Mental wellbeing in a remote world

Across Toaster’s global offices, our teams have always been intimate and agile. Our teams are incredibly close, and that friendship has always been something Toaster embraces. Pre-Covid, when working each day in the office, conversations at the coffee machine meant we knew the challenges our colleagues were facing and the little moments they were rejoicing, both professionally and personally, and we relied entirely on face-to-face interactions for these relationships to grow.

However when Covid-19 grounded the world and confined us to working from our homes, we found ourselves with an entirely new challenge on how to support each other during an unprecedented and worrying time.

We delivered gift boxes, we hosted online weekly quizzes and games, we even started a virtual ‘Toaster Tea Time’ which was a dedicated time each week for general nattering, with work chat strictly prohibited. However we knew some of our people were struggling and that we had to find more ways to support them, especially those who had joined us during lockdown and had yet to meet any of their colleagues in person.

We decided to go straight to the source and send out an anonymous wellbeing survey to every employee to find out how everyone was personally coping, what they thought we could do to best support them, and how they envisaged working life to be post-lockdown. We knew the results may cause some challenges as we had to figure out what was the most effective solution for each team, but we wanted to hear the voices of those who had felt lost during this time. Unsurprisingly, the feedback from all of our regions was that the repercussions of Covid-19 had negatively affected their mental health, even if they were enjoying working remotely and spending more time with their loved ones.

It was clear we needed more accessible and relatable mental health support for our team. Our internal mental health first aiders are equipped to support in moments of immediate crisis, and our health insurance providers cover treatment for diagnosed mental health conditions, but this seemed inaccessible for those who had never knowingly suffered with poor mental health before the pandemic. Often people didn’t realise they needed support as they were still able to cope with day-to-day responsibilities, and therefore didn’t align to the stereotypes of mental health. Toaster needed a specialised mental health partner that all of our global employees could access when and how they wanted.

As a direct result of the wellbeing survey feedback, Toaster started working with Plumm Health in July 2021. Their online-based platform includes over 150 global certified therapists providing confidential one-to-one therapy, chat therapy, webinars and courses. They also provide invaluable training sessions for our teams, most recently in how to recognise signs of poor mental health in colleagues and loved ones, and how to start conversation around this. We instantly felt connected to Plumm Health’s use of ‘mental wellbeing’ which has encouraged us to recognise the need to dedicate time to maintaining our mental health as much as we do our physical health, whether that be via engaging in professional support or taking a sick day if needed.

Our wellbeing survey also identified trends and feelings unique to each region and enabled us to tailor solutions to best support them. For example, our UK team had been embracing the flexibility of working from home but had really missed seeing each other face-to-face. Therefore we prioritised getting our London office reopened a little sooner than other regions, who didn’t feel quite as ready. We know there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach on how to manage life post-pandemic, we just need to listen to our people and understand their individual concerns.

Although we have the professional external support in place, we recognise there’s more work to be done before we have the right guidance and frameworks within the structure of Toaster. A focus for 2022 will be working with our line managers to ensure mental health is at the forefront of their management approach, encouraging their reports to be more open and honest with the support they may need. We will also be refreshing our company values so that they work hand-in-hand with mental health, embracing learning and growing, individual differences and doing the right thing by yourself, your team and your own beliefs.