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20/04/2021

A great dislocation: How a new mentoring scheme can help us return to healthier, human-centred workplaces

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Healthy workplace

Emma Foster considers what the Covid experience has told us about the ways in which we need to work – and how mentoring can help prepare built environment professionals for a return to workplaces that are better adapted to their needs

Last March, the government announced the first national lockdown. Overnight, businesses across the country had to adjust to the restrictions of the pandemic – working from home, working in a dramatically changed site environment, or not working at all for those on furlough or who lost jobs. 

It’s been a dramatic year – and the biggest opportunity for reflection and resetting of expectations and norms that most of us will experience in our lifetimes.

More than ever, we’re acutely aware of our relationship to our work. If you’d been living for the weekend and the weekend suddenly got a lot less fun, that’s a stark realisation. If you’re missing your teammates terribly, there’s wisdom in that. I’m fortunate in that I enjoy my job as a development director at Mount Anvil, but I’ve also learned a lot from this period. Working at home it’s become clear that I need a different balance of social ‘on’ time (collaborating and taking on stimulus) vs quiet focus time than I had habitually given myself in the office.  

“Working at home it’s become clear that I need a different balance of social ‘on’ time (collaborating and taking on stimulus) vs quiet focus time than I had habitually given myself in the office”

We’ve all been experimenting with our optimum rhythm, battling different distractions with family around or acknowledging loneliness if we’re feeling the effects of less social contact. This has been a profound experiment and we’re not done taking the learnings from it yet. But what is clear to me is that feeling truly connected to your work, teammates and mission is key to contentment. And one thing I was sure of even before I’d heard of Covid-19 is that the opportunity to access that, to work on meaningful things and contribute in a meaningful way, isn’t distributed equally in society.  

The benefits of mentoring

We don’t all get the privilege of seeing the breadth of options for creating a meaningful career, let alone the privilege of accessing them. That’s why one of my proudest achievements during the pandemic was launching the first strand of our Makers & Mentors initiative – a mentoring programme designed to foster equality of opportunity for all in the built environment industry, in partnership with the GLA (Greater London Authority). 

“What is clear to me is that feeling truly connected to your work, teammates and mission is key to contentment”

It’s a response to the reality that careers in the built environment have an image problem. Many people see them as inaccessible or unappealing, so talent attraction is lopsided, and then many businesses recruit and promote in a manner that lets unconscious bias run loose, leading to lose-lose outcomes.

Mentoring is a system for sharing diverse expertise, helping people to help themselves and take control of their outcomes and experiences. The pandemic has certainly highlighted to me how important that is for wellbeing. Mentoring can help expand the playing field, illuminate possibilities and provide a win-win of sharing between mentor and mentee. We now, as part of Makers & Mentors, have over 130 mentors from across the industry, the full gamut of roles, signed up. And there are at least 50 successful mentoring relationships on the go right now.  

When I spoke to Gabrielle Appiah, a member of Women in Planning [https://www.womeninplanning.org/], as part of our new Makers & Mentors ‘In Conversation With…’ series, she touched on her own experience of having a mentor to speak with when it came to her appraisal, and how it was a key propellant in her career progression. She knew what she wanted and sought help to communicate that – the very definition of conscious, deliberate action (as opposed to being ‘done to’ in the world). Gabrielle is a mentor on the Makers & Mentors platform, seeking to pay forward the benefit of mentorship.

A new way of doing things

We’re living through a great dislocation, with nobody’s life unchanged. Using this time to get more enlightened about what we need and how we thrive is, for me, the best possible legacy from the shock. Inevitably, at Mount Anvil we’re trying to bring that wisdom into our physical spaces, too.  

"Using this time to get more enlightened about what we need and how we thrive is, for me, the best possible legacy from the shock”

We did our first In Conversation With… at our new Living Rooms hub, where we’ve adapted our Barbican office space to better suit the needs and habits of our customers and our teammates. There’s now a blend of deliberately collaborative spaces, a battery of soundproofed solo working spaces for the quiet that we all need for deep thought and a special, peaceful space where we’ll be encouraging 10-minute meditation breaks for prayer, nursing and other needs. 

I’m excited to get back into a renewed office space that’s designed around how we really work, a place where certain things happen better than they can happen anywhere else. We’ve thought about the behaviours and practises that underpin our culture and our business’ interactions with partners and customers, used the best of our design and construction experience to execute that, and in doing so created a way to use our built environment to optimise our precious time together and get our meaningful work done better.

I’m also excited about being able to meet my mentee face-to-face soon and in the Living Rooms – virtual coffees have been OK and the conversation’s always been great but now we can explore the impact of these differently designed spaces on our sessions and openness. 

“I’m excited to get back into a renewed office space that’s designed around how we really work, a place where certain things happen better than they can happen anywhere else”

We have a learning culture at Mount Anvil and that’s part of the reason we set up Makers & Mentors, so we wouldn’t be us if we weren’t taking learnings from this prolonged time away from the office and now making the most of the deliberate diversity of spaces available to us to thrive, whether in our day-to-day roles or for me, when mentoring too, because the space, like Makers & Mentors, is for everyone. Our idea of progress isn’t just a broader set of people entering the industry, but in more people truly thriving.

Emma Foster is development director at Mount Anvil

Photo | iStock

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