Agile Working

Agile working will look, feel, and work differently for different organisations, teams, and people. It would be difficult to establish a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but at Warwickshire County Council, we have agreed four protocols to take into consideration when agile working.

Own your day

  • As we move forward and restrictions are eased, people way work in different ways: some may return to the office full time, some may prefer to work remotely from home or another base, whilst some may like to have a mix of the two.
  • As an employee, it is good to have a conversation with your manager about how you would like to work, but also take into account how the business needs you to work, and what is best to ensure the work is completed and expectations of customers, your team and organisation are met.
  • Some ways to own your day include keeping your calendar up to date so others can see your availability; using the different methods on your chat system to show if you’re available or busy; and setting boundaries between your work and home life, try not to let the two blend into one.
  • Try suggesting some Team Principles so everyone understands what is expected of each other and of themselves, but whilst being realistic with other commitments.

Prioritise wellbeing & take regular breaks

  • Whilst working remotely, it can be easy to sit at your desk all day and not move or take a break, but to maintain a good level of productivity, breaks are key to your wellbeing and work performance.
  • Whether you’re working from home or in the office, make time for breaks and if you can, take some time outside away from your workspace to get some fresh air and stretch your muscles.

Be considerate of other people’s commitments and wellbeing

  • Different people will be juggling different commitments whilst working; whether that’s parenting, caring for someone else, or other personal appointments, it is important to take this into consideration when working. If you see in someone’s calendar that they have two meetings that morning with only thirty minutes between the two, try to allow them that time to rest between meetings rather than squeezing another meeting in between.
  • Make time for coffee catch ups too! Whilst working from home or in different patterns in the office, we aren’t having those chats we would have whilst making a hot drink, or during lunch – schedule these in with groups of people where work talk is off limits! This will prevent isolation, increase creativity, strengthen communication, and staff morale.

Stay connected

  • During the past year and for the future, connection has proven crucial to a positive work-life. Ensure that you still schedule in team meetings, 1:1s with your manager, and any other kind of conversation you need.
  • Depending on restrictions and your own choices, consider meeting up face-to-face if you’re comfortable to.
  • If your organisation uses social media internally (e.g., Yammer), why not set fun competitions and quizzes for people to join in with and have fun!

In summary, agile working is about when, where, and how we work, and meeting expectations and deadlines whilst having the flexibility of working when works best for you, your team, and your customers.

Spotting signs of potential poor wellbeing in others when working remotely

As many of us have been working remotely for over 6 months, face-to-face communication has become more sparse. It is sometimes difficult to spot the signs of poor wellbeing in others previously to this new way of working, but now that most of our interactions are from behind a screen, this is even harder. Although working from home can have many benefits for staff, it can also sometimes have a negative impact on our mental health, for example, when boundaries between worktime and home-time become blurred, where employees have additional caring responsibilities, when people feel alone or isolated. It’s important that we are in proactive in spotting when someone may not be coping to try and prevent long-term mental health problems.

To give you an idea of what we mean by ‘mental health problems,’ here are a few extracts from Mind (the mental health charity).

‘Good mental health means being generally able to think, feel and react in the ways that you need and want to live your life. But if you go through a period of poor mental health, you might find the ways you're frequently thinking, feeling, or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with. This can feel just as bad as a physical illness, or even worse.’

‘We use the phrase ‘mental health problems,’ as many people have told us this feels helpful for them. But you might be more familiar with terms such as ‘poor emotional health,’ ‘overloaded,’ ‘burnt out’ or ‘overwhelmed.’ Or some people may feel that terms such as ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental health issues’ describe their experiences better or are easier to explain to other people in their life.’

Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year.

‘Our Behaviours’ talk about building strong working relationships, having regular conversations, and trusting colleagues. This has never been more important than at this time. We all need to look out for each other by listening, really listening to our friends and colleagues. This may mean listening to what’s being said but also being aware of what’s not being said. We may need to be brave at times in asking others whether they are okay.

How can we support our colleagues in maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing while working remotely?

Non-verbal communication

A common symptom of when people might not be coping, is changes in body language and day-to-day behaviour, yet this could appear differently depending on the individual’s personality and individuality. We all have a sense of our “normal” behaviour, so noticing behaviour that is out of the norm usually comes down to how well you know the person, and how regularly you have contact with them. Despite this, body language and tone of voice are powerful forms of non-verbal communication, so this may be easier to spot than you think.

