Through the pandemic and beyond: how Interact works to actively support our colleagues’ mental health

As people, we are always asking others how they are. 

“Hi, how are you?”

“How’s it going?”

“Hope you’re well”

“Hey, how are you doing?”

Inevitably, the other person says, “I’m good thanks”, and then we move on to the purpose of the meeting.

At Interact, we of course indulge in this kind of classic small-talk, meeting opener chit-chat. However, we have also committed ourselves as an organization to proactively support our colleagues’ mental health in an ongoing way, going beyond “how are you?” and toward, “are you ok?”

The global pandemic presented unique opportunities

Me and my other full-time remote colleagues realized we could offer up our support and our top tips

The COVID-19 pandemic has, in many ways, created a unique opportunity to lean into mental health conversations and create meaningful interactions between colleagues across our teams and colleagues in the USA, Canada, UK, and Europe.

Quite suddenly, people who were used to working at an office were now confined to home without the emotional preparation often required to make that transition. As someone who has been a remote worker for my entire career at Interact, lockdown day one was no different for me than any other day, yet I could recall my first day with no physical colleagues, no commute, no office banter (and no decent latte …). Me and my other full-time remote colleagues realized we could offer up our support and our top tips, not only for productivity working from home but also wellness whilst working from home.

Thank goodness for the intranet

Providing reassurance that our primary concern as a business was the health and safety of our people

You would expect a company specializing in intranet software to have a useful, thriving, and well-used intranet themselves, and you would be correct!

We already had a COVID-19 center on our intranet, Worklife. In the first few weeks and months of 2020, as the covid situation developed, we used it to keep everyone up to date on the latest guidance and our response to it. Providing reassurance that our primary concern as a business was the health and safety of our people.

Quite quickly when most of the world went into lockdown 1.0, we spun up a working from home resources hub with the aim of sharing guidance to effectively working from home. This soon grew to sharing boredom busters, pictures of home-working stations, “helpful” pets, tips on home-schooling, at-home exercise, recipes, challenges, quizzes, and much more.

Naturally, furloughed colleagues always had access to Worklife from their home laptop, tablet, or smartphone so they could see the guidance and use benefits like independent employee assistance helplines.

We also had daily team ‘stand-up’ meetings on Teams/Zoom and a weekly, whole company get-together on a Friday. Here, we would keep everyone up to date, provide an opportunity to ask questions and make sure everyone knew where they could get support from if they needed it. Also, we kind of loved hanging out together and having some fun. Goodness knows we all needed interactions with people we weren’t confined in the house with! 

Each week we’d come up with a game or quiz that could be played by everyone remotely with the winners rewarded ‘donuts’: our intranet’s reward and recognition feature, where colleagues can trade in points (we call them donuts) awarded to them for lovely stuff they want.

Furloughed employees were always welcome to join this session if they wanted, to stay connected to their colleagues and of course, join in the fun.

What now? Everything is going “back to normal” again!

We are all transitioning to a “new normal”

Experiencing something like this (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime global crisis, particularly as it is likely we will have to live with COVID-19 for some time yet, means we are all transitioning to a “new normal”.

Hybrid models of working are likely to be the norm so things like online daily check-ins are likely to remain. Using your laptop camera is now the norm so seeing people’s faces and shooting the breeze a little is a great way of setting up the day and connecting to your team in the absence of being physically together in one place. Not only that, but as a manager, you are more able to detect if someone is struggling; whether that be with their workload or perhaps with more subtle clues such as their appearance and energy levels, and ask them privately if they are ok and offer your support.

Whilst we’ve transitioned our Friday Chat into a bi-weekly event now and added elements of business updates to it, this will remain a way to connect colleagues with what’s happening at Interact, with each other, and with a bit of light-hearted fun. We have never needed more fun in our lives than in the last 18 months!

Our long-term commitment to our colleagues

We can do everything possible to build a workplace that recognizes the effect mental health issues have on people

We are fully aware that life sometimes takes over, that life events are stressful and can have a significant impact on the people we care about. If there were ever a group of people that cared about each other, they would be the amazing people we are blessed to call colleagues (and friends) at Interact.

We appreciate that different people have different reactions to, and the ability to cope, with stressful situations.

Championed by Simon, our CEO, and spearheaded by our wonderful HR team, we have made a significant investment in training a team of Mental Health First Aiders. A group of 13 volunteers from across the business took an intensive 2-day course that focused on:

  • Understanding mental health
  • Identifying signs and symptoms of mental health issues
  • Recognised methods of approaching and supporting people with mental ill-health
  • Appropriate interventions and guidance to professional support

This team are working across Interact to offer information and support. To date they have taken over our bi-weekly Friday Chat session with a fun and informative session and built a dedicated hub on our intranet where colleagues can:

  • Find a mental health first aider best for them: each first aider, as well as being a generalist, has a “particular area of empathy” based on their own experiences.
  • Access resources that enable them to find external support services, take mental health self-check ins and get tips on managing stress and other mental health issues as well as strategies for coping with mental ill-health and, general wellbeing pointers. 
  • Share their own coping strategies and tips and read about the personal experiences of their colleagues.
  • Information on good self-care practices, such as developing healthy intrapersonal skills.

In the next few weeks, the team are working closely with HR to design and roll out a series of manager awareness sessions, designed to educate our managers on recognizing signs in their team and providing the best support possible.

We know we can never ensure that one of the Interact family will not suffer from mental ill-health. After all, 1 in 4 adults in the UK and 1 in 5 in the USA have a diagnosed mental health condition. But we can do everything possible to build a workplace that recognizes the effect mental health issues have on people, provides preventative tips, opportunities for early intervention and, support to help colleagues back to wellness.

Most importantly, we can ask, “are you ok?” and really mean it.