When we all left offices and places of work on March 13th this year, little did we know it would be almost three months before life started to return to some kind of normality.
In that time, employees have had to deal with innumerable stresses while working from home: getting to grips with home-schooling and Zoom meetings, all while worrying about how the pandemic might affect employment long-term.
Many employers got this and quickly swung into action, making sure employees could work from home and that they were getting the supports they needed to remain productive and stay sane. While some offices have returned, many have not, and remote work will continue as per Government guidelines.
Business Ireland talked to some of the practitioners hired by companies to help their employees online, with fitness, meditation, counselling and even financial advice.
‘The feedback has been amazing’
Up until now, Maura Rath taught vinyasa flow yoga in real-life settings, but when lockdown happened she started teaching large classes online.
“Teaching yoga to an empty room with a camera was a little strange at first – I love that personal connection you make with people in a studio, and I was also worried that people wouldn’t get as much out of the class.
"But the feedback has been amazing, my favourite is from people who said they never had the confidence to join a physical class, or people from overseas I've never met. They're begging me to keep the virtual classes going once physical classes resume. In terms of the how, Zoom has been a life saver. I'm also teaching some corporates through Microsoft Teams, Lifesize and Webex.
“I teach online classes for eight-nine companies per week. Again, I had a lot of people tell me they wouldn’t have had the confidence to practise in front of their workmates, so this is great for them. I also think that while the work-home boundary is blurred more than ever at the moment, virtual corporate yoga is a way to give a little personal life back into the home – employees are joining in in their living room along with their kids and family members.
“Virtual yoga will continue for the next few months even as lockdown loosens, and maybe long after as people avoid close contact with those outside their circle. With the positive impact it’s been having during the pandemic, it would really be a shame to pull the plug. I’ll be continuing as long as companies keep extending their packages with me.”
‘There was so much of my skillset that could be transferred into online sessions’
Sam Taylor works as an acupuncturist and has adapted to give clients, including corporates, online sessions.
“All my work, up until recently, was hands-on and in person. Over the last few months I’ve had to adapt to online video calls, consultations and check-ins. Like a lot of small businesses, it’s not somewhere I ever saw myself going as I thrive on the more intimate interpersonal relationships I provide my clients.
“In fact, it was those clients that encouraged me to look for another platform to connect with them as their symptoms and ailments had begun to creep back into their lives over this lockdown period. Little did I know there was so much of my skillset that could be transferred into online sessions.
“I have given acupressure tutorials, designed from clients’ detailed consultations. Diet and lifestyle adjustments were suggested based on symptoms of discomfort. I also feel it’s important to include meditation and visualisation techniques to address and bring to the forefront any underlying fears. All this whilst creating a safe space to share concerns and worries about the new challenges that people were suddenly having to face working from home.
“I think most people have a varying degree of anxiety that lives below the surface. With the constant distractions and always being ‘on’, always being available and contactable, it never allows us time or space to really look at that. Unless they are working non-stop, on high alert, losing sleep and running their adrenals into the ground, then they think they’re not doing a good job. This is the opposite of doing a good job and I have had to explain that to a lot of the corporate clients I have spoken with. I’ll keep these online sessions up for as long as is necessary.”
People were becoming concerned with how to manage their finances’
Davina Ramkissoon works with Zevo Health, which has been providing financial webinars to company employees throughout lockdown.
“We saw an increasing number of requests for financial wellbeing seminars in addition to one-to-one consultations with a financial adviser to review personal finances. More and more, people were becoming concerned with how to manage their finances for the long term and ensure their potential to achieve financial stability.
“And it was in the employer’s interest to deliver on this. If employees have reduced stress and anxiety levels in response to financial worries, then the employer will benefit by having a workforce with a greater level of wellbeing and team morale. Not to mention that it will support employee retention. All of which positively contributes towards productivity and business outcomes.
“We’ve seen the positive impact the webinars have on employees. They leave with clear direction on what they need to do and how they’re going to achieve it. It increases their sense of control and gives hope for their future – subsequently easing some of the stress associated with financial worries.
If you're interested in receiving a financial wellbeing seminar for your business email zevohealth.com.
‘A lot of people were willing to move to online counselling’
John Conaghan is a director at Inspire, a provider of mental health and wellbeing consultancy for workplaces, universities and others impacted by mental health issues.
“Given our experience of providing wellbeing solutions and mental health and wellbeing supports, we were able to very quickly develop a Covid-19 specific area on our online support hub, which contains a wealth of information on how to cope and deal with the added stress that the current crisis brings, including videos and a self-assessment questionnaire.
“Since the start of the shutdown, we have seen traffic to the hub double and an increase of 1,800 first-time users of our online services. Once the restrictions ease further, I believe we are going to see a significant increase in the demand placed upon our health services and GPs, which will put a strain on the system. So, the more support we provide now, it should help manage the challenges down the line.
“We had to stop all face-to-face counselling with pretty much immediate effect, which had some initial consequences for some of our service users. But we found that a lot of people were willing to move to online counselling.”
‘We have put a huge amount of effort into supporting our people’
Niamh O’Connor, Cpl HR director, explains how her company kicked into action when lockdown measures were announced in mid-March.
“Our people who are parents and those taking care of the most vulnerable in our community may feel the strain of both workloads. They were missing the social connection and camaraderie which is an essential ingredient in our business and our culture. There is lots of uncertainty and lots of factors outside of an individual’s control which can cause them to be anxious.
“In addition to this, there can be a temptation, as a result of Covid-19, to work harder and longer days with perhaps less success in output, which can be both disappointing and demotivating and morale can be impacted as a result,” O’Connor says.
“Now more than ever, there must be a very deliberate focus on promoting mental and physical wellbeing as we adjust to the new normal and transition through this change. Cpl has invested in a wellbeing programme that provides a range of supports to their workers including webinars, access to meditations and health professionals.
“Our programmes are there to help people identify when they may not be feeling themselves and to give them techniques to overcome challenges they may be experiencing. Our ‘Stay Connected Campaign’ is ongoing and aims to facilitate a variety of initiatives and outlets for people to have social connection.
“A very successful example is our virtual cafe, where people are randomly partnered weekly with a colleague for a 15-minute virtual chat. We have weekly steps challenges through our Zevo app and a bi-weekly themed photography competition which encourages people to get out and about. We facilitate virtual Pilates and HIIT classes. We also have hosted a TikTok competition and a kids’ art competition to try to assist our parents in occupying children for a few hours.”
Ann Heraty, CEO of CPL Resources says: "We have put a huge amount of effort into supporting our people and their families and have tried to create a suite of wellbeing initiatives which are fully inclusive. Ensuring our people can be at their best also means they can deliver their best to our clients."