Staff and members’ wellbeing during the COVID-19 lockdown

Libraries for Nursing Bulletin Vol. 39 (2)

Sarah Cull, Customer Services Manager  

Frances Reed, Events and Exhibitions Coordinator  

Kaitlene Koranteng, Graduate Trainee, Customer Services Team  

Library and Archive Service  
Royal College of Nursing 
20 Cavendish Square 
W1G 0RN 

Like everyone else, the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has meant huge changes in our ways of working at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Library and Archive Service (LAS). From March 23rd our buildings and libraries were closed, and all staff started working from home.  

The Royal College of Nursing is the largest trade union and professional body for nursing staff. We represent around 450,000 members, including registered nurses, nursing support workers, midwives and nursing students. Our members are spread across the UK and although we have four physical libraries, one in each of the UK countries, most members never visit our libraries. We have a large online library with over 25,000 eBooks and 2,000 eJournals and already offer many of our services online including training and webchat enquiry services. 

Our Headquarters library based in central London, is the biggest with 26 staff. When we knew we were all going to be working from home, we had fond thoughts of using the time to catch up with those “back burner” projects. It didn’t quite work out that way.  In fact, we are as busy as normal, and in some areas busier. We knew that as well as continuing to effectively deliver services to our members, it was going to be essential to stay connected as a team to enable staff to feel happy and fulfilled in their new working from home roles. 

We are lucky to be part of a large and very supportive organisation. From the start of lockdown, we began receiving regular updates from our Director and Executive Team plus daily updates from our HR team. To keep connected as a team we continued to have 121 meetings, team meetings and briefings but in addition to this, we introduced daily 15-minute coffee catch ups via Zoom for all staff. 

After a few weeks, staff suggested that we were having too many catch ups and the number of attendees at the optional catch ups dropped. Feedback was that for some people, a Zoom catch up was not fun and could be stressful. Some felt pressurised to contribute to discussions and have their camera on. Others felt it was always the same people doing the talking.  

A drawing of a plant
Figure 1: Time to Draw 1

In response to this, we reduced the number of catch ups and set up the “Ministry of Fun” a group of staff whose purpose was to think of ways we could keep in touch with each other, have fun and be inclusive. We needed a way of replicating the water cooler moments and office banter, so came up with the idea of doing activities during the Thursday coffee catch up. We felt doing something together would be more relaxed and easier to join in with. First up was “Time to draw” where we were given simple objects to draw in 1 minute and then shared our pictures, the wackier the better.  

A drawing of a ticket barrier
Figure 2: Time to Draw 2

This idea developed into full blown Pictionary; we divided into teams and used the white board on Zoom. This worked really well as you can see from these marvellous drawings done in one of our sessions. Second up was doing the crossword. This is something we have always done in the office, so we moved it online via Zoom. One person filled in the crossword and everyone else chipped in with answers. We always get through 2 crosswords in 30 minutes!  We also introduced a quiz every other Friday 4-5pm.  This is very popular and a great end to the week. These sessions were used as dry runs for the quizzes that were organised as one of our “Time to…” events for members.

Screenshot of drawings used in online Pictionary game
Figure 3: Zoom Pictionary

These activities, which could be seen as enforced fun, are not for everyone and they are of course optional. But we feel that it gives the team plenty of different options for keeping in touch and provides some much-needed light relief from the intensity of home working. Research suggests that people prefer activity-based catch ups as they are less pressurised.  

We have encouraged staff to have regular breaks from their laptops and to schedule these into calendars. We also encourage staff to take up CPD opportunities that they may not have had the time to do during the normal working day, such as online learning opportunities or webinars. The RCN has various support networks including Mental Health First Aiders, Health and Well Being advocates as well as our staff networks; Access and Inclusion, LGBTQ+ and Race and Culture which have been very active during lockdown.  

We have continued to ensure that we celebrate birthdays with a Zoom meeting, and we have worked to ensure we continue a praise culture increasing our praise in line with the increased isolation.  For the future we are planning a Countdown session, Desert Island Discs where we all pick a favourite track, a virtual scavenger hunt and a “spot the difference” competition.   

Online events for members 

We moved many of our public events online and introduced a new series of wellbeing events for RCN members which have been immensely popular.  

Talks exploring nursing history, which are usually hosted at RCN HQ in central London, are currently hosted on Zoom. Whilst we are missing the benefits of meeting speakers and attendees in person, we have been able to reach more people with online events. As a UK wide organisation, hosting talks online has provided greater access for RCN members across the four countries. We have also seen a rise in attendees logging in from Europe, the United States, Brazil and beyond. 

We launched a new series of creative workshops to support the wellbeing of RCN members. So far, the workshops have covered drawing, poetry, meditation and even gardening and cutting your own hair. The ‘Time to’ workshops are led by staff who have existing interests and expertise in particular creative areas. Using skills and resources that we already had across the team meant that we could schedule in events quickly and easily. This was vital in order to provide a timely response to the challenges that our nursing members are facing right now. The online workshops have allowed staff to interact with members in a different way and use skills they don’t usually get to share at work.  

One theme used as part of the “Time to” series is poetry. The poetry workshops were hosted by Kaitlene, a member of our Customer Services team. The workshops are very interactive, and attendees aren’t just writing, they’re sharing thoughts and feelings and discussing themes that are meaningful to them. It gets people to think differently. With members working or isolating, an online space can be an exciting platform to try something new, and a fun alternative to a repetitive or monotonous daily routine. Many attendees haven’t engaged with poetry outside of a school environment before. Kaitlene has enjoyed teaching people how to explore something new and being able to deliver this from home has shown us all how resourceful and versatile librarianship can be. 

The individuals who join in on these workshops all have a shared experience through their jobs in this current time, so although they don’t know each other there’s a real sense of camaraderie. Part of the appeal of getting involved is seeing new faces and connecting with others. To give more of a focus on wellbeing, the workshops have been themed. The first workshops focused on the theme of self-love and self-care. The themes make it easier for people to follow and gives some food for thought. 

The feedback has been highly positive. Members have reported that they have enjoyed taking part in something ‘non-nursing’ and meeting fellow RCN members. Results from our survey sent round following the event show us that the sessions are meeting our original aims: they are fun, enjoyable, sociable and relaxing. One attendee pointed out how important activities like this are ‘to reduce isolation and help us [nurses] feel as one.’  

%d bloggers like this: