Author: Sass Boucher
Sass shares 5 Tips on maintaining peer support when working from home in the helping professions.
Many of us have thrived working remotely throughout the pandemic, but for others it’s felt isolating and frightening.
The step change from office to home means that we’ve had to work out how to separate our virtual colleagues, service users & managers, from those parts of our lives that exist beyond work, whilst managing our personal space to allow that office in! The challenges, for many, have been more than logistical.
'For some of us there have been real gains.'
Those precious hours and minutes that were consumed by daily commutes have been reclaimed with glee. We have had the opportunity to snatch a little more time with the precious folks in our lives. We can nip out to pick the kids up from school, or call in for cuppa with a relative, priceless moments that many of us didn’t have before.
We can also eat that healthy lunch now, because there’s no excuse when the salad is sitting there in the fridge is there, and isn’t it simply AMAZING, to incrementally reduce that monumental washing pile! Remember when it used to threaten to collapse on us before that day off where we tackled it all in one go? Now we’re working from home we can pop a load of washing in on the way to the loo.
'Yes, go to the loo, you do that a bit more regularly now don’t you?'
You actually get up and go to the toilet without sitting rocking on your chair, inviting water infections to get a grip whilst you ‘just finish this email’ or end that zoom call!
Oh, and let’s not forget the pets, pups, and all our furry friends, who settle onto our laps (or laptops), whilst we’re sitting at our desks. They are wonderfully happy, delighted to have their best buds to snooze on, literally, every day.
Even better you can pop a YouTube 10-minute fitness class on, pick up your resistance bands from your hall table and . . . am I going too far now? Well in some cases I’m not, because we have heard of some truly life changing, inspirational experiences of personal growth and reflection from front line practitioners, who credit working from home as literally saving their lives.
Eating habits have changed, new routines created to include that walk, that yoga, that food prep, and these are just so wonderful to listen to, and hear it we do, every time we deliver training.
Some of us, who had never found the time pre-pandemic, or made the time, to look after ourselves, have taken this chance to do so. We’ve clawed back those minutes, put them to good use and prioritised our needs, which let’s face it, ultimately benefits those around us too.
'Conversely, for some of us, working from home has been fraught with danger, anxiety, loneliness and uncertainty.'
Kate and I have been fortunate enough to be delivering training around professional trauma and fatigue, with our five pillars model since before the pandemic broke, but it was in a session a few months ago, via our faithful zoom where we were asking the participants to introduce themselves to us and each other that we had a terrifyingly sobering moment.
As they excitedly said ‘hi’ across the zoom waves, it suddenly became apparent two participants already knew each other. I asked them if they’d worked together before. One of the smiling faces replied, “we work on the same team, we just haven’t seen each other, even virtually, for two years!”
'I know! Drop the mike!'
A brutal shocking realisation, these folks, spending their days supporting others in social care and health had not seen each other for TWO YEARS!
For a sector that relies heavily on, and revels joyously in, the power of peer support, I couldn’t start to come to terms of what this might mean. We know that peer support, which we include as one of our 5 Pillars of Protection is the most valued asset when it comes to supporting ourselves and each other in the helping professions. Peer support is a precious commodity that can protect us. The relationship, the connection of how we work and support each other in these roles is invaluable. It’s like a superpower, we know it keeps people settled in their ‘happy team’, not wanting to leave, long after a promotion or relocation was momentarily tempting.
I hope that this length of time without seeing a member of our teams is unusual. I have a suspicion it may not be. As the pendulum between working from home, back to the office and working from home continues to swing, how do we cope without being able to roll our eyes at a colleague as we come off a particularly intense call?
Who do we send that supportive smile to as we weave our way back through the office with a tray of drinks for our colleagues? Who is going to nudge you to go to the loo, as you continue to rock on your chair until you’ve finished ‘that email’ ‘this report’ ‘that phone call?’
Those moments of informal peer support are the priceless pieces of armour that can ground us, protect us, and share the weight of the immense trauma and distress some of us are working with daily.
We are not superheroes, but we do have access to superpowers, and those superpowers are each other, they are relationships, they are connection, they are our peers, they are the people that just ‘know’, they are our ‘super peers!’
I’ve collated from our social media shout out 5 top tips for those of you working from home, and feeling alone, because it’s OK not to feel OK, and sharing these thoughts can prompt us to help ourselves. We had a great response, thank you for joining in the conversation, and although we didn’t fit them all into this piece, we will continue to ask the experts, you.
Before I proceed to share your wisdom, I must also add at this point, cake was mentioned a lot, so just consider that most tips work with cake, or an apple!
1. Group WhatsApp?
“Have you got a group WhatsApp,” asks Josie Newton, practice consultant with @DTSWTP and Senior lecturer with Kingston University, and AMHP? “Messages shared with those you work alongside is a fab connector – use GIFs to brighten the day, share positive memes and send messages of support with each other.”
I agree with Josie, and these have been working for a while with some of you out there, for those who haven’t, it’s never too late to start. We’ve heard of some amazingly supportive groups over the last few years. I’d just encourage making sure that there’s a work cut off too, to keep those boundaries, maybe no work messages after 5pm, only funny, helpful, kind stuff!
2. Pick up the phone and talk to someone.
‘Don’t always text, message or email,’ says Maxine Amanda on our Facebook thread. “We wouldn’t have done that when we’re sat next to someone in the office.”
I thought this was a great suggestion, with several layers. Hearing a familiar voice can feel far more supportive than a message or email, so go retro, pick the phone up and call a colleague.
3. Set up a regular round robin email to a small group.
@MeddleSarah on twitter suggests that we could nurture feeling connected by authoring a regular round robin email.
“What I admire about you,” is an example of a question that we could include, a way of relating to each other and encouraging positive communication. This could also be a great vehicle to encourage us to remember our ‘why’. When things get tough, remembering why we do what we do can be really powerful, helping us to rediscover passions and goals, and as important, listening to each others.
4. Proactively seek connection with peers.
Jade from @BASWStudentNQSW on twitter said, “Don’t be afraid to seek out a virtual support network. As a student are there any other students you could connect with? If your organisation uses teams, don’t be afraid to say good morning, it can be a great conversation starter.”
It can be tough, and nerve racking to ‘put yourself out there’ but why not try, find those who are working with similar experiences right now. This is such a wonderful way to feel less isolated and find a new peer support network.
5. And finally . . .Team Yoga!
Yes, I know, Kate and I are always going to push the boundaries but why not, and we know a lot of you used to do it in the office? Pick one, Teams or Zoom, find a short 5–10-minute desk yoga clip on YouTube, share your screen, and ground yourself and go. There’s every chance it’ll get easier with consistency and persistency, but if not, hey, you can always have a thoroughly good belly laugh. In my opinion a sense of humour is one of the most powerful ways we can connect as peers, and it rarely fails with those we sit alongside.
Please do continue to join in the conversation on social media, tag us in so that we don’t miss it, we love to hear how you’re looking after yourselves and each other.