I can’t wait to see real faces again, in real meeting rooms or social settings

by Matt Holman, Head of Traveller Wellbeing at Capita Travel and Events

As we move into our eighth week of lockdown, we are all getting more used to this new version of our world. Some of us have our routines running smoothly and others are still trying to balance their work, children’s education and other personal demands - all to get through each day. ‘It’s a bit like Groundhog Day’ and ‘what day is it?’ are phrases we’re hearing more frequently as new experiences, stories and interactions with others have reduced.

The effects of limited engagements can be varied but a significant area is how it can impact your mental health and wellbeing. To name just a few examples; struggles with mental health can be brought on by feelings of isolation, stress, increased workloads or an increased sense of responsibility as we don’t have immediate support around us – but it’s time to take steps to ensure wellbeing is at the forefront of the new normal – whatever that will look like.

Following the Government announcement around the loosening of restrictions and the plans for a transition out of lockdown, we now have some prospect of how the restrictions could be lifted and how that could enable us to move back to our workplaces and a slow return to human, face-to-face connections.

As many will attest to, this period of lockdown has given us a great opportunity to trial new technologies en masse and transition into the workplace of the future, as we appreciate that not every interaction will need to be in person - but there will always be a place for face-to-face.

On 5 May, Clive Wratten, Chief Executive Officer of The Business Travel Association wrote an article outlining his experience of the lockdown and how he had achieved a record of the ‘full-monty of video calls’ (using multiple meeting platforms for his work day). His call to action from the post was:

‘I can’t wait to get back to meeting people in person when it’s deemed safe to do so. I know what you are going to say “Well you would say that wouldn’t you” given my position but that’s really not why I say it. It’s because I am a human being and I thrive on interaction with my fellow species, video meeting rooms are fine but I now know, that for me, there is no substitute for real life meeting rooms.’

This is a view that is shared across the travel and meetings industry. As social creatures, humans need to connect to one another through emotional experiences. So, how can we make that transition back to the new world safer, faster and easier for everyone?

Here are a few suggestions to help:

How can we prepare ourselves for a return to the new normal working day?

  • Maintain our mental wellbeing is critical; we want to ensure that we are able to come through the crisis with minimal impact to our mental wellbeing. We need to ensure that we practice good stress reduction strategies, including; exercise, eating well, hydrating, taking regular breaks, sleeping and talking when things are getting too challenging.

  • Remind ourselves that there are factors outside of our control at the moment and we should accept that the rules are being adjusted each day and if given time, we will adapt.

  • Stay in contact with family, friends and colleagues during this period.

  • Reach out to those who we are concerned about and check in with them from time to time - and hope that when someone is concerned about you that they will reach out to check how you are.

  • Remind yourself that things will get better, and that we should focus on the things that make us happy.

How can we prepare ourselves for the need to travel for business?

  • Ensure that our workplaces provide clear and simple expectations of us as travellers.

  • Identify early on, any potential risks or anxiety points that we can actively manage and support.

  • Create a process that will enable travellers the ability to talk openly about their concerns or anxieties with their managers and help to identify alternatives or reduce their fears.

  • Be honest about how we feel towards travelling again.

  • Remember that everyone has their own personal feelings or thoughts towards returning to travel, some will embrace it with open arms, and others will struggle with the anxiety – we are all different in our experiences.

  • It is imperative, now more than ever, that we talk about mental health in the context of travelling for work.

One day, in the not too distant future, we will be able to go back to meeting and socialising face-to-face but until that day, please stay safe.

Please remember if you are struggling to cope with the current challenges, worried about the future and feeling your mental health has been impacted due to the crisis; talk to others about how you are feeling. Not every experience is the same but one in four adults experience challenges relating to their mental health [1]. We all need to, be open, honest and talk about mental health.

[1] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016