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Healthier ways of working for people and planet

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Lizzi Testani, Chief Operating Officer of Bristol Green Capital Partnership reflects on how workplace cultures might support health post-COVID-19.

It is hard to believe how much has changed in a short space of time, since COVID-19 necessitated rapid shifts in our behaviour across Bristol and beyond.  As the public conversation inevitably turns to recovery, I find myself reflecting on the rapid changes working under lockdown have given rise to, and what practices we might wish and need to keep as we do, in time, regenerate and move forward.

In July 2019 Bristol Green Capital Partnership held a workshop in partnership with Bristol Water called ‘Citizens for the Future’, attended by organisations and institutions employing people across the region. Its aim was to develop a shared vision for workplace culture that supports employees to play an active role in tackling the challenges facing Bristol, including the climate and ecological emergencies.

Some of the following suggestions that emerged from the workshop feel more relevant now than ever:

  • Social purpose is at the heart of corporate strategy.
  • Trade-offs between short-term financial and long-term societal good are balanced fairly and transparently
  • Lessened distinction between work life and home life, as both are aligned to core values and working becomes fully flexible
  • Workplace is a place of work and wellbeing – There is no stigma attached to discussing mental health. Wellbeing at work is preventative rather than reactive.
  • Technology is used extensively to replace the need for travel, enabled by rapid innovation in communications technology which allows virtual meetings
  • Connected at work to the community – strong bond between business and local communities to work on solutions
  • Value the power of local – reversal of centralisation with more local sites to connect with communities from

This approach, with social purpose at its heart, has been essential to our city’s and country’s ability to cope with the pandemic. Whilst key workers have continued to provide essential services across Bristol, many organisations in the region have acted quickly to realign their business activities for the greater good: supporting production of personal protective equipment and ventilators, providing beds and food for NHS staff, vulnerable people and families, and even providing a site for the region’s Nightingale response hospital.

Other organisations too have played a part in supporting social distancing measures to limit the spread of the virus. Many have been forced to close or have taken the difficult decision to cease non-essential business activity in the short term, whilst others have adapted operations extremely fast to accommodate remote working practices.

 

The ability to continue working from home is a privilege available to only a proportion of Bristol’s diverse economy – but this level and pace of change, amidst a backdrop of other societal changes including lockdown and school closures, brings its own frustrations and mental health toll that should also be taken seriously. Circumstances differ, but many individuals will be facing isolation, an increased burden of childcare and more.

Reflecting on the outcomes of the workshop, it is interesting to note that many aspects of the shared vision it generated are currently being widely expressed within society, meanwhile debates about “trade-offs between short term financial and long term societal good [being] balanced fairly and transparently” are playing out on the national political stage.

One aspect of future workplace culture envisioned during the workshop was a “lessened distinction between work life and home life”. This lessened distinction is now being faced as domestic settings have quickly been adapted for home working, but I can almost hear participants exclaiming, “We didn’t mean like this!”

Despite the fact that we will deal with the consequences of this pandemic for many years to come and some businesses may not survive the impacts, soon enough our attention will turn to transitioning to a ‘new normality’ – but do we want to rebound or can we use this opportunity to support behaviours which are better suited to a sustainable future? I’d love to know what you think.

I hope, in re-sharing the vision from this workshop, generated by Partnership members in a time of relative ease, that it might support and inspire others thinking about recovery strategies to take a holistic approach to employee and environmental health, which are of course interlinked. This isn’t to forget our entrepreneurial workforce of sole traders and self-employed in Bristol, who will also need the support of their networks like never before.

We hope that the Green Mingle (7 May, online) will continue to provide a source of inspiration, support and contact for members during this difficult time and look forward to continuing the conversation with you there.

Health & Wellbeing, Blog
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