Working from home: mental health, flexibility and hybrid working

By Gary Fielden, HR Director, Buzz Bingo.

Thanks to Government guidance and Covid-19 many people were furloughed in 2020 and working from home (WFH) became a reality for millions. As we moved into 2021 with changing restrictions and conditions, we all learned to be more flexible in our approach to things and recognise that plans may have to change last minute. It also presented new challenges both in terms of finding and creating a work environment away from the office and, for some, feelings of isolation.

Whether we loathe or like the enforced changes Covid has wrought in terms of how we work, it has certainly shaken things up. It has led to one of the largest workplace changes in living memory that is increasingly making hybrid working a very real situation for millions of people.

As a consequence of Covid-19 office based employees at Buzz Bingo experienced a variety of opportunities and challenges as they quickly adjusted to furlough or a new balance of work, family, pets, and time to explore new hobbies. Because who doesn’t have a friend who became a passionate banana bread or indoor plant enthusiast over lockdown?

Identifying new priorities
Business needs changed as the pandemic evolved. As always, colleague and customer health was our primary concern and we rapidly identified three priorities when focusing specifically on WFH. We needed to quickly:

  1. Equip our WFH colleagues with the right tools, software, and processes to work safely and effectively;
  2. Empower our WFH colleagues with the autonomy to choose ways of working that was best for them;
  3. Ramp up mental health support and business communications for all WFH and furloughed colleagues.

With all our colleagues furloughed or WFH, we took the opportunity to move out of our long-term Head Office at New Castle House in Nottingham and immediately focus on our new priorities.

We gave all WFH colleagues laptops, peripherals, second monitors, office chairs, and anything else they needed to efficiently WFH. We provided intranet training on everything from how to set up equipment safely to how to use Microsoft Teams as a platform for meetings, creative collaboration, and casual conversation.

Many colleagues were juggling WFH with home-schooling children, caring for family members and pets, handling mental health challenges, developing new sleep habits, and countless other variables. In response, we offered flexible working where possible, including compressed hours, part time options, and self-dictated times of working.

We also enhanced and extended our mental health services and communication processes to meet our employees’ growing need for support. We conducted regular check-ins and surveys with all WFH colleagues, and our team of volunteer Mental Health Advocates acted as a touchpoint for anyone wanting to chat about mental health or be signposted to appropriate NHS services and resources.

Exploring the idea of hybrid working
After the first few weeks of working from home, we learned via anonymous surveys that a significant number of colleagues enjoyed working from home and wanted to retain it as an option even after a new office opened. Noting this as a fantastic opportunity to offer our employees the flexibility they wanted and look for a bright new office space, we began exploring how hybrid working – a mix of WFH and in the office – could fit in with our future.

Moving into our new office
We opened our new office in Nottingham’s Castle Marina in November 2021 and are currently trialling hybrid working with around 90 hot desks. If a colleague would like to come to the office, they book their desk, parking space, and meeting rooms online.

We’ve ditched department seating layouts, permanent parking spaces, and private offices for senior management in favour of desks and spaces open to everyone. The goal is to create an environment where mixing with colleagues from other departments is inevitable. We believe this is an excellent way to encourage positive relationships to form across the business.

Our new office has a whole floor dedicated to collaboration. It has a mixture of high and low seating options with a cafe culture vibe to encourage groups to come together, catch up, and be creative. 20-foot dry wipe boards dominate two meeting rooms and we’ve installed four interactive screens across the office to create even more opportunities for impromptu creativity and to capture ideas as they flow.

Newly installed state-of-the-art technology means remote colleagues can be ‘in the room’ with in-office colleagues via seamless connections to Microsoft Teams and other platforms. Everyone can work together, easily, from wherever they happen to be.

The Buzz Bingo hybrid working trial
Many organisations are trialling hybrid working, but often in a strictly limited sense. For example, WFH is only allowed one day a week, or in-office days and working times are stipulated by managers.

At Buzz Bingo, we recognise that every colleague is an individual with personal working-style preferences and unique home-life situations. We’re proud to be trialling a highly flexible approach to hybrid working with full support of the Executive Team.

All colleagues who used to work in Head Office full time can now decide where and when they want to work. If someone works best from home, they might only come in for important meetings and social catch ups. If someone wants to be in the office some or all days a week, that’s great too – hot desks can be reserved up to 28 days in advance. As long as Buzz Bingo colleagues continue achieving the high standards we strive for, they have the freedom to choose what works best for them – and we will trust their judgement.

We believe this level of trust and flexibility will vastly improve employee happiness, health, productivity, and retention.

We partnered with a highly regarded Management Consultancy to design our hybrid working trial, which included conducting extensive analysis to understand potential risks and creating solutions to mitigate against them. For example, in January 2022, the business will switch to an updated performance management process which is more forward-thinking and colleague-focused than before. We’re also ready to hit go on a new “engine room” process to foster faster, more accurate communication across the business, irrespective of where colleagues are working from.

The future of hybrid working at Buzz Bingo
We’re excited about the changes planned for 2022 and we’ll be carefully monitoring the results of our hybrid working trial. We’re determined to offer our colleagues the flexibility, autonomy, and trust they want.

Of course, our trial and new changes are just the beginning. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that nobody knows what challenges we could face in the future. So, we’ve vowed to monitor what’s going on in the world, search for great examples of hybrid working at other organisations, and frequently check in with our colleagues to hear how they’re feeling and what they want.

We’ll keep changing things for the better, and you can be sure we’ll grab hold of every opportunity we get to make Buzz Bingo one of the most fulfilling places to work in the UK.