Mental health in architecture has been an increasingly pertinent issue in recent years. Now Covid-19 has added new pressures. Not only are we dealing with general feelings of anxiety and isolation, but we are also getting to grips with the intense new reality of being digitally present all the time.
At Stanton Williams, we are taking action to address this. Before Covid-19, our Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity group was exploring ways to support work-life balance and the wellbeing of everyone in the studio through new policies, initiatives, and most importantly an open dialogue. While the pandemic has accelerated this commitment by allowing us all to work more flexibly, the balance has tipped too far the other way. As a result, we need to acknowledge that the pressure of being digitally linked can be detrimental to our wellbeing.
We dedicated October to Mental Health Awareness and encouraged our team to share their experiences. Events included an open forum studio discussion on healthy digital boundaries and how we can use our working time more effectively without adversely affecting mental wellbeing.
Many colleagues came forward with their personal experiences and shared ideas on how we might improve our practices in these testing times. Issues that were highlighted included the stress of consecutive Zoom meetings and the lack of proper breaks. Another concern was the added anxiety from all those notifications, flashes and pings coming in at all times of day (and night). We collectively identified the need for a new framework on digital behaviour that would be structured around greater mindfulness of the effects of our digital actions on others’ wellbeing.
We have lost the order and structure that we used to have in the physical office, as well as the invigorating spontaneous interactions with colleagues that we all enjoyed. Every form of communication is now via a digital platform. And not only are we digitally communicating more intensively, we’re doing this without the travel time that we used to have at each end of the day. As a result, we have lost this valuable switch-off time.
Our new internal guidelines will set out a clear code of digital behaviour. This includes encouraging short walks at the start of the working day and taking lunch away from the screen. We are reminding all that it’s okay to ask for a break during a long meeting, or to turn off notifications for some deep, uninterrupted working. As a studio, we also need to manage this to ensure we all have adequate time for that deep thought that is a critical ingredient in what we do. And at the end of the day, we’re encouraging everyone to put work away out of sight.
We need to remember that we are only human and that nothing bad is going to happen if we respond to an email later on in the day. We need to have a balance between being digitally present and spending time away from screens and devices. We also need to be supportive to others and check if our colleagues are okay. We’re going through tough times without the social interactions of the studio, and loneliness can be a concern.
People have always been at the heart of what we do as architects, and our own team is our biggest asset. It’s essential to encourage healthy boundaries to ensure the quality of our personal and working relationships continues to thrive through our digital working. Yes, it’s possible to work remotely and flexibly, and we can make this a real success without harming mental wellbeing at the same time.