Wellbeing was a hot topic before Covid 19 took over our lives. It is now a priority. In these swiftly changing and unusual times we need to keep the HE show on the road while adapting to our new circumstances – home working is the new normal. How can we attend to our wellbeing in such a context?
Five Ways to Wellbeing is an evidence-based model for wellbeing developed by the New Economics Foundation as part of their project to build wellbeing into the economy. When the five ways are exercised we are more likely to feel better in ourselves.
The five ways have been adopted successfully to support community wellbeing by public sector bodies, and Advance HE uses the model to support student wellbeing across the student experience.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning-based academic development creates a context where staff can exercise a nuanced version of the model. The Five Ways to Wellbeing in HE benefit the staff and student learning community – staff wellbeing is central to a positive student experience. In these times this couldn’t be more important.
Five Ways to Wellbeing offers a practical framework on which to build guidance for the HE community as we move to remote working.
You can’t connect without a suitable work space and tech. Try to find a corner at home to work and keep your stuff. This will lend itself to a feeling of “going to work”. A sensible worktop and screen arrangement are essential. In due course your institution will offer remote Display Screen Assessments. in the meantime make sure you are comfortable. At the very least you need a proper chair.
Physical isolation doesn’t mean social distance. Keep in touch with colleagues regularly, text, DM, make every effort to attend online meetings, or check out Twitter for a flurry of fun. My team has set up a community site on the VLE to sustain connection and smooth communications (exponential email traffic is confusing important work).
Online coffee breaks are a must – think of all those biscuits just for you (and your co-habitees!). Using the VLE gets your whole team involved – announce a given time and use the discussion function to chat. If bandwidth allows Skype works, with the added value of motivating you to keep an orderly workspace!
Keep to some kind of routine so colleagues know when you are available (we’ve noted ours on the VLE), and obviously to avoid going completely feral.
Leave the house every day and get some fresh air – the garden counts. This will also encourage you to get dressed (it really does help).
Have regular breaks, get up and move. It’s too easy to get lost in your screen. Maybe set your alarm and move every 20 minutes, pomodoro-style, or find a buddy and prompt each other to shift. Arrange an online break or commit to sending each other photographic evidence of your movement. Hanging out the washing counts.
We are at the mercy of circumstance, but not yet victims to it. Taking control of your working practice, be that organising your schedule or spotting something that can be improved and improving it, will cheer you up no end. Now is the time to innovate, find new ways of doing things and take back control.
Take notice of your mood, and that of colleagues. If you’re feeling dazed reach out – start a discussion on your institutions VLE; check out Twitter; open the window or go outdoors and breath deeply and enjoy the fresh air.
If you notice a colleague struggling (look out for lack of engagement, confused flurries of email or just terse texts) connect with them and encourage them to do the same, or just ask them what they had for breakfast. The mundane will become a gentle way to connect. Whatever it takes, the moment spent doing this is worth a whole morning of work.
You must take notice of your loved ones, too, and when working at home you can do this. Though do note you can’t meaningfully attend to family needs while emailing. Do one thing at a time. In most instances work will wait, a cuddle for your loved one will make them, and you, feel much better than doing both things half-baked. Putting family first enables you to put your full energies into work when you are at your desk/dining table.
You’ll be surprised what a difference losing a commute makes. Establish a “preparing for work” routine, be that a quick tidy or washing the pots. Contemplating work while doing this is your psychic commute – which may be more productive than a physical one.
Spend a few minutes settling into your work space, prioritising your to do list and preparing to be at work. In the same way, practice a shut-down at the end of the day, write a to do list for tomorrow and reflect on the day’s achievements and tidy your desk. This will help you switch off.
Make a point of appreciating positive feedback from colleagues when connecting, enjoy the daffodils outside when you get up from your desk, the birdsong that has returned to now quiet cities. Share these pleasures with your team. You’ll be surprised how connected to each other you’ll feel when sharing these small moments of pleasure.
Well, we are all learning fast right now: immersing ourselves in the tech; embracing new ways of connecting; reconfiguring quality process and reshaping assessment. It’s challenging and rewarding in equal measure and will continue to be so as things just keep on changing.
We work in HE and so know that learning is difficult and takes a lot of mental energy, and we have lots of other information to process. Embrace this, forgive slips, expect glitches and recognise some things might take longer than usual.
Take notice of your learning curve – it takes a while to settle into home working. Reflect on what works for you. It’s always easier to spot what doesn’t work, but the small wins really count.
If students can navigate this liminal space, then so can we all.
This is where we warm our hearts. The past few weeks has seen an unprecedented display of generosity across the sector – colleagues are gifting their resources and expertise to the HE community freely and with grace. SEDA and PFHEA jiscmails and Twitter are awash with wisdom, saving us all time and energy. Yet it is in giving, rather than receiving, that the most profound satisfaction can be found.
HE workers give to the learning community and so society every day. Without us the transition to online delivery and assessment would be impossible, and student experience completely corrupted. Without us our frontline workers, the doctors, the nurses, the carers, the project managers and the civil servants addressing this crisis would not have the necessary high-level capability to care for us all. This is incredibly motivating.
Whatever we do in HE – policy wonks, teachers, administrators, support, catering and estate staff – we all contribute. Take a moment to think about the difference you are making to your students, colleagues and society.
The HE community gives to each other when we pick up a message, respond to a discussion, help a colleague figure something out. Even liking a tweet can be heartwarming.
There’s nothing we can do about all the variables at play that impact mental health, but by exercising the Five Ways to Wellbeing in HE when working at home we are doing all we can to keep ourselves and our students on track to study and work to the best of our ability.
Stay safe…and wash your hands.