The pandemic is a hugely challenging time for many of us, both personally and professionally, as it is for millions of people around the world.
Many of us have been affected or know people that have, and our thoughts are with them and their families. Within BPDTS, although the numbers of people sick have been low, we have had a few who have been profoundly affected, and we wish them a speedy recovery.
We remember, too, Emily O’Byrne, who sadly died of cancer last month and whose treatment in the last few weeks had to be stopped because of the crisis. She will be missed, and our thoughts are with her husband, Mike, and the colleagues and friends who knew and loved her.
Thank you to key workers
I’d like to take a moment to thank every key worker in the UK for everything they’re doing. We are right to think of the courage and care of NHS staff and social care workers, but also all the other critical workers, whose spirit and hard work have been fantastic to see.
We are part of this. Working as part of the DWP family, our people have been working hard and creatively since the lockdown started on 23 March to support millions of UK citizens, many of whom are vulnerable and impacted by this dreadful pandemic.
More than ever, at this critical time, we have an essential job to do. As public servants in partnership with the DWP, we’ve been ‘leaning in’ to support our colleagues and keep vital front line services running. Our people have contributed hugely to major service enhancements during the period. These include, but are not limited to:
- fast tracking changes to support DWP Operations in their efforts to process hundreds of thousands of new claims and ensure timely benefit payments happen
- improving digital services to make them faster, resolve capacity limitations, make them less prone to service disruption, easier to develop and cheaper to run
- providing enhanced capability for DWP and BPDTS colleagues to work from home, especially those who are most vulnerable
We’ve managed to help overcome significant logistical and technical limitations over the last couple of months. The BPDTS team is doing an incredible job, and I cannot praise or thank each and every one of them enough.
Prioritising our people's wellbeing
The wellbeing of our people has and continues to be a top priority for us. We’re a service company, and our people are our business. With this in mind, a key goal for us in our 20/21 Business Plan is to enable our people to be at their best, and be appropriately recognised and supported in developing their talent.
Some people may be finding it difficult to cope and adapt to working and living in new ways. For me, juggling the demands at work in responding to this unfolding crisis, alongside caring for and supporting my daughter, hasn’t been without its challenges.
It’s very easy to feel embarrassed, to keep apologising or to pine for lost levels of productivity. But actually, our families are part of who we are. We need to learn to incorporate these interruptions into our schedules and be super-tolerant of each other and our unique needs and challenges.
We just can’t tell what people are dealing with, and what lies behind their reaction to any given situation, so we need to prioritise listening and reaching out to people and offering our support.
But to do that well, we have to take care of our own physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and build our own resilience. It has surprised me how debilitating it can be just listening to the news every day, and how isolating it can feel without the usual adult company. Worry about whether my father is managing, whether my daughter is learning enough, or when my friend who is sick will recover takes its toll. Let’s just recognise that and make time to look after ourselves too.
Here at BPDTS, our people have been able to work from home since the start of the lockdown. We have tried to support people by providing tools and suggestions to help focus on wellbeing. Drawing inspiration from the way the NHS and the mental health charity Mind advocate supporting wellbeing, we’re focussing on 5 things:
- connecting with people
- being active
- keeping learning
- giving to others
- taking notice
Connect with people
Strengthening relationships with others and feeling close to and valued by others is critical to boosting wellbeing.
Since the lockdown began, many of us have had to sever our usual human connections. Yet, isolating, social distancing, and working from home where possible have made maintaining our relationships more important than ever.
I’m incredibly proud of our managers and their efforts to stay connected with people in their teams, and we hope that this is a time where that relationship can grow and thrive, despite the constraints. Having continual quality conversations helps to build rapport, act on feedback, support one another, unblock barriers, uncover new opportunities, and focus on the important things.
As well as ensuring we stay connected with managers, we’ve done what we can to stay connected with others in our teams, practices, and across the wider company – even arranging some fun and social activities to keep people engaged. Examples include BPDTS Has Talent, Pop Master Challenge, and our weekly CommuniTea sessions.
