H.O.M.E: Health and wellness in the great indoors

Part one of our four-part podcast series exploring our "new normal" – with life lived entirely in the home.

As the saying goes “home where the heart is” and for now, it’s where you’ll find the office and the school and the shops and concerts too. H.O.M.E. is a special four-part series on Inside Intercom exploring what that means for various facets of life and learning how people across many industries and countries are managing to persevere with the help of technology.

This is the first episode in the series, over the next four weeks we’ll cover the following themes:

  • Health and wellness – how are people staying healthy in mind and body?
  • Off the clock – how are folks socializing and what tools are helping them?
  • Market – how are businesses coping with the move online?
  • Entertainment – what does the current situation mean for a sector that relies so much on “experiences”?

We’re in the middle of a worldwide quarantine, and it isn’t just corporate workspaces that have shuttered. Fitness clubs, yoga studios, and even parks have been closed to the public in many countries. Our homes – previously nests for relaxing after a long day at work or recovering from an exhausting session in the weight room – have been hastily repurposed to serve as offices and gyms. In our “new normal,” we’ve had to learn how to not only work but to exercise, cook, and socialize, all while spending the vast majority of our time inside.

As we try to find creative ways to get by, we’ve been thinking hard about what “home” really means… and how our old notions will surely be reshaped even after we return to our cubicles. Will working from home become a more regular occurrence as companies weigh the pros and cons of remote employees? How have companies pivoted to serve their customers from afar? And which of these moves will they maintain as a regular part of their business going forward?

This episode feature conversations with:

If you enjoy the conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. We’ve also put together a companion guide to the episode, which you can read below.

The psychological toll

For those who have been forced into remote work unexpectedly, the mental shift required can be jarring. For many companies, the processes are optimized to support an environment where work is happening in a central location. But there are some companies like Doist, the team behind the productivity app Todoist and the team conversation software Twist, who have made fully remote work part of their raison d’etre.

“This is psychologically very hard for people. If you have distress and then you also need to change all of your processes, how you get stuff done becomes really challenging”

“This is psychologically very hard for people,” says Amir Salihefendić, Doist’s CEO. “If you have distress and then you also need to change all of your processes and how you work together, how you get stuff done becomes really challenging.”

As the company leans farther into the thought leadership it has practiced for years, Amir and his team predict a massive shift in the way the rest of the world works. Citing Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, he suggests that many workplaces simply aren’t conducive to solving hard problems. “Most of our current environments are optimized toward shallow work,” he explains. “This means you’re distracted all the time. You can’t really find one or two hours to concentrate on something.”

Although working from home may carry distractions of its own, one benefit is that self-motivated employees have more of an opportunity to employ what works for them, particularly when it comes to mental health and wellness. This may lead to a more nuanced division of labor that allows for deep-diving into creative knowledge work instead of inefficiently skimming along the surface.

Responding to serious needs

The meditation app Headspace has recognized that we’re all navigating uncertainty and fear during the pandemic. That’s why they’ve rolled out an original series called “Weathering the Storm” (free to everyone, not just subscribers) that “includes meditations, sleep, and movement exercises to help you out, however you’re feeling.” It’s their effort to help customers “find some space and kindness for yourself and those around you.”

But they’ve also recognized that front-line workers are suffering even more than most. They’ve made premium subscriptions free for healthcare professionals and are offering a few free collections for leaders and HR managers to “lead with kindness and understanding through the uncertainty.”

“They’ve been able to retain up to 85% of their customer base, which is pretty phenomenal given the constraints that many of us are living under at the moment”

This is, of course, not a one-size-fits-all prescription. Rather than radically revising its offering, Glofox, an Intercom customer whose fitness management platform powers gyms around the world, has leaned into what’s worked for them historically. With in-person opportunities evaporating overnight, it’s easy for some of their clients — who historically have relied on their customers’ physical presence – to be tempted into making some of their training knowledge complimentary in an effort to keep customers engaged.

But Patrick Fitzgerald, Glofox’s Sales Director, says you should analyze the metrics before giving away the farm for free. Many of Glofox’s partner gyms “are delivering to their customers in an online way is just as engaging, just as fun, just as community-oriented, just as focused on accountability as anything that they were doing on an in-person basis,” he explains. “They’ve been able to retain up to 85% of their customer base, which is pretty phenomenal given the constraints that many of us are living under at the moment.”

Wellness tips you can use

It isn’t just about the business of the pandemic; it’s about the busyness we’re all experiencing as we attempt, with varying degrees of success, to learn how to unwind and decompress in the same physical space where we’re racing to achieve our daily work goals.

Mindfulness may not be a priority for many during the best of times, but in the moment when fear strikes, it can be a powerful tool to reduce anxiety and find a bit of comfort during an uncertain time. We caught up with Dr. Kristen Race, the Head of Mindfulness at Solvasa and a neuroscientist who has worked with C-suite executives from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg to Match.com‘s Lisa Nelson to Spanx’s Sara Blakely. The current environment has only led to a surge in interest in her expertise. “Clients are coming to me coming to me in an absolute panic because they’re in disarray, and they don’t really have those tools to help people for wellness and their resilience,” Race explains. “I think what is happening is that people who have never really valued wellness and resilience are starting to recognize how critical it is when times are tough.”

“You recognize three good things in your day and you share them with someone. We see an increase in happiness, a decrease in anxiety and depression, an increase in feelings of work life balance and improvement in sleep quality”

To that end, Race offers some actionable tips. “It’s a practice I’ve been teaching for years called ‘Three Good Things’,” she says. “You recognize three good things in your day and you share them with someone. We see an increase in happiness, a decrease in anxiety and depression, an increase in feelings of work life balance and improvement in sleep quality.” After six months of practicing Three Good Things, Race’s research shows that the practice performs better than medication for relieving depression and boosting happiness.

It’s hopeful advice for us all. It’s all too easy to reach for the phone and dive into the news immediately upon waking. But rather than endlessly scrolling through the news or dwelling on what we can’t control, it’s important to look for the good and focus on the things we can directly influence. We’re all in this together, and though our current reality requires some enormous sacrifices, we may be on the verge of a better world as long as we stand shoulder to shoulder.

Recommended reading

Original artwork for this series was created by Natalie Nelson. Natalie is an illustrator, picture book maker, and collage artist. You can find out more about her work here.