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COEL Guides: Workplace Wellbeing in a Post-Pandemic World

It’s no secret that a healthy and happy workforce is more productive, more engaged and more invested in company goals, which is why workplace wellbeing has become a hot topic over the past few years. So much so, that wellbeing initiatives have gone from being “nice to have” to an essential strategy for attracting and retaining the best employees.

However, even the most wellness conscious of businesses could not have prepared for the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a disastrous effect on the physical, mental and emotional health of the nation.

With the return to the office imminent, businesses need to look at how they can support their teams through this period of transition and provide new wellness initiatives that will overcome some of the challenges imposed by the pandemic.

Consult With Your Team

Whilst we’ve all been in the same boat for the past 14-months, every lockdown experience has been totally unique. Many have been furloughed for long periods of time, others have experienced financial difficulties, some have gone through the loss of a loved one and some of your team may even be experiencing the effects of long covid. It’s therefore essential that you consult with your team so you can gain a thorough understanding of the challenges they have faced and how this will impact their work going forward. Only with a proper understanding can you put in place strategies that will support your team through the transition and allow them to thrive in the long term.

Encourage Healthier Choices

With freedoms curtailed and unable to do the things that give us joy, lots of us have got into unhealthy habits during the pandemic – whether that be overindulging on snacks and takeaways, or simply not moving around as much because we’re stuck at home.

Get your team back to fighting fit by providing office perks that encourage healthier choices. Promote exercise by offering a cycle to work scheme, lunchtime yoga sessions, table tennis, or 5-a-side football matches after work.

Advocate healthy eating choices by providing a selection of complimentary healthy snacks and beverages around the office. A chilled water dispenser promotes hydration, ensuring your employees stay alert and focused throughout the day, whilst healthy snacks can provide a much-needed boost before lunch.

Provide More Mental Health Support

One of the often hidden implications of the pandemic has been its effect on our mental and emotional wellbeing.

The Mental Health Foundation, working alongside the University of Cambridge, Swansea University, the University of Strathclyde and Queen’s University Belfast, has undertaken extensive research throughout the pandemic looking at its effect on our overall mental health. Whilst the worst statistics were reported during the peak of the first and second wave, there are still a worrying number of people struggling with feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and even thoughts of suicide,14-months on from the beginning of the pandemic.

For that reason, it is essential that all businesses have plans in place to support their teams through the transition back to work.

Mental health charity Mind has published a fantastic Returning to the Workplace Toolkit with advice for employers on creating a framework that supports those suffering from mental health issues, maintains relationships and, where possible, putting in place strategies that prevent mental health problems from occurring.

Rethink Your Office Design

One area that is often overlooked when it comes to workplace wellbeing is the design of the office itself. Employees need to feel calm and comfortable in their workspace and a quality workspace design makes for a less stressful and more productive environment. Below are just a few office design strategies that will have a real impact on your team’s wellbeing.

Create Varied Workspaces

Different teams work in different ways. Whilst some (such as sales) will spend much of their time on the phone talking, others (such as finance) may require peace and quiet to focus. In an era of open-plan offices, this can often cause tension.

Moving away from a strict floor plan whereby everyone has an assigned desk and creating designated quiet zones, breakout rooms, collaborative zones and communal areas ensures everyone has somewhere to go to work effectively without feeling like they’re imposing on their teammates. The experienced COEL team is skilled in advising on creating the perfect working space for your requirements.

Organise Your Office Around Natural Light

Natural light supports the production of vitamin D, serotonin and melatonin, which in turn improves sleep patterns, elevates mood and boosts the immune system. Natural light is so important to workplace wellbeing, that employees who sit next to a window are actually less likely to take time off work sick.

Whilst building design dictates the maximum amount of natural light available (more windows, south-facing facade etc.) there are small changes you can make in the office itself to ensure you make the most of what’s available. Simply removing blinds and moving desks around with the seasons can have a massive effect on the amount of daylight that shines into the office.

Bring the Outdoors In

Indoor plants not only improve the look of a space, they also offer several health benefits. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that having plants in the office lowered stress, boosted productivity and even reduced absence due to sickness.

There are also physical benefits from introducing plants to your workplace, including improved air quality and better acoustics, as plants naturally absorb sound.

Create a Coffee Shop Culture

We all understand the importance of taking screen breaks throughout the day, and providing quick and convenient access to coffee, water and other refreshments is a great way of ensuring your team makes room for a bit of downtime and stay hydrated till home time.

Place commercial coffee machines and water coolers around the office alongside relaxed communal areas with cafe-style seating. This will go a long way in creating a warm, friendly and creative company culture in which your people can thrive.

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