World Mental Health Day 2023
World Mental Health Day was a perfect opportunity to open up discussions around our mental health and wellbeing here at spacelab_. Talking has been proven to ease stress, lighten the load of a concern, and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed, so what better way to start than a group discussion to share our thoughts on the topic? This would not only enable us to improve our practices and environment but also to inform the spaces we design for others. The discussion kicked off with the all-important topic of stress. Meeting deadlines, outperforming on tasks, and fixing urgent issues were hot topics. All of these may point to high performance, however, they fall short of some of the vital and often overlooked ways we should measure success like our own happiness. It was concluded that flexibility was the most important aspect of feeling a sense of control over individual work and empowering people to decide which part of our flexible work policy may be best for them (and their team) in the context; whether that to be to work from home to reduce distraction, take a day off to recover from a deadline or have a weeks break before beginning a new project. Our infamous unlimited holiday policy, which has resulted in people taking an average of 30.5 days of annual leave (excluding Bank Holiday) in the last 12 months has offered up a whole new opportunity for people and teams to create their own norms and behaviors that could address their personal working styles and well-being priorities.
To minimise day-to-day stress, fresh air and being outdoors seemed to be common themes. Previously all food was provided to employees at our home the depot_, the belief being that this was a huge perk when coming into the studio. But it would seem that since food is no longer provided people have been enjoying the need to get out and about more and are finding that wandering to the shops with colleagues is not only improving relationships but is also bringing a much-needed break in the day. We have also previously encouraged walking meetings and discussed promoting these further.
An element that can both hinder and help with our personal wellbeing is technology. It can make us more efficient and productive in many ways, but it can also intrude on our personal lives like never before. Although it appears that some were mentally affected by this more than others, we shared knowledge about how we individually deal with this. This included turning off notifications for specific apps or channels or setting key apps to work only during certain hours. So we determined that many alleviating factors of stress were all related to choice, control, and also senior leaders guiding employees to help them carve out unstructured time free from meetings and technology; this can increase meaning and creativity.
Where, how, and when people work may have changed and could continue to evolve in the future, in many situations, it has removed traditional boundaries between work and other life activities. As a business, we determine our working patterns by the team and the needs of each project. Collectively, we agreed that there should be one to two days when we are all together in the studio, but outside of that, we are individually responsible for spending our time where we see fit. Whether that be on-site, in the studio, in someone else’s office, a co-working space or in a cafe. What is clear, though (by the varying number of days spent in the studio), is that no one size fits all. Several people declared that they don’t like working from home and they find that it can cause them anxiety and stress because they feel guilty for taking breaks. Although it was agreed that this ability to be flexible has proved invaluable, as it enables time for regular health checks and appointments, a suggestion of a shared calendar to remind us all to book and attend regular appointments would further encourage this. The smartwatch provided by our healthcare provider has also proven to be a big hit and people feel encouraged to exercise more because of it, and as a result, the team have self-initiated a weekly run club.
We then moved on to talk about mental health First Aid courses. Currently, one employee has undertaken this course which, although it has proved useful for them, it is felt that a shared training experience is probably more valuable. This eliminates the risk of personal relationships and personalities getting in the way of seeking the right advice, as there should be many people you should feel comfortable approaching depending on the topic.
Work can impact many aspects of an individual’s well-being as well as their sense of purpose and ability to grow. It is evident that company culture plays a significant role and that positive open, transparent conversations at all levels are an important factor, so that individuals may be able to share what they need with their peers and teams. Design work should also be less prescriptive, with room for growth and experimentation to fulfill people’ desire for continual learning. As a team, we want to consider how to connect everyday tasks to a greater purpose.
And, it's important to have a safe environment for giving and receiving feedback and thinking outside of the box when it comes to recognition. Recognition does not always have to be monetary. Small behaviors such as incorporating regular 360 reviews, retrospectives, shout-outs at the start of meetings, or encouraging peers to write gratitude notes to team members can make a big impact on their growth, learning, and happiness.
In summary, it seems that our lovely bunch at spacelab_ are more than willing to chat and feel that they all have at least one person they could approach in the group with a potentially sensitive topic. This open and honest conversation, along with a transparent and flexible approach to work life, has to be the way forward.
An interesting afterthought for future discussion is that not once did the topic of natural light, planting, or biophilic design come up in our conversation…maybe something we take for granted over at the depot_.