Author Bio ▼

Nichola is passionate about safety, health and wellbeing. Her background is diverse with experience in a variety of organisations such as Battersea Dog’s and Cat’s Home, Christie’s Auction House, EMCOR UK, Capita H&S Consultancy and Shepherds Bush Housing Association. Nichola also has extensive military experience as an Army officer in the Royal Military Police. The combination of civilian and military experience has lead Nichola to develop a broad skill set, she is able to provide strong leadership and H&S technical skills. Nichola has had great success leading these organisations in creating healthier and safer working environments and improving their overall safety culture. Nichola is currently at Head of Health and Safety at Paradigm Housing Group.
March 10, 2021

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Bringing wellbeing to remote workers

Nichola Ebbern, Head of Health and Safety at Shepherds Bush Housing Association, talks about the transformation from a desk-based company, to a totally home based one, during the coronavirus pandemic and the impact that it has had on employee wellbeing.

At Shepherds Bush Housing Association, the coronavirus pandemic has had an unexpected benefit to our colleagues in the form of home working. Our Future 50 transformation programme was taking us on a journey from a fully office based organisation to one that embraces flexible working in the true sense – facilitating working from wherever serves our colleagues best: be that the office, home or other location.

At the start of lockdown in March 2020, most people in the organisation had a desktop computer and very few colleagues had mobiles phones provided by the business. Working from home was a rarity and the culture was of being in the office with lunches with colleagues in the local area and regular after work visits to the local pub.

In short order the technology team brought forward our plans and quickly got colleagues up and running from home. To go from an office based to home-based culture has been a radical change in the way we work, especially at such a challenging time on a personal level and we wanted to find innovative ways to support our colleagues and keep the spirit of socialising alive. The H&S and People team, together with others from across the business, lead the wellness at work programme.

Our approach

After reviewing and refreshing our approach, we decided on six pillars which while they may overlap, ensure we are meeting the broad spectrum of needs that come under wellbeing. These are:

  • Mindful Ways of Working
  • Healthy Mind
  • Healthy Body
  • Keep Learning
  • Let’s Get Social
  • Great Spaces to Work

Mindful Ways of Working

video conferencePreviously, if you wanted to discuss something with a colleague, you would pop by their desk to have a chat. With Teams meetings, increased pressure as a result of dealing with the pandemic and no home working culture, we quickly realised we needed some ground rules to assist us in working in a mindful way.

Initiatives include championing shorter meetings and changing the mindset from the standard hour, being clear about the purpose of the meeting so everyone is prepared and crucially giving a short gap between meetings. By having Teams calls last only 25 or 50 minutes, colleagues found they were able to get that all important cup of tea, absorb actions from the previous meeting and prep for the next meeting. The impact of this is feeling less stressed and hurried, with calmer meetings that are more productive.

Healthy Body

We’ve instigated light hour based on feedback from colleagues. While running our COVID-19 Q&As, colleagues raised concerns about the level of vitamin D they weren’t getting by being at their desks all day. Light hour is a protected time during the middle of the day for everyone across the business where we discourage meetings.  With no scheduled meetings we have the opportunity to get outside if we want for some fresh air and sunshine (when we can find it!) or take a lunch break.

Feedback told us colleagues were sitting for longer and moving less and so getting people to move became a strong focus within the wellness at work team to generate some action and movement for colleagues.

We have Walking Club where people join a Teams meeting and take their phone for a walk outside with their colleagues and ‘Thursday Burpday’ led by our fitness mad H&S advisor. This sees her devising burpee variations and, again using Teams, getting people to give it a go. In one of these sessions, those that attended laughed so much that no actually burpees were completed! We’ve also got a step challenge planned and have been organically sharing things like great YouTube instructors or the NHS sponsored Couch to 5k programme together with our achievements in our Teams company chat.

Let’s Get Social

Like all organisations, we’ve had new colleagues join us and old friends move to pastures new and both of these would normally come with a celebration. Teams goodbyes are now the norm as are group cards that a signed remotely, but new starters were more of a challenge to get them integrated. And so, ‘Time for Tea’ was born! Want to meet new people? Sign up and once a week get matched to have a cup of tea (or coffee) and a chat with someone else on the list. With a clear purpose as the ice breaker, this has resulted in some great connections across the business and helps us feel linked to each other at a time when our social relationships are not what they used to be.

To combine getting moving with meeting new people across the business we have a weekly scavenger hunt. This sees us racing around our homes to find strange and unusual items. It’s only 25 minutes out of the day but it has quite a following. It’s a fun break from work, with lots of laughter and raised heart rates so really hits the spot in the middle of what can be a challenging week.

Before Christmas, one of our team and their band, Queensmen, released a Christmas single called Shine a Light with all proceeds to Crisis. This gave us the idea for a music afternoon to help them raise funds. We invited people to submit their favourite Christmas songs and the Comms team curated the music. While everyone was on mute to enjoy the music, the chat was going crazy as colleagues joined in resulting a fun Christmas party atmosphere. It was such a hit, we have had several of these now in similar format, ‘Friyay Cheer Up’ in January helped lift those blues and we celebrating LGBT+ History Month with our favourite tunes about individuality, freedom to be who you are and most importantly love for all.

Of course we are doing other things you’d expect like training sessions on wellbeing, forming good habits and financial wellbeing among other topics, support for parents who are home schooling, team and one to one check-ins, active mental health first aiders and pulse surveys to see how the mood of the organisation is changing.

All of these things combine to help those who work at Shepherds Bush Housing Association adapt to the sudden and dramatic change in working environment, stay connected with each and keep mentally and physically well so that we are able to offer the best service we can to our residents.

For more tips and advice on how to integrate a new-starter into an organisation, check out some of our recruitment advice in a recent episode of the Safety & health Podcast.

The ‘Recruitment tips’ appear in three sections, but scroll to 32:32 for advice on integrating into a new company and its culture.

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