By Beth Hampson, Commercial Director, The Argyll Club
Many of the virtues of flexible working have rightly been celebrated during the pandemic. However, as we begin to face up to the prospect of protracted lockdowns and long-term home working, the flipside of the transformed world of work is becoming clear: Covid-fatigue, reduced productivity and loneliness. Is another pandemic – a mental health crisis – hot on the heels of Covid-19?
2020 has exposed the critical role that offices and cities play in maintaining the nation’s mental health. Despite the Government’s U-turn on returning to the office, the Prime Minister himself has stressed that we can still go into the office if homeworking is detrimental to our mental health. Meanwhile, JP Morgan has publicly declared its offices will remain open for those who need them for mental health reasons.
For many, the novelty of homeworking has worn off – over the summer and into the autumn months, London’s professionals told us time and time again how excited they were to regroup with their team, how much they missed London and how long-term lone working was affecting their productivity and happiness in their job. Look at the statistics, and they tell the same story. According to a recent Opinium poll, a startling 62% of UK workers have struggled with their mental health over the past year and 26% felt working from home had negatively affected their mental health.
Of course, during a pandemic, we must continue to redefine the world of work. But mustn’t we also remember our brains as well as our bodies? Offices are more than just a house for a business, they are also a home for employees to meet, chat and collaborate when needed. They are a facilitator of good mental health.
In this new era of the hybrid office-home model, there are ways in which business leaders can bring people together for the good of their minds, without compromising the health of their bodies.
Rethink the commute
In cities like London, some workers are keen to reduce their reliance on public transport in the wake of the pandemic. However, this doesn’t have to remove the office from their working week entirely. We’ve seen 80% of members seeking spaces with bike storage and shower facilities since lockdown, and a 10% uptick in demand for suburban offices.
Cycling is becoming a new commute for many. As well as allowing employees to save on public transport costs and avoid buses and trains, 86% of employees believe that cycling to work has led to health benefits and 60% believe that it has improved their productivity at work, according to research by Cyclescheme.
Harnessing workspaces that are close to ‘Boris Bike’ docking stations and cycle lanes, and that facilitate a cycle to the office with showers, means you can get teams together safely as well as ensure they arrive feeling empowered. Now, wellness at work must, and can, extend beyond the office door.
Quality not quantity
Just because we’re working from home more doesn’t mean we have to work from home all the time. Periodic face-to-face meetings must be a crucial element of the world of work going forward – think about monthly team meetings or a weekly office day as a group. In response to this shifting business demand, the office market has launched a range of flexible products: from dedicated desks and ‘day offices’, to meeting rooms on demand and video conferencing.
The option of an office for the day can offer businesses ultimate flexibility: their own private space to work and collaborate, whenever and wherever it is required. It removes the burden of a standard long-term lease without removing the ability for a team to work together when they need to. For employees – particularly those fighting Zoom fatigue – day offices prove a welcome relief. Given that the nation’s property owners and building managers have invested significant time and resource into ensuring their spaces are Covid-secure, these types of workplaces are safe as well as supportive of mental health.
Matching tasks to moods
Finally, we are seeing the business world’s understanding of an office change. Historically, a day working from home provided some calm away from a busy business; now, our members are telling us that a city workspace provides calm away from the hectic home.
It is clear that sitting at a desk in the city five days a week may not be the norm for most businesses for the remainder of this year. However, for many employees, there will be certain tasks – whether it be a big research project or an important client call – where they need space, quiet and calm to complete it to the best of their ability and to reduce the stress of trying to complete it from home.
Now, by utilising tools like day offices, meeting rooms and flexible workspaces, business leaders should be encouraging employers to think about what tasks they have on that week and where they would be best accomplished. There are safe spaces, and safe ways to get there, for employees who need a break from home. It is the role of the leader to ensure those conversations are taking place and teams have those options.
Whilst public health is paramount, mental health can’t be left behind. Offices are transforming, and are now spaces that you can use more flexibly – for the day or a few days a week – and use differently with improved cycling provisions. 2020 has taught us how important they are to the nation’s mental health. Employees are telling us they need these collaborative spaces and require time with their team. Business leaders mustn’t be too quick to lock the office door, but instead think how they can use the space differently.