Exactly a very long month ago I was due back from the USA.  

We arrived in South Beach on Friday 6 March and by Tuesday 10 I was watching the American news about the coronavirus, thinking I wanted to get home. On Wednesday 11 I broke my 'don’t interfere when you are on holiday' rule and contacted our Chief Operating Officer, Fionuala Bonnar. 

My WhatsApp to her said; "Just checking in re COVID19. 100% trust you have it all in hand so this WhatsApp is for my benefit. If you want a conversation let me know." With her usual calmness and control, Fionuala said all was in hand which gave me the confidence I needed. 

I still didn’t feel settled, I wanted to be at home. 24 hours later we were changing our flights.

Between Friday 13 and Wednesday 18 the brilliant Communications Team at MHFA England worked to refocus our My Whole Self campaign as a significant proportion of the nation moved to home-based working. The initial guidance we provided on promoting wellbeing when working from home is here

Frankly, that all seems a lifetime ago. These are extraordinary times. I have learned the term furlough. I have watched our government make some excellent interventions and some choices I would have made differently. As an organisation MHFA England has had to work quickly to change course, pausing, adapting and adjusting as we go. 

Personally, I have been on a top class fast-track computer course, more Zoom and Team calls than I can care to count, and like everybody I am learning to manage my emotional ups and downs and actively create moments of joy.

Since we published that guidance, I have done a number of webinars and spent almost a month at home myself. I have been reminded of, or learned the following;
  1. Not everyone is in a safe or happy environment: it is not ok to assume the space people are working in is safe, happy or easy to work in, or indeed that is a constant situation – what started off well may indeed deteriorate as a direct or indirect result of the current situation. Keep that line of communication open. 
  2. Ripping up, or pausing the business plan is a given: people need clarity about what is expected now in these uncertain times, and to be trusted, supported and empowered to deliver it.
  3. Extraordinary times impact on wellbeing and productivity: we must all be absolutely clear we are not just working from home. We are living in extraordinary times – fear about our own or others' health; being a good enough parent, carer or child; job or financial insecurity; guilt or concern about the furlough status of others; our mental health and ability to adapt to the situation and many more things are all impacting on people’s ability to be productive. 
  4. Simple, honest communication on repeat is vital: there is so much information coming in that finding ways to frame all of the communication is really important. We haven’t got it perfect at MHFA England I am sure, but we do have four phases of the crisis ('immediate response', now done; 'normalised crisis', currently in progress; 'road to recovery', can’t wait; and 'new normal', exciting time), and six key objectives. We are trying to ensure all our communication to the central team relates to this. 
  5. It may be time to adopt the counselling hour (50 minutes): make meetings 50 minutes or 25 minutes. None of us can Zoom, Team and Skype all day and concentrate. 
  6. The pace and focus of meetings has changed: a larger amount of time appears to be spent checking in and then a shorter amount of time required to do the business. Cutting corners on the checking in often doesn’t get business done quicker. Connect, then deliver. 
  7. Multi-tasking isn’t really any more possible online: if we are at a meeting, we have to turn up or it is pretty obvious we haven’t. Turning the video off because the light is bad, or our hair is a mess, and then getting on with something else won’t bring good outcomes. Be present and engage, or excuse yourself and get on with other work.
  8. Time to think is as important as time to do: as we move to and from work, from meeting to meeting, we get a chance to think as well as do. To join the dots and let things connect. For me that one piece of exercise is often the dot connecting, penny drop part of the day. How do we encourage and reward teams and individuals to think as well as do?  
  9. Celebrate more, more often: sometimes getting up and getting one foot in front of the other is worth celebrating. All progress is to be celebrated.
  10. Disconnecting is as important as connecting: Zoom drinks and Zoom supper are better than I thought to be honest – as long as I haven’t done eight hours of video conferencing already. At the beginning of this month (that started at least a year ago, right?) the emphasis was all on connecting. Our brains need to rest a focus on disconnecting is as important as connecting. 
Also my constant reminder to myself is not to forget the basics – our brain will do the best that it can when we eat well, moderate alcohol, get some exercise or activity and sleep as well as we can.

There is so much rich learning going on at the moment. We will not be going back to the way we were. It's important to keep sharing ideas and learning as we go along, bottling the good stuff and jettisoning the bad. 

Onwards, in pursuit of our team’s wellbeing in solidarity in these unprecedented (there I said it!) times.