- During GCUC Online, Laura Shook Guzman and Cynthia Seymour discussed the importance of workplace wellness and mental health.
- Coworking operators were advised to take care of their own wellness before focusing on their communities.
- Practising presence and curiosity are two coping strategies that can help buffer stress and improve our mental wellbeing.
On Tuesday April 21, the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) hosted an online version of the event.
Two of the afternoon sessions focused on wellness and what flexible workspace operators can do to take care of their communities and staff now and following the pandemic.
During her presentation “Resilient Leadership: Staying Centered While Sustaining Your Community”, Laura Shook Guzman, from Women Who Cowork and Somavida, argued that “to be able to take care of your members and others, you need to first take care of yourself.”
To this point, Shook Guzman stated that people need to focus on avoiding burnout. And the best way to do that is to simply be aware of your energy levels.
“Carve out some time for yourself, unplug for a bit,” Shook Guzman recommended.
It’s imperative that we tend to our own mental health during these times in order to be resilient and effective leaders.
Shook Guzman shared 14 warning signs of burnout that individuals should look out for:
- Feeling helpless – I can’t do this, I don’t know how to do this.
- Feeling like you’re not (doing) enough – No matter how much you do, you still feel like it’s never enough.
- Hypervigilance – You’re much too worried about what needs to be done.
- Diminished creativity – You feel stuck.
- Inability to embrace complexity – Problem-solving is a problem in and out of itself.
- Minimizing problems – Oh, no biggie, I’ll figure it out.
- Chronic exhaustion – You can barely get yourself to open your laptop.
- Avoidance – You’re avoiding certain tasks or responsibilities.
- Dissociative moments – You feel disconnected with what you’re doing and what you’re thinking.
- Guilt – You feel guilty about taking a break or unplugging for a moment.
- Fear – You’re afraid of what will happen.
- Anger – You’re angry at the world or yourself.
- Grandiosity – You feel like you can tackle anything as long as you keep working.
- Addictive behavior – You don’t know when to stop.
Most people likely resonate with at least a couple of the items on the list above. If you’re feeling them, it’s OK, Shook Guzman argues.
“What you want to be most careful about is not ignoring these warning signs and pretending that they are not there.”
This can be challenging, as she notes that “our culture rewards this type of hamster wheel behavior where it’s OK and even encouraged to keep on going and going.”
But the thing is, “if you do not stop and breathe and learn to be with your own emotions, then you will not have the ability to keep going.”
2 Strategies to Take Care of Your Mental Health
Shook Guzman shared 2 essentials that help drive mental health: presence and curiosity.
Curiosity can help us have a stress buffer according to Shook Guzman.
“When we are in a reactive state, our brains have stress responses. When we regularly practice curiosity, before being reactive, you get curious for a second, which can help buffer the natural stress response.”
Curiosity is that voice in your head that says “hey, why are you so upset? Let’s take a minute on this.”
The added benefit of curiosity is that the more curious you are, the more creative you will become with your problem solving abilities.
As for presence, it’s all about how present you are in this moment. How connected are you to your own body? How connected are you to the actions you’re taking?
“Is your mind here or is it preoccupied with the future or feeling guilty about the past?”
Shook Guzman believes that being present is important to our mental health because the present is what we have control over. We can’t do anything about the past or the future.
If you want to face challenges and problems and overcome them, then you need to be present.
Workplace Wellbeing Post-Pandemic
Shook Guzman ended her presentation by noting that following the pandemic, some people will be able to bounce back immediately, but some won’t.
“Some people will be forever changed by this”, she noted, and flexible workspace operators need to be ready to help members that are having a hard time finding their new normal.
As leaders of their community, operators will need to ensure that they are providing some level of support (though she did note that some people will need professional help).
This support can be in the form of new policies, new workplace protocols, or new health tech implementations.
Air Quality Will Come to the Forefront of Workplace Wellness
Following Shook Guzman’s presentation, Cynthia Seymour took the (virtual) stage to talk about air quality and why the air we breathe matters.
Seymour started out by sharing some good news: earth is getting a reprieve with the lockdowns and air pollutants are trending downwards.
Still, there is a long way to go.
Seymour shared that there are 6 types of air pollutants regulated by the EPA:
- Carbon monoxide
- Nitrogen oxides
- Particulate matter
- Sulfur dioxide
Of these, particulate matter is among the most important because it is the most harmful of the pollutants. Major sources of particulate matter include traffic, power plants, industry, and wildfires.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Seymour argues that “people will likely have a heightened concern for air quality, particularly microbes in their workplaces in addition to their homes.”
To this, Seymour and Amy King (via the chat) shared some things flexible workspace operators can do to improve their workplace air quality:
- Knowledge is power: research and explore different mitigation strategies.
- Masks will likely become a permanent accessory in the post-COVID-19 world.
- Ban toxic cleaning products and heavy perfume from your workspace.
- Change your air filters at least quarterly.
- Bring in more fresh air with operable windows or through the HVAC system.
- Consider blasting cold air after a meeting room has been used to clean the air before another group comes in.