With Mental Health Awareness Week ending on May 16th, Guy Windsor-Lewis, CEO & founder of digital property management firm Locale, shares his thoughts on the mental health struggles that have taken place since COVID-19; the importance of valuing wellbeing in the workplace all year-round, and how he maintained his own mental health during the pandemic.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a global need to put more focus on mental health?

Over the past 14 months, COVID-19 has put a spotlight on so much; sustainability, technology, community, but most importantly, mental health. There has been a clear struggle for many during the pandemic, and it has been eye-opening to see the vulnerability that goes beyond the physical. COVID has a knack for accelerating what should already be there. In the case of mental health, that’s a focussed response from businesses and the government, better resources, and most of all, space for the people to discuss the different ways in which mental health can be affected, and what we can all do to collectively help and support those who struggle around us.

The recent local elections have proved that mental health and the government’s strategy around this subject is incredibly important to voters. Certain parties have lost ground for not having a solid response to the mental health crisis, and not prioritising what is clearly an important issue for many communities.

One of the clear dominators, I believe, for a drop in mental health is the transition to remote working. I include myself in this, as it has been a challenge to work in long periods of isolation, and not being able to enjoy our office environment which is collaborative and social. While I believe some form of flexibility and remote working can have a positive impact for workplaces, social interaction is crucial, and it’s a moment that needs to be addressed.

What approach has Locale taken to tackle mental health issues that may arise from the COVID situation?

Locale already had mental health resources available to our team before the pandemic. We are  subscribed to a confidential and professional life management service which provides employees with a qualified counsellor who can offer personal support for practical and/or emotional challenges. Whilst usually conducted over the phone or online, face to face meetings can be arranged where clinically appropriate.

However, the first step we took as a business when the lockdown went into effect was to increase our level of communication. On a granular basis, all departments had daily ‘standup’ meetings to ensure staff had an opportunity to informally discuss the activities of the day, share a virtual coffee, and maintain social interactions.

We’ve actually recruited a number of people during the lockdowns, creating a risk that they may feel more isolated than usual due to a lack of face-time and familiarity with the team. To ensure they felt integrated and comfortable, we introduced a buddy system. This supported productivity, confidence, and encouraged personal connections. We encouraged and organised online socials, weekly quizzes, and informal slack channels. We also felt it important to treat our team throughout the year with seasonal hampers, occasion treats, and birthday cakes. It’s small gestures like this that put smiles on faces that shouldn’t be overlooked.

What simple steps and activities have you taken to take care of your own mental health?

Being the CEO of Locale has meant that I have felt the responsibility of maintaining the health and wellbeing of my team as well as my own. This has been quite a huge weight, and left me at risk of burning out. To ensure this didn’t happen, I decided to block out Fridays on my calendar so I had at least one day where I wouldn’t be in meetings. It meant I could still be there for the team, but freed up time for me to catch-up on other bits and not feel fatigued.

I got a dog called Bruce in the middle of the pandemic and having him has meant that I go for twice daily walks, giving me lots of outdoor activity and helping me reach 10,000 steps a day.

I have also grown to appreciate gardening and have developed a vegetable patch in which I have been updating the office in my weekly CEO email. It has been incredibly rewarding to see the results of my labour!

I recognise that being outside has played a major part in keeping my mental health in check, and I would encourage those who may be struggling to incorporate outdoor activity into their routine. This could be a short walk around the neighbourhood, visiting a park, or simply sitting in the garden. Breathing in fresh air, feeling the sun and listening to the wildlife has been huge in taking myself into a different headspace during this difficult time.

 

For Locale media enquiries, please contact:

Caitlin Cook at caitlin@locale.co.uk

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