Getting back outdoors to improve work culture - comment

Looking across a very misty Edinburgh cityscape, the blissful blue skies of lockdown have been replaced by clouds and cooler climes.

It was tough not to feel aggrieved and a little winded as we entered lockdown, says Lechler. Picture: contributed.

Perhaps this is indicative of the sea change and haze we now face as we re-establish ourselves and decide which adaptations to keep and how much we revert to how things were. Spending much of my time through lockdown investing in my network, supporting those who have found themselves out of work, or catapulted into new roles, the over-riding theme has been that this pandemic has accelerated our momentum to the “future of work”.

Business teams have been forced to adapt at speed to remote working. Leaders have had to trust their staff to deliver. Technology has been stress-tested in supporting home working. Hiring and onboarding has been done remotely. From a personal standpoint, it was tough not to feel aggrieved and a little winded as we entered lockdown.

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My business, ReBoot, takes people and teams into nature to restore, reboot the mind, build confidence, and forge stronger team bonds. Having hibernated the business for the winter, we were on the cusp of restarting our programmes, but along with many other events firms and training providers we were grounded.

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Being less than a year old, we weren’t eligible for government support, plus my supplementary work was curtailed due to the heavy negative impact on my clients’ revenue. Typically I am calm, and function well in a crisis.

But this was truly uncharted territory as the entire world faced into the eye of the Covid-19 storm. I have learnt that I need and thrive off interactions with others. “Zoom fatigue” may sound odd – but research points to higher levels of fatigue as we search for three-dimensional feedback and body language through a two-dimensional screen.

“People suddenly working from home are likely to feel disconnected and lonely, which lowers productivity and engagement,” Gardner and Matviak wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

“Leaders, especially those who are not used to managing virtual teams, may feel stressed about keeping the team on track. Under these circumstances it is tempting to become exclusively task-focused. To address these challenges, making time for personal interaction is more important than ever.”

At ReBoot, as many have, we decided to “go digital” and offer our mindfulness programmes in an online format, which has landed well with firms adapting at speed to remote working and losing team cohesion. But without question, company or team culture will suffer, and communication is compromised when operating remotely.

Loneliness and corporate isolation are the most commonly voiced complaints – typically by extroverts. If this lack of a sense of belonging persists it can have damaging consequences, and potentially lead to a desire to leave the company.

Consider for a moment the experience of a new starter, who was perhaps interviewed and onboarded fully remotely. Consider also the complexities of creating the culture for a team of diverse thinkers to embrace their differences and establish the trust and psychological safety in order to thrive.

As confidence returns, and spending freezes are lifted, I’m very excited about ReBoot consolidating our partnerships with forward-thinking businesses as we deliver our innovative, wholesome approach to learning and fostering human/team connection, using outdoors activities and mindfulness techniques.

We have a provisional date of 15 July from which tourism and outdoors activities in Scotland can resume. With cautious optimism, my network is suggesting that employee wellbeing and methods to invest in people and culture will be bumped up the priority list.

With new ways of working bedding in, I look forward to delivering and evolving our programmes, to help leaders manage the change, drive diversity and an inclusive culture, and humanise the workplace.

Alastair Lechler, founder and CEO, Edinburgh-based ReBoot

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