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Nature can help us emerge stronger (March 2021)

The last year has seen so many changes in what businesses do and how they do it. Organisations had to switch to remote working overnight and keep businesses going but as lockdown has progressed, cracks have opened up around lower effectiveness, loss of human connection and poor mental health. Remote working for some has increased a sense of isolation with employees sometimes focused more on the individual than the team. What is clear is that there are huge disparities in what lockdown has meant for individuals, teams and organisations. Whilst the pandemic remains a huge challenge globally, the UK seems for now to be opening up as it tentatively emerges from lockdown. Whilst 65% report that what they miss most is the human connection of being in the office (Microsoft / CIPD), the same figure (65%) are anxious about returning to the office; and the number 1 request for 36% of employees from their companies is supporting their wellbeing.

Teams are wonderfully complex - when they are effective, they are truly inspirational environments to be part of but when the human connections and dynamics are not right, teams are ineffective at best and degenerative or hostile at worst. What is it to lead a team or organisation out of lockdown? As a leader or manager, what needs to be done? This requires careful planning because the potential business impacts of getting it wrong are significant. For businesses the risks include: - Loss of employee connection and increased staff turnover - Increased stress and poor mental health if social anxiety is not managed effectively - Less effective teams due to reduced focus, connection and creativity - Loss of understanding of changing circumstances of clients and stakeholders - Fewer opportunities to bond with clients resulting in more distant relationships from and reduction in new business

Many of us have become more connected to nature over lockdown with 41% reporting that visiting green spaces has become more important (ONS). Nature has provided a safe space for recreation, social interaction and managing worry and anxiety in a difficult time. The beeline that many chartered towards nature reflects the science around the relationship between humans and nature: -Edward O Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis which states that humans are part of nature and therefore we naturally feel more comfortable in nature. -The extensive evidence that nature serves to effectively reduce stress including a 2019 study that showed just 25 minutes in nature reduces ‘biomarkers’ of stress by up to 29%. - ‘Nature prescriptions’ within the NHS which demonstrate the effectiveness of nature in supporting mental health -That role of nature in improving wellbeing; our sense of purpose; our happiness; and, our sense of connectedness with ourselves, each other and the natural world.

This evidence is highly relevant information for businesses as they come out of lockdown. Where teams effectively harness the benefits of nature, it can provide a valuable toolkit for navigating this uncertain time. It is relevant for project teams looking to rekindle the human connection and creative spark they have missed. It is relevant for senior management teams that need to discuss the operational and strategic plans for post lockdown. It is relevant for teams in business units needing to reconnect and reset around a common purpose. It is relevant for contract teams within Key Client Management programmes where client and service providers need to adapt to respond to new requirements and priorities in a changing business environment.

Identifying what to do in practice alongside managing the pressures of business as usual is no mean feat. An effective solution needs to: - Reconnect - Feel psychologically safe and minimise any social anxiety. Provide time for everyone to explore what lockdown has meant for them and share thoughts and feelings about the future including a return to the office environment - Re-engage - Re-establish the human connections that are the foundation of any effective team. Build some new shared experiences and have some fun! - Reset - Evaluate how the business environment has shifted for the team, its partners, clients or stakeholders. Identify what needs to be done to address the post lockdown world e.g. effective hybrid working arrangements or meeting changing priorities.

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