It would be an understatement to say that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on how businesses operate. Overnight, many companies were forced to introduce complete remote working environments. The immediacy of this required placing an enormous amount of trust and autonomy in their teams to prove they were capable of being responsible and productive outside the confines of an office. It’s, therefore, no surprise that across the last twelve weeks we’ve seen more articles covering topics such as wellness, mental health and wellbeing than we’ve collectively seen across the last several years.
As someone who is very passionate about championing and understanding the importance of well-being, I’m delighted to see the wealth of content being produced and promoted on mental, physical and emotional health since the pandemic began, but I can’t help but be equally disappointed that it’s taken a global health crisis to make more businesses proactively showcase the duty of care they have to ensure their staff are looking after themselves, and not just during the throes of COVID-19. How many organisations can genuinely say that employee wellbeing formed part of their culture and backed this up with a meaningful wellness strategy prior to this crisis?
Many businesses won’t ever truly understand the profound impact their actions (or in many cases, lack thereof) will have during this time. I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that has always supported flexible working arrangements. As a single mother of a three-year-old, who works full time heading up a department of 27 people across 11 countries, this opportunity is more valuable to me than anything else on the benefits menu. However, if we take a moment to think about all the businesses who have historically shied away from allowing remote working or offering flexitime as part of their benefits package, yet, here we are, coming to the close of a 12-week lockdown which has forced the entire country to do just that, proving that (lack of childcare aside), people can be as productive at home, if not more so, than in an office when they’re trusted and given the autonomy to do so. What’s more revealing is the number of businesses who have publicly shared what a resounding success remote working has been and are now fully adopting it as a way of working in the future. (my company included).
Prior to the impact of COVID-19, I hosted a workshop with every member of my team from around the world. This workshop has historically been two intensive days of strategy planning, training on new tools/technologies and networking with international counterparts. This year, I wanted to try something different. I invited the Founder of Innerfit to present two sessions; the first on the importance of movement and how this affects mental fitness and the second on Forming Healthy Habits and the impact on motivation. The content and exercises resonated very well with everyone in the room, but what spoke to me the most was the idea that if you don’t feel well emotionally, mentally, or physically, you aren’t going to work well. What good is asking for more money in those annual pay reviews if you don’t have physical energy, mental capacity, or ample time off to truly enjoy it? That’s not to say that people shouldn’t aspire to earn more, but it’s important to have perspective and acknowledge all the other aspects of a company culture that will contribute to your longevity, commitment and happiness within that organisation.
What we’ve learned from this crisis is far more powerful than simply saying people need more freedom and flexibility to work remotely, it’s proven that when a business genuinely invests in its people with a focus on how they can support them to have more time for their families, or for interests outside of work, you actually end up with a team of people far more committed, loyal and focussed on helping the business to be successful. When you normalise the idea of logging off at 12pm to do that hour-long yoga class, or go for a run, or attend a therapy session, or simply to meditate and be away from your screen, you remove the anxiety or guilt that people may feel for needing that hour to themselves, and the result – a company that performs better than it ever has before and people who feel a sense of loyalty and graciousness that’s almost as unprecedented as the global health crisis we’re all experiencing now.
I hope that as the country starts to ease lockdown restrictions and the economy opens up again, businesses continue to ‘practice what they preach’ and the introduction of new working environments and employee care and support is not just for a health crisis, because we know this is not the last crisis the world will face.