you plan your working day and feel in control. By thinking about what information your teams might find useful, you can bring them some certainty and reassurance too and help them take effective steps towards achieving the end goal, even on the most difficult days.
2. Encourage communication and connectivity
Traditionally it might not be common to discuss feelings openly at work, but research has shown that communication and connectivity can have a hugely positive impact on mental wellbeing. Lots of teams have stayed well connected during the working from home period, however, a return to the office might mean reaching out to other individuals in the business too and building / rebuilding rapport with them. If you’re less comfortable talking to people about their personal life (or them asking about yours) simply keep it professional by asking people how they feel about their working arrangements, whether they are coming into the office, working from home or a bit of both and aim to build to more of a personal connection when you feel trust has been established.
Recognise also that everyone has had a different experience over the last year and that events and experiences change people’s perspectives and attitudes, and so checking in on a regular basis is important. Create a safe space by sharing some of your own concerns. Listen without judgement and seek to understand but not to give advice.
3. Be interested but not intrusive
2020 became the year when people asked ‘How are you?’ and really tuned in to the answer, and there is no reason for this not to continue. Showing interest in your colleagues (and not just the work they are doing) will support their mental wellbeing. However, be respectful of people’s privacy and be careful not to probe too much.
Be sensitive to different beliefs and circumstances and recognise the link between wellbeing and performance. Ask each individual what they need to feel supported and engaged and be in the best position to deliver their best work.
4. Be honest, upfront and manage expectations
For people returning to the office it will be in very different circumstances to when they were last there. Anxiety might come from the question ‘How am I going to manage… [if my child has to home school / to take care of a sick relative / readjusting to peak time commutes]?
Additional anxiety then comes from ‘What will my manager say?’ when anticipating how to broach the subject.
If this is you, find a respectful, honest and considerate way to explain your situation and request any kind of flexibility you might need. If you are a manager, give the same thought and consideration to your team members.
5. Be prepared for plan B… or C
Being able to adapt to change will be an ongoing requirement in the 2020s and beyond. Change evokes a wide array of emotions in people, especially when it’s unexpected and the outcome is uncertain. By expecting change, thinking ahead to what the nature of that change might be and reminding yourself and others that you all adapted to sudden and unforeseen change throughout the pandemic, you will be less likely to feel stressed by the thought of future changes.
When change occurs, recognise that different people will respond in different ways, and some will accept the change sooner and more easily than others. By being patient and communicating what is known as well as the opportunities the change might bring, you can help individuals to make their own decisions on how they are going to move forward.
6. Be in tune with your emotions and focus on what you can control and influence
As well as asking others ‘how are you?’, show self-respect and self-care by asking ‘how am I?’ Don’t accept a weak response: the words ‘fine’, ‘good’, ‘ok’ do not describe emotions. Get into the habit of naming your emotion and understanding its source.
Other people are often the source of a person’s anxiety – reactions to and opinions about mask wearing and vaccines are great examples. Be aware of your own triggers of anxiety and focus on what you can do. For example, if you’re not comfortable with someone else’s behaviour, walk away.
Be equally aware of the impact your behaviours might have on others and respect the decisions they make. There are huge emotional benefits to feeling in control of your own life, but this does not mean it’s right to try to control or influence what other people think or do.
7. Be alert to sources of friction
Everyone has an opinion, especially around the ‘could have’s and ‘should have’s regarding the pandemic. Some have been frustrated with the government-imposed restrictions and some have been worried for their or their family’s health and wellbeing. Think carefully about what opinions you choose to share. Avoid fuelling Covid-rage and leave politics at home.
An unpleasant and growing trend in 2020 was the divisive commentary which has permeated some news channels and social media. When anxiety levels are high, people’s tempers flare more readily and communication becomes more aggressive. Seek to maintain a calm and inclusive work environment by respecting differing viewpoints and demonstrating a patient, empathetic and compassionate approach.
8. Make office days count
It’s likely that many people will be working in a hybrid way from home and in the office for the foreseeable future. Being in the office will probably be different to pre-Covid times, at least initially. You will have fewer people there each day and in-person meetings might be restricted at first, meaning platforms like Teams and Zoom will continue as important channels of communication.
Think about what you want to get out of your time in the office. Plan your office days to coincide with those you most want / need to see in person. Avoid filling your day with virtual meetings that you could have done from home. Instead, take the time to re-connect on a personal level with your colleagues and make your office days all about relationships and collaboration.
9. Hold on to good habits (and ditch bad ones)
One of the benefits of working from home is that many people have had the chance to exercise and sleep more than usual and spend time preparing meals. Exercise, sleep and nutritious food (avoiding the sugar and caffeine rollercoasters) are the key ingredients to physical wellbeing (including healthy immune systems) and, as the body and mind are connected, they also contribute significantly to mental wellbeing.
Of course, conversely, working from home has meant that the biscuit cupboard is always just a few steps away. And for many people there has been a blurring of work and home life, with a significant amount of people finding themselves working longer hours than ever before.
The pandemic has made people more aware of their physical and mental health and this is a great opportunity for each of us to cultivate renewed respect for our body and mind. How we feel translates directly into how we perform at work. Reflect on the positive habits that have worked for you and boosted your energy, happiness and productivity. Think about how you are going to build them into your new routine. If you are a manager, have the same conversation with your team members and encourage them to make long lasting positive changes.
10. Set the tone and look to the future
The days of everyone being in the office together may be over. It is likely that, whilst many might return to the office a few days a week, not everyone will, and this more agile and remote way of working will create communication challenges which will test working relationships.
As you adjust to new ways of working and interacting, focusing on being thoughtful and respectful – directed towards yourself as well as to others – will help you retain a calm, considered approach, leading to better decision making and sending out a ripple of wellbeing to those around you.
People are emotional beings, and emotions can’t always be predicted or controlled. However, by being mindful and purposeful about the way you behave towards yourself and others you can better shape the person you want to become.
Consider this question: “In 3, 6 or 12 months time, what positive changes will I have made that will have changed me for the better and had a positive impact on those around me?”
DRIVE recognise how stress and anxiety affect wellbeing and performance and can lead to extended periods of employee absence. We show individuals and teams how to manage their own wellbeing and resilience through practical, bespoke strategies. This provides benefit in both the immediate and longer term for the individual and consequently the organisation.