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Working Through a Winter Covid-Land: Maintaining Personal Resilience and Looking After your Teams

It’s November 2020, and the chances of a Covid-free Christmas are looking pretty slim. Although Wales has just exited its “fire-break” lockdown, England is one week into lockdown 2.0 and UK-wide restrictions in one form or another do not look like they are going anywhere anytime soon. People have lost jobs, businesses have had to close, and children and young people have lost out on valuable time in education. Close relationships are being lived out at a social distance, relatives haven’t hugged in months, and everybody is sick to the back teeth of banana bread. Safe to say, a lot of people are feeling pretty down-in-the-dumps.

Winter is coming, and even in normal times many people find that their mood darkens with the shortening days. Without the freedom to enjoy the things we might normally look forward to in the run up to Christmas, this year’s winter may be looking, to many of us, especially bleak.

What are we seeing at The Association?

We are hearing, unsurprisingly, from members and providers in our programmes that there is an increased need for services across the board, which often coincides with a reduced workforce due to illness (even more so during these winter months) and other care obligations. Add to that a further reduction in capacity as people’s personal resilience begins to wane, and you are looking at a demand for services that is simply impossible to meet.

We therefore thought it might be helpful to share how we, at The Association, are looking after our personal resilience whilst working from home. As ever, we appreciate that everyone’s circumstances are different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to self-care. However, we hope that sharing some of these insights may make a positive difference to how you, and perhaps your colleagues, maintain personal resilience during these difficult days.

How do we maintain personal resilience at The Association?

You’ve probably come across more than a couple of articles outlining tips on self-care during the pandemic (we particularly liked this one by New Economics Foundation), but how can you actually implement these tips within an organisation to empower everybody to be personally resilient? When it comes to working from home, Microsoft’s Director of Product Design put together an expectedly cool list of universally helpful tips in an article back in March. But we, at the Association, thought you might also like our two pennies’ worth, so below are some examples of how we have supported each other to be resilient whilst working from home.

1. Take time out

This is a big one for us, and we actively encourage everyone to take breaks, holidays, and time away from screens and devices. Everybody has a different way of taking time out during the working day, whether it’s a fixed lunch hour, a dedicated five minute “wee and a tea” break between Zoom meetings, or “walking meetings” outside on the phone. The key is to do what works for you and be accommodating of your colleagues’ preferences.

At The Association, we understand that everybody has different working styles, with the morning larks, like our CEO, enjoying 05:00 starts (still the middle of the night in the opinion of the night owls), whilst others among us have been known to send a 21:30 email. We all work flexibly, but with the common understanding that no responses are expected (or even welcomed!) outside of normal working hours. Replying to emails during booked annual leave is practically a crime.

It can also be tempting not to take annual leave when your previous definition thereof required most of: plane, beach, sunshine, cocktails, and all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Whilst the first three may be a little hard to factor in (depending on how creative you want to get), the latter two are definitely possible, and you’d be surprised how much fun you can still have when “holidaying from home”. All of us who have taken annual leave have come back feeling much more rested and productive. We will travel again, but for now why not take the time to really appreciate what you have on your own doorstep?

2. Communicate and connect (but not too much)

We appreciate this sounds a little like one of BoJo’s Covid rules but hear us out. On the one hand, open communication within teams is vital for establishing working styles and patterns and making sure you work cohesively. At The Association, we often start meetings with a quick check-in to see how everybody is doing, and we have just started a Friday lunchtime “Team Timeout” where work-related chat is STRICTLY prohibited. Making time for such chats can lead to establishing much closer bonds than you might expect during remote working, which is especially nice if you joined remotely and have never actually met each other in person! We have a surprising number of gluten-free people in our team, which has led to many a shared cake-recipe and the discovery of Bake Off’s next star baker (we won’t tell you who)!

However, too much of a good thing can be detrimental, and all the screen-time can lead to “virtual burnout”. We’ve already mentioned that clear boundaries between your working and non-working hours are necessary to ensure you don’t feel like you’re at work 24/7, but it’s equally important to actually “down-tools” and get away from the screen. Some of us like to switch off and put away our devices at the end of the day, and if we’ve got emails or instant messaging on our phones we might switch off the notifications. Respecting each other’s boundaries is essential to ensuring everybody’s resilience.

3. Get in the rhythm

We know it sounds boring but do try to stick to a regular rhythm and routine. Whilst it can be tempting to forgo getting dressed in favour of snuggly Zoom calls from bed (after all, nobody can see below your head right?), establishing a regular routine really helps with that work / non-work divide that we talked about earlier. For example, you might wake up at the same time every morning, have a cup of tea, and do some form of exercise to set yourself up for the day. It’s also really important to leave the house and get some fresh air, even for a few minutes; failure to do so can have a really negative impact on your mental health.

Definitely don’t feel guilty, either, if part of your daily routine includes some life-admin such as putting on the washing or popping to the post-office. We might as well take advantage of the extra time at home and fitting some chores into your weekdays can free up your weekends to really switch off and relax: a modern-day luxury!

4. Bring on the bad days

Finally, even when you’ve implemented all of the above, accept that sometimes you’re just not going to be “feeling yourself”, and that’s OKAY. If you haven’t washed your hair, or you fancied putting on make-up but only ended up crying mascara down your cheeks when you realised you were out of coffee, it’s totally fine if you don’t want to switch your video on for your team call. Jokes aside, we’ve had days here where we’ve had to tell a colleague that we’re not feeling so good and take a little time out. It’s OKAY – it all balances out.

These are not normal times, repeat after us: it’s OKAY not to feel OKAY.