It is said that ‘the hardest walk you can make is the walk you make alone’. For traditionally office-based professionals fast-approaching the UK’s first anniversary of working from home, this statement is likely to strike a chord.

Despite the benefits of remote working, many employees are fatigued, with their mental wellbeing bearing the brunt of repeated lockdowns and months spent behind screens. Amongst all the speculation about the death of the office and the home working revolution, we’ve failed to fully acknowledge the hidden mental health crisis that is brewing. Full-time homeworking is clearly not for everyone: according to a recent YouGov survey 39% of workers never want to work from home again in a post-pandemic world.

Some leaders have recognised this growing discontent, from BT’s Chief Executive Philip Jansen who recently warned of the fatigue and mental stresses amongst employees, to leading bank chiefs at the World Economic Forum who acknowledged that working from home is not sustainable. However, in the UK, as we reach the final stretches of winter and (hopefully!) a gradual release from lockdown, it is vital that we go further. More business leaders need to consider how to keep their teams motivated, engaged and happy.

Reconnecting with colleagues

Our clients have fed back that seeing teams in-person is what they have missed most whilst away from the office this year. As a result, we saw demand for flexible workspace products like day offices and coworking spaces increase following the first lockdown, as teams made up for lost quality time.

While we may not be able to regroup just yet, it is important that we do not let connectivity slip down the agenda. According to a recent report by Cushman & Wakefield on ‘Workplace Ecosystems of the Future’, half of employees have felt disconnected from colleagues due to remote working. As such, thinking of creative ways to keep company culture alive and well in the months ahead will be vital for sustaining team motivation and productivity until colleagues can once again safely see each other in person.

One such offering could be wellness packages that offer teammates the chance to come together virtually whilst also providing a much-needed boost to their wellbeing. For instance, Vox Media is hosting a daily story time for staff with young children and at The Argyll Club we are holding twice-weekly virtual yoga, meditation and Pilates classes for clients.

Until we can once again bring teams fully back together in the workplace, maintaining momentum with regular virtual activities that place wellness at their core can help keep your team united even whilst apart. The key is to avoid another much-dreaded Zoom quiz. 

Foster a culture of kindness

A silver lining of this crisis is that we have all learnt to appreciate our teammates and our community far more. Going forward, we must embed this in company culture from the top down. According to a report by Hall & Partners, 58% of employees believe that kind actions carried out by their employers during the pandemic have made them want to stay longer at the company.

Even the smallest gestures from business leaders can leave a lasting mark on long-term loyalty. Services such as Deliveroo for Business have seen a 25-fold increase in the number of companies providing virtual gift cards for their employees in recent months, and DeskBeers has seen huge demand from companies sending drinks to staff and customers during lockdown. Meanwhile, companies such as CitiMortgage have been using ‘spot bonuses’ to reward employees for specific results or actions.

Charity initiatives can also be a great way to reinvigorate team spirits, which not only encourage a culture of kindness amongst the workforce but also towards the wider community. At The Argyll Club, we recently launched our #loveforlondon initiative to support the city’s charities and help people get back on their feet during these challenging times. We’ve seen it not only inspire our team but also unite our business with its local community.

Offer flexible support

The future is flexible. Employees are rightly demanding a greater ability to work on a more flexible basis, and in turn businesses must adapt to ensure they are not just providing an attractive job offer but are also providing the kind of flexible support people really need during this crisis. For instance, Aviva recently announced that it is offering employees a ‘wellbeing day off’ this year as an extra day of annual leave.

Have frank conversations with your employees about how the home-working experience could be improved for them – are they struggling with IT glitches and need technical support; would more flexible hours allow them to juggle home-schooling and work more efficiently? Each employee will have different needs and responding to these flexibly and practically will provide them with support and in turn, ensure productivity levels remain high throughout lockdown and beyond.

Prior to the pandemic, retired CEO of Sodexo Michel Landel observed that “quality of life is the next frontier of [workplace] performance”. But now this comment rings especially true. Ultimately, for many workers, face-to-face time with colleagues and practical, flexible support from employers is fundamental to maintaining a high quality of life. For business leaders looking beyond lockdown, offering this support is also crucial in creating a successful hybrid workplace model, a combination of the best of office and remote working that is set to fly in the months ahead. For now, we must not let standards slip. We must keep our teams engaged and ready to walk together in-person once more.