We think at this time, it’s really important to think about new and different ways to stay connected with and engage our people.
Being physically active improves physical health, can improve mood and wellbeing, while also decreasing stress, depression, and anxiety. It’s also vital if, like me, you have a tendency towards comfort eating your way through lockdown.
Hints and tips for our people working from home include amongst other things:
- act like you’re heading to the office – because you are
- walk around the house and garden to clear the cobwebs
- take regular breaks and get away from your computer
- exercise regularly
Another activity lots of our people are signing up for is a challenge to help me travel around Europe (albeit virtually). Using the Strava app, people can give me a helping hand (or foot) by recording how far they’re walking, running, or cycling – while recognising and encouraging each other along the way. Snaps, of course, have been included.
Physical activity comes in many forms. Walking, running, star-jumps, press-ups, yoga, gardening, or a rep challenge – whatever it is, just enjoy it.
Being curious and seeking out new experiences at work and in life, more generally positively stimulates the brain. For me, it’s crosswords, Sudoku, and audible books in my spare minutes.
Keeping our brains active is as essential as exercising our bodies. Many of us are also turning towards digital learning channels for work and personal reasons. The Open University’s free online learning site Open Learn has seen a 50% increase in visitors, and our online learning platform, Pluralsight, also offers opportunities to take on new challenges.
At BPDTS, employees are putting learning and development plans in place, attending virtual courses, embarking on self-paced modules, and keeping skills up-to-date with technical certifications and sandboxes.
In parallel, our children are also taking up the digital learning mantle, and mine is now a world expert in Zoom. And as we make these journeys together as working from home parents, we’re also learning new skills to keep the grey matter moving.
Learning is fantastic for our self-esteem; it keeps us connected and helps us to adapt to change. It’s not all about formal courses and online videos. Continuous learning is about embracing formal and informal learning – exploring new ideas, sharpening our skills, taking up a new hobby – it means being curious and having an enquiring mind in all areas of life.
Give to others
Carrying out acts of kindness, whether small or large, can increase happiness, life satisfaction, and a general sense of wellbeing.
The coronavirus pandemic is driving an unprecedented public response to assist people in need. Nationally, more than 1,000 volunteer groups have been set up to help the people who are self-isolating during the coronavirus outbreak.
Individuals, groups, and organisations are coming together to support those most vulnerable in our society. Tens of thousands of people have come forward, offering to pick up shopping or deliver medicine to the most vulnerable. It’s remarkable to witness how actively volunteering, charity fundraising, and much more is helping to make a difference in and around our local communities.
Here at BPDTS, we actively encourage our people to participate in volunteering activities and fundraising. Many of our people are providing valuable services in their spare time as Special Constables. Blood Bike Riders, NHS First Responders, volunteer shoppers, carers, and helpline operators. We’re immensely proud of them for going the extra mile to help others.
Paying more attention to the present moment, thoughts, and feelings and the world around boosts our wellbeing.
The pandemic has made us all pause. If it enables us to become more thoughtful, attentive, and appreciative of our actions and how we can have a greater appreciation for others' actions, that will be a real benefit.
To support people, we’ve signposted a range of activities and online content, from yoga and meditation to mindfulness and resilience. We hope they’ve found them useful and helpful.
I’d like to thank everyone who has organised or taken part in the many initiatives described here, too – the team has done an amazing job, and I and others have benefited hugely from their thoughtful and creative energy over the last few weeks.
Moving towards a brighter and better future
We’re in a unique situation, and it’s still hard to see the path ahead in any detail. I know, however, that we’ll do all we can to maintain essential services that many millions of people across the UK rely on. We’ll support each other to take proportionate steps at the right time, individually and as a company, to get through this.
Please do stay safe, stay well, be understanding towards and kind to others, and take care of those you love.