Thoughtworkers love to talk about anything and everything. Our clients often mention how open our conversations over coffee/lunch/beers can be, covering everything from political views, to technology, to the best sci fi books to read.
One of the impacts of COVID-19 and the change to the way we all work, has been for many of us, the removal from these conversations. Like the adaptable beings we are, we found new spaces to continue these.
A plethora of chat rooms opened up, or became more widely visited - from “here is a cute picture of my pet” to “Data science”. One of the most impactful for us was the “Mental Health Space”.
We’re always told “oh it’s an open space, you can discuss anything” when you get into a workplace chat room - and yet that is rarely true.
Growing from its organic start in 2018, with little advertising internally, it has become a thriving community of 500+ colleagues who share everything on mental health, from memes found on social media, to poetry, to their journeys and struggles.
It has become the place to ask for advice, support, or to simply be seen. The conversations can be wider than you can see on the chat itself. Some Thoughtworkers reach out to each other directly in response to a post. Many of us heard from people, even months later, that they valued a conversation that they read in the group.
During the first waves of lockdowns in response to COVID-19 across the globe, this space took off. It was somewhere to reach out for help, to find others having the same dreadful time in lockdown, and connect. Those connections built a global community that shares their experience and the universality of our experiences becomes evident.
For example, a recent conversation on grief covered not only on the obvious griefs, such as the loss of a friend or loved one, and the complexities COVID-19 forced on those situations, it also touched on other griefs we are feeling at the moment, the loss of opportunity, and the loss of social connections. People also talked about the loss felt when leaving a project team and the loss of communities both online and in our physical realms. Walking around a neighbourhood could be filled with grief when you realise the number of places that closed down during COVID-19. We all understood that sensation and connected.
Another example was someone asking for help with “the blues” on their team, which was a mix of COVID-19/remote blues, plus project blues, plus winter blues, and they were met with articles, practical examples, people reaching out, and turned into a wider discussion about how we are all running on empty after so many months of uncertainty and working around the small daily challenges. Everyone felt seen and shared the commonality of our lives. As well as knowing what to avoid, we know what to emphasise to build team happiness. We might be spread across the globe, in different cultures, and we all share the same emotions and Mental Health challenges.
In learning how other regions talk about mental health, which can range from openness to stigmatisation, and sharing activities and support networks, we gain not only a wider perspective of people’s experiences, but also a greater understanding of the challenges faced.
This is one of the most ‘Thoughtworks’ spaces, as it is open, cares for everyone, and makes decisions by consensus. There was recently a question about a potential discussion topic, and the group quickly built boundaries due to the differing legal status of some therapies across the globe. The group cares about each other, posting Content Warnings, doing our best to be accessible, and sign posting to support when needed.
When talking about Mental health, it can be full of joy and positivity - many in the space know how sweet life is because we’ve tasted the salt of tears. Connections made in this space resonate into other areas. Knowing someone from another region who has shared their experience means when you connect up on a work project, you can bond quickly.
Discussing our mental health, in an open space, has kept many of the contributors going. It’s that knowledge we are not alone.
We have yet to see something as open and as active in our clients - what makes something like this possible? This is grass roots, growing organically to meet the needs of the community.
What makes this so special? The space, the culture, and the willingness of people to be vulnerable?
The fearlessness, the care, the sharing, show the real special sauce - an Inclusive mindset.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.