Offsetting the risks of hybrid working: Is Mental Fitness the answer?

Dr Fran Longstaff
March 29, 2022
min read
team building for the workplace

The hybrid working dilemma

Breakfast with family, longer sleep, quieter space to focus, few unwelcome interruptions, you would be forgiven for thinking that hybrid working was one of the few perfect outcomes from a two year long pandemic.  It presents a crystal clear antidote for those employees who want to keep in person social connections with colleagues and those who have found their true life balance in working from home.

Views on working from home permanently are mixed at best with, depending on the source, as many as half of the employees surveyed say they would rather remain working at home full-time with their compensation package remaining unchanged. Close to one quarter of employers feel remote only workers should be on adjusted salaries.  However, employers and employees are far more aligned on a hybrid model with around 90% of both agreeing that working in the office sometimes is a good idea and should result in compensation remaining unchanged. 

So surely that’s case closed - hybrid working for all who can is the way forward? Unfortunately it is not so simple in reality. Challenges start to emerge when hybrid means some employees come in very often and some hardly at all. What does this mean for office space requirements? As Google wondered, what does this do to the workplace culture and perhaps most importantly how can we guarantee equity between employees regardless of their workplace location choice?  We also need to consider the psychological impact of hybrid working.  There is strong evidence to support the increased productivity of hybrid workers, but this comes at a price with 70% reporting feeling isolated. Any hybrid working solution must consider the need for connection and how this can be implemented effectively. 

One such solution is a mental fitness and a mentally fit culture. Mental fitness is proficiency training in 7 core skills that allow people to navigate the challenges of everyday life. As an example, one of those skills is connection where we develop the social skills to initiate and maintain contact with other people. Connection skills are central to reducing isolation as we use them to develop more deep and meaningful relationships with others. 

Where we encourage and practice mental fitness we start to see challenges as opportunities. The simplest opportunity being in a time of mass resignations we can retain staff by offering a truly flexible work offering. Having a mentally fit culture doesn’t mean there is suddenly an absence of pressure or stress, because that’s just the nature of work; it does mean that the way people approach these pressures is much more collaborative and driven by better decision-making. Building a mentally fit workplace means people feel able to contribute to team discussions, request and provide honest feedback, and feel a sense of purpose in their job.  I’ll now take a greater look at ways of achieving successful hybrid working through a mental fit culture.

Hybrid working that works for you 

Hopefully you are already working towards building a mentally fit culture in your workplace, but to help you fully embed and reap the benefits, at Fika we recommend you include the following three evidence-based methods to cement it further. Most importantly, these methods work equally well for hybrid, remote or in office employees. 

  1. Start with leaders: Managers who model positive mentally fit behaviours such as requesting feedback and putting it into place, behavioural integrity (do as they say AND do), being open to challenge, and being inclusive, create feelings of psychological safety in their teams. Teams are then more likely to engage in improving the quality of their work, their performance and their productivity is improved. They are also less likely to make mistakes or poor decisions. It is absolutely key here that leaders must emulate the behaviour first in order for teams to follow suit. At Fika we work with leaders to train and develop these mental fitness skills to ensure they are confident in leading by example and know the most successful times to introduce them during the working week to facilitate change.  
  2. Train as a team: Coming together for events, whether online or in person, creates a sense of belonging and purpose for employees. Using this shared time to build mental fitness skills brings a shared sense of understanding as to what the new normal is e.g. Introducing workshops/training to give employees tools to learn how to speak up effectively, how to give honest and helpful feedback, and learning from group reflection. In one study, after introducing a team tools intervention, researchers found 78% of people now believed they could question decisions made by leaders, and 75% were no longer afraid to ask questions. Interventions specifically designed for a team and its context find more success than generic interventions. At Fika we work with organisations to customise training plans and leadership sessions to identify the best way to embed these skills across your business. 
  3. Take time in: Taking time in is a way to ensure an ongoing culture of mental fitness exists, rather than a reactive culture which can often foster burnout. At Fika we provide calendar tools and training plans to help you integrate mental fitness into your teams everyday working to ensure they feel empowered to develop their Mental Fitness. By placing a 15 minute slot in team members' calendar you’re showing you not only want to achieve a culture where making time for our mental fitness is the norm, but you’re giving employees the permission to take time in their day to work on this. Throughout the 100s of organisations we've worked with at Fika, having the time to work on mental fitness and personal development is often raised as a challenge employees experience. Turning hybrid working into an opportunity, on days where employees work from home they can take some of what would have been a dreaded commute and spend it developing their own and their teams mental fitness skills. 

Whilst hybrid working presents some challenges, it also offers a tangible opportunity to implement innovative and effective initiatives to move forward with safer and mentally fitter cultures. 

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Dr Fran Longstaff
Head of Psychology

Dr Fran Longstaff is Head of Psychology at Fika Mental Fitness. With more than 15 years' academic and applied experience in sport and exercise psychology, Fran oversees Fika's Behavioural Science output, designing and implementing organisation-wide Mental Fitness training programmes for Fika's client-base of more than 80 businesses, education institutions and healthcare organisations. She is passionate about training leaders and managers in how to build their own and their team’s Mental Fitness in order to transform the culture, output, productivity and happiness of their workplaces. Fran worked as a lecturer in Higher Education for 13 years before joining Fika, and still works closely with Fika's board of academic experts.

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