After 18 months of scrambling to keep up with lockdown restrictions and dos and don’ts in the ‘new normal’, many companies have been forced to create haphazard post-pandemic hybrid working for employees. Some have had the advantage of being early adopters, but many still face challenges as we consider returning to workplaces.

In an exclusive series of roundtables hosted by the Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards team, we take a look at the challenges hybrid working poses to maintaining culture, morale, and staff retention, as explained by a panel of wellbeing experts.  

”We have one aim, which is to normalise the conversation around mental wellbeing,” says Simon Scott-Nelson, CEO of Wellity Global and co-founder of the Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards. ”It’s a huge collaborative effort and it stems from my own issues with my mental health a few years ago. The fear factor of when your own mental health is in decline, especially at the workplace…I never want that to happen to anyone else.”

The awards programme was launched to recognise and champion the organisations and individuals creating supporting and inclusive workplaces today. Nominations for the 2021 awards closes on 24 August 2021, which is what prompted this round table series where wellbeing experts tackle the biggest issues facing businesses and their people right now. 

Speakers:

  • Simon Scott-Nelson, Wellity Global & Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards
  • Jonathan Davies, Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards
  • Charlie Winton, OK Positive
  • Christine Beardsell, Kiteline Health
  • Clare Henson-Bowen, Bespoke Wellbeing
  • Danielle Pratt, SockMonkey Studios
  • Ellie Caley, Wellity Global
  • Lucy Vallis, Home Office

Start by listening to your staff

While the pandemic has forced the hand of millions of businesses to adopt hybrid working models, many of them don’t know where to start. ”Many businesses know that there are a lot of benefits to home working and they’ve saved money from closing offices. But for some, it’s been a complete whirlwind because they didn’t have much in the way of flexible working for staff pre-Covid,” says Clare Henson-Bowen. 

Ultimately, knowing where to start comes from knowing what your employees need individually and making decisions that include them. 

For larger organisations like the Home Office, a one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid working would never work. “We have 37,000 employees, and the 9-to-5 system is quite sexist and doesn’t really work for half our demographic,” says the Home Office’s Lucy Vallis. 

The Home Office responded to the lockdown by keeping offices open for people who needed it for their own mental wellbeing. “For some people, working from home is not good for their mental health. We’ve asked our people, ‘what do you want to do? What would make you feel more secure?’”

While 19 July has been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ where the country can make its move towards life before Covid, Lucy says that it still means setting realistic expectations. “We’re not saying everyone has to come back to work. But we’d like to see you in the office half of the time.”

“The hybrid working model is what we’ve always been doing. We’ve just given it a name now.”

Lucy Vallis, Home Office

“We’re a smaller studio, so it’s been okay for us. We know all of our staff by name and talk to them everyday. We know where they stand, so it’s been easier to keep on track,” says Danielle Pratt from Sockmonkey Studios. “As we grow, we may not be able to give that personalised touch quite as much. We’ve been looking into our benefits system and bringing in our mental wellbeing strategy, even if we can’t take people to the side and check if they’re doing ok.”

A disturbing trend of online presenteeism and cyber bullying 

While working from home has cut down on ’time wasters’ like endless tea breaks and chit chat, the pressure to appear online at all times might be counter-productive, according to the panellists. “I’ve had some comms from people on the blooming light on (Microsoft Teams),” says Lucy, noticing a worrying trend of staff trying to appear online so their line managers see that they are working. ”Stop it! It’s leading to a cyber-stalking bullying environment.”

Destigmatising working from home may be the solution to tackle these trends. “It’s really about our belief about wellbeing. How do we care for people who have special conditions? How do we deal with those people because they will have on and off days all the time,” says Christine Beardsell from Kiteline Health.

What we’re realising now is that you can do a lot of things much quicker at home and prioritise your wellbeing, says Charlie Winton, founder of OK Positive. ”If you don’t appear online, the company might think you’re doing anything because you’ve been offline for two hours. What difference does it make if you’ve done what you need to do for the day?” 

It comes down to trust and communication, he adds.

“You can’t take on someone for a six-month internship and completely fleece them, leaving them damaged in the end.”

Charlie Winton, OK Positive

“I’ve experienced that in recruitment, and that’s what led me to have 3 or 4 panic attacks a day and hide away in the company toilets. I was one of their best employees and brought in over a quarter of million pounds a year and they lost that and five other people and had to shut down their offices in Edinburgh,” Charlie shares. “Companies have got to look at their retention statistics. If we can articulate that taking care of your employees will help your business succeed and thrive during this time, we’ve done our job.”

Nominations for the Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards are open until 24 August 2021. Click here to apply now. You can also watch more insights from the wellbeing experts in the video above or check out our YouTube channel for more.