The pandemic has affected all of us, in ways both seismic and small. But – taking an optimistic view – it’s not all bad.
Out of something so catastrophic, we have also seen the best out of people: communities have banded together, awareness of mental health and the power of self-care has risen, we have adapted to new, more egalitarian ways of working and achieved things that would previously not have been possible in such short time frames.
In spite of the ongoing and profound challenges of COVID-19, there are some encouraging positives we can take from it and, hopefully, carry them forward into a better future:
Home working is not without its pain points but one of its benefits is that it creates a more egalitarian work culture.
The first lockdown forced the hand of many businesses that had been previously reluctant to introduce home working. But, in trusting employees to work without the strict supervision of an office environment, to be fully responsible for their time and work-life balance can result in happier, healthier and more productive staff. In fact, an experiment by Stanford professor Nicolas Bloom found that remote workers are on average 13% more productive that their office-based counterparts . When an individual feels trusted by their employer it can be empowering and creates reciprocal respect and dedication in both parties.
Video calling has also helped foster a more democratic (virtual) workplace. On video chat we are all in displayed in the way, in the same size box. This can be a great equaliser and allows more open discussion between staff at all levels. On Zoom we can also see into our colleagues' personal space, which humanises staff – especially those in leadership or management roles – and makes us feel more empathetic towards our teammates.
Now we are physically distanced, colleagues and leadership are taking the time to check in with each other and ask, ‘how are you?’ in earnest.
In business, this year’s predicted targets would not have taken into account the pandemic and its consequences. This now gives organisations the opportunity reprioritise and adjust their current five-year plans to incorporate wellbeing. The balance between people and profit may be levelling out as we begin to see more sustainable business models thriving.
We have also found – working with an array of clients across an array of sectors – that leadership are inventing reasons to celebrate. And they’re getting rather creative with it too! Shout outs to colleagues, days-off for wellbeing, team ‘bake-offs’ and Friday evening cocktail classes all go towards boosting moral, team building and punctuating our time whilst working from home.
During the first lockdown, communities came together in a way that was completely unprecedented.
The NHS’ volunteers service was oversubscribed, gaining over a million volunteers just a few weeks after launching , neighbours picked up shopping for neighbours, and thousands of local groups were formed to support the most vulnerable in our communities, as all across the UK people went the extra mile to look out for one another.
And these connections, newly-formed relationships and WhatsApp groups continue to help people through the hard times. A study by Power to Change showed that 68% of UK adults don’t want to lose the renewed sense of community spirit and are pledging to do more in their local area when the crisis ends .
Johan Hari, author of Lost Connections, suggests that the antidote to anxiety and loneliness is human contact. So, in a time when loneliness is epidemic, feeling connected and joining in with community endeavours where possible has been, and continues to be, incredibly beneficial for our collective mental health.
Spring’s lockdown restrictions resulted in many businesses having to adapt to the digital marketplace extremely quickly.
The speed at which new processes were implemented – mobilizing in a matter of days what would have taken months in a pre-COVID world – was no small feat and pushed teams to collaborate more and put their trust one another. Moving at such fast speeds to implement these changes supports a case for less autocratic ways of working in the future, proving that a more collective approach is often more efficient.
Moving from a faster pace to a slower pace now; the gentle speed of a life lived in lockdown has improved wellbeing for employees surveyed at National Rail . Staff claimed this was due to reclamation of the time in which they would usually be commuting and that no longer having to present in a formal way at work felt less pressurising.
With billions of workers no longer making their daily commutes and hundreds upon thousands of commercial flights grounded, our carbon emissions have dropped significantly and on a global scale.
Alongside the blue skies in Delhi and clear waters in Venice, a study conducted this summer found that the concentration of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide was down by between 31-64% in 34 countries as a direct result of the pandemic .
Cleaner air is not only better for our planet but for human beings too, with the link between urban pollution and respiratory diseases well established. Compelled by these improvements, we are seeing more investment from governments and organisations in working towards a greener future and not letting the positive effect of the pandemic on the natural world be undone.
Just a few silver linings, but if these positives can be recognised, harnessed and incorporated into working and day-to-day lives post-COVID, we can move towards more conscious and compassionate future.
If your staff need any wellbeing or mental health support during this unusual time, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0203 637 7417.
 Thriving at work: a call to action, Mad World Summit, Dr Richard Peters, October 2020
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