Mental Health Staff Champion Sarah Massey (Department of Mathematics) shares her experience and advice on protecting her wellbeing while working from home.
2020 has thrown up some interesting challenges so far, and forced many of us into completely new patterns, ways of interacting and styles of working.
For myself, it's meant a complete shift in my approach to my job. A substantial part of my role revolved around being physically present in the office for student and staff enquiries and responding directly to any issues in person or on the phone, as well as organising events. As you would expect, that's completely changed.
Having such a people-focused role (and my personality type being firmly labelled ‘extrovert’ by every online test going) has made working remotely personally tough, and is affecting my mental and physical wellbeing. Human contact is incredibly important for all of us in varying ways, so during these times it's important we find new ways, tools and resources to look after ourselves mentally and physically, whilst also continuing to do our work and supporting our colleagues where possible.
I have found two apps particularly useful in connecting me to colleagues in a social and professional capacity: Zoom and Microsoft Teams. In the Department of Mathematics, we have almost daily Zoom coffee breaks with academics, professional service colleagues, class teachers, PhD students and even some of our visiting professors. This is a great way for us to meet for a chat, like we would if we all bumped into each other in the kitchen during the day!
We've also (almost…) banned any work talk, which makes it a more inclusive space for anyone who wants to get involved, as well as breaking up the day. These coffee breaks are brilliant, as they're one of the few times I'll see my colleagues face-to-face. Having a separate space to be sociable with colleagues is important to me, so using Zoom as this space where we can all meet, talk and simply be in each other’s (virtual) presence has been reassuring, fun and vital.
Moving away from social tools, having a collaborative space where me and my colleagues across the School can work on documents simultaneously is key for efficient working. Rather than sending documents backwards and forwards and having long email chains, I've found using Microsoft Teams a wonderful addition to my workplace tools. Not only can you work on files at the same time as each other, but you also have multiple channels and tabs within a Team to help organise the space and themes more practically.
For example, the Mental Health Champion Team has a few channels to help organise the needs of the team, which range from meeting minutes, videos, useful external webpages and the general tab for other discussion. Being able to organise within Teams makes it an asset for groups of all sizes, as it keeps it relevant and succinct to what the users within the Team need. Also, it's a great place for a social channel, which we have on our Department of Mathematics Team, so we can share recipes, pictures, funny videos, and links to resources for families.
My wellbeing is directly impacted by having control over how I work and collaborate with my colleagues. Work currently is one of the few constants in my day to day, so being able to manage it effectively as part of my wider aims of self-care and wellbeing is important on a multitude of levels. Taking frequent breaks from my laptop, or any screen for that matter, taking the full lunch hour, going for a short walk (in or out the house!), and doing light stretching and exercises regularly all help me manage any stresses and frustrations I feel during the day.
Whilst it is all well and good offering suggestions, it's important to make sure you understand yourself and your needs during this time. I need structure to give myself a base to work from, whereas I know plenty of people who become overwhelmed with the pressure of organisation and prefer a more spontaneous approach to adapt to their needs. What works for one person will not always work for another, so trying new things and finding out what can work for you at different times is very important. Not only will it help you understand yourself better, but it'll have a knock-on effect on your mental health, wellbeing, work, productivity, physical health and your relationships with those around you. A butterfly effect if you will!
If you haven’t already checked out LSE’s Staff Wellbeing page, then I urge you to do so! There are online resources and helpful guides which cover a range of topics, from mental wellbeing to physical health and beyond. As a Staff Mental Health Champion, we're also here to listen and signpost to resources that you might find useful. Mind, the mental health charity, has amazing webpages with lots of useful information, so I'd highly recommend checking these out if you're stuck, or looking for further information for yourself or a loved one.
Sarah Massey, May 2020