Getting COVID work-life balance right

This article is part 2 of our Workplace Discussion Series.

Astrolabe Group have been taking stock of how our working lives have changed during COVID-19 disruption. This is the first article of a knowledge series exploring what we miss, what we have gained, what we’ve learned from the last three months, and what practices we will take into the future.

Taking a wellbeing approach to workplace productivity

Like all non-essential businesses, Astrolabe Group went into a quarantine bubble in March. And, like many people, my own personal experience of this has been an up and down roller coaster.

What’s got me through has been the fantastic team around me, supported by an organisational culture that promotes and supports wellbeing. We’ve also made deliberate changes to the way we work, championed by leaders who role model this behaviour.

The first thing Astrolabe did as we transitioned to working from home was start daily morning stand ups. What has made this such an effective tool has been a set of questions we all have to answer:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I doing today?
  • How am I feeling?
  • Are there any blockers?
  • Who will I ask for help?
  • What am I grateful for?

These questions have seen us share tears (me in particular – things have been tough in my house), disappointment at cancelled trips and events, and celebration about the good things in our lives (veggie gardens, new coffee machines, delivery of a Nintendo Switch).

Our daily check-ins have allowed us to closely engage with our colleagues in a way we didn’t do before. When people have been overwhelmed by work or life, there has been immediate support available from the rest of the team. And when there’s been good news, we’ve all shared the joy.

Another upside is that everyone in the team now has a much better idea of the work that each person is doing. This has been particularly beneficial where people aren’t working on the same projects, letting everyone have oversight of the breadth of work we’re doing.

We’ve also quickly adopted digital tools to keep our collaborative approach to work going. Astrolabe was already using MS Teams as a collaboration tool to manage projects and to work with clients. Our use of MS Teams had to move from being a support tool to being the main too , sharing tips, and setting up guides for ongoing use with the help of Chloe, our remote intern.

Digital engagement also means we have to be deliberate in connecting through conversations as well – and remembering that picking up the phone and talking is a great way to stay connected as well!

Leading through empathy

While I’m part of the leadership team at Astrolabe, what has stood out has been individual leadership from our CEO, Belinda Comninos down. While we all know that good leaders lead through example, it’s always impressive to see it in action.

Working from home and the uncertainty generated by the pandemic has meant a lot of pressure on all of us. We’ve all been encouraged to take time off and not work too hard. These are difficult decisions, and always easier when the people at the top do the same thing. We’ve had ongoing regular check ins on our own wellbeing with the leadership team and the conversation about how our organisation is responding to all that is happening is shared across the team.

There’s also been time protected in our diaries for the things that have kept us laughing and having fun – weekly trivia in our team newsletters (from ‘what fish is that?’ to movie memes), a weekly afternoon par-tea via MS Teams where we bring cake and coffee to a catch up, and excessive use of gifs at our check-ins.

What’s also been wonderful is the leadership from everyone in the team. Everyone has always stood up to lead projects or initiatives but working from home and adjusting to our new normal means there’s been new opportunities for everyone to take a leadership role in some way: ensuring staff social collaboration, coordinating work priorities when people have felt under pressure at work or life, and sharing resources to support remote working.

The future of our work

We can’t go back to how we were working. As part of our workplace series, our CEO, has outlined the need to capture the positive digital practices and blend them with face to face activities that have a clear purpose and elevate the outputs.

With this blended approach, we not only have positive outcomes for work productivity, but our own wellbeing.

Our team are enjoying being able to use the commute time for exercising, creating art and being with family. I know my kids are enjoying me being at home when they get home from school each day.

As we think about wellbeing and connection in our working life, the challenge is taking the best of what we’ve been doing and not going back to business as usual simply because social isolation restrictions have eased.

So how is your workplace approaching wellbeing?

Kim Johnstone is Associate Director at Astrolabe Group. From March, she has supported home learning for two children, dealt with family crises, and worked in the shed. She is now back inside the house and turning her focus to creating next-normal work practices that are sustainable and equitable.