Firstly, if you’re speaking to a colleague using video call, you may still pick up on body language, their appearance, and hear their tone of voice – they may even start to not put their video on when they usually do, which could be a tell-tale sign. Outside of calls, you may notice a change in their messaging style and email communication, whether that is being less communicative, or they are emailing and messaging late at night on a regular basis, as if to avoid communication with others during working hours.

Proactively check-in

To ensure that your colleague is doing okay, try and fit in regular calls or video chats – remember that these could be coffee catch-ups, or ‘water-cooler moments’ with colleagues who we don’t necessarily have meetings with, but would often speak to in the office. Arranging chats to talk about non-work-related topics is completely okay, especially when trying to prevent the effects of social isolation and loneliness. Also try and make eye contact instead of working in the background – albeit over a computer screen can be hard, as this shows the other person that you are really listening and may encourage you to probe a little deeper if you pick up on a sign that they may not be doing okay.

If you are a manager, try and ensure that you allow time at the start of team meetings to check-in with them, and at the start of 1:1s to ensure they feel heard and supported. For example, you could ask your team what one thing they are doing this week for positive wellbeing and give your example too. Remember that you can use an Individual and/or Team Wellness Plan within your team to open the conversation about how staff are feeling. Make sure to check in with those employees who have taken sick leave, or if they are not working their normal hours.

As a manager, you could bear in mind three steps:

  • prevention, which means applying actions and strategies that help the team stay well, e.g., using a Wellness Plan.
  • intervention, which means “having the confidence to open up a conversation if they feel a team member is struggling,” e.g., signposting to the support you can offer.
  • protection, which means “following policies and procedures to keep people safe who have become unwell,” e.g., making an Occupational Health or EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) referral

If you are a manager, it is important that you act as a role model for looking after your own physical and mental health and be open to sharing some of your own ‘struggles’ and proactive steps you are taking to look after yourselves. Specific behaviours that will help to support your staff are:

  • ensuring that staff are clear about what they need to do and your expectations
  • empowering staff to make decisions, where appropriate
  • acknowledge hard work and achievements both within and outside your team.

How can we approach these conversations?

It is important that we check out how our staff, team members and colleagues are, as a matter of course. If you do notice any potentially worrying signs, then do take courage and have a conversation quickly. Do bear in mind that it may be difficult for some people to talk in their home environment at certain times.

Here are some suggestions for a ‘way in’ to these conversations (you might find some are more appropriate for only managers to ask). If you feel able, you might want to start with a comment, such as, ‘I’m wondering if everything is ok with you,’ and follow up with an observation, e.g. ‘You’ve seemed rather quiet lately’ or ‘I noticed you didn’t get very involved

in the team meeting earlier’ or ‘I can’t quite put my finger on it, but you don’t seem yourself at the moment.’

Other questions you could ask are:

  • How well do you think you are balancing your work and home life?
  • What do you do to ‘manage your day’ to ensure you take breaks, move around, have lunch etc.?
  • ‘How many hours are you working each week?’ If this is more than expected, follow up with ‘What is making you do so many hours? What could you do differently to reduce this? What could I do to help you with this?’
  • What one thing might make life better for you?
  • What can I do to make you feel more supported?
  • How are you doing (or feeling)? If the response is ‘fine’ or similar, then follow up with ‘And how are you really?
  • What do you like most about working from home?
  • What do you miss most when working from home? What could you do to re-create that in the current environment?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10:
    • How energised do you feel about your work right now?
    • How would you rate your mental wellbeing currently?
  • The number stated may help you to form your next question or you could ask what they could do to increase that number by 1.
  • If you feel there may be an issue, but the person is reluctant to talk, you could say ‘I’m very happy to listen to you anytime if there is ever anything you would like to talk through, but I know it’s not always your manager people might want to confide in! Do you know what the Council offers in terms of support should you need it?’ If not, share the options with them.

Prioritise your own wellbeing

Regardless of your role and responsibilities, it is important for you to seek help and practice self-compassion. We are all navigating the sea in different ships, so make sure to be kind to yourself. There is support out there for you, you are not on your own. Talking is one of the most powerful steps you can take to managing your mental health, so reach out to people that you trust, whether that’s a friend, relative or colleague; remember that you can still meet up with others under current guidance.

There was so much focus on mental health and wellbeing at the beginning of lockdown, so take some time to renew this focus, and look after the foundations of wellbeing such as sleep, diet, water, exercise and getting some fresh air and daylight; and remember that prevention is easier than recovery.