Interviews

Lucy Button, Head of Marketing, BioBeats

As the UK looks ahead to a more sustained period of remote working, Lucy Button, Head of Marketing at BioBeats shares some insight into how individuals and businesses can best support mental wellbeing while doing so.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE

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As the coronavirus crisis continues to escalate and its impact unfurls across the world, what is becoming more and more apparent to businesses and brands is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution forthcoming.

Many businesses are setting up shop remotely, able to adapt and move their office online with relative ease. Others aren’t so lucky with staff across adland and beyond being furloughed or laid off entirely.

In amongst the need to stay employed, juggle working from home, contend with home schooling perhaps, or navigate which housemate gets which side of the kitchen table, there is the looming task of maintaining your mental health. How do you safeguard your own mental wellbeing during times of crisis?

Lucy Button is Head of Marketing at BioBeats, a digital health and wellbeing business that designs and creates technological solutions for individuals and companies alike. As she says, the business’s goal is fundamentally simple: “We genuinely just want to make people feel better.”

BioBeats is part of the wearable tech space that has been ever-growing in recent years. The nature of these products is to empower the user to better monitor their own health, something that feels particularly pertinent at a time when we are more conscious of our day-to-day health than ever before.

Mental health isn’t just about your mind.

Lucy Button

Developing healthy habits

Alongside the wonders of technology, Button believes that working remotely successfully, whilst maintaining your own mental wellbeing comes down to developing healthy habits. It’s something she encourages her team to practice daily, believing that there are four key actions they should all take.

The first is the importance of getting some morning sun. Button explains, “the reason behind that is just to reset our natural circadian clock.” This is our internal process that regulates our sleep/wake cycle, something that would ordinarily be kickstarted for many by the morning commute. Alongside this, Button says, people should be “employing basic sleep hygiene.” This means, she explains, separating your workspace from your homespace; “absolutely no laptops in the bedroom,” she adds.

As part of that, Button says we should be “trying to achieve that 30 minutes of exercise every day.” We’ve seen this message echoed in recent weeks by the emergence of Joe Wicks’s #PEWithJoe to the #StayInWorkOut initiative from Sport England, and many other health and fitness brands offering opportunities to get your body moving, even if that’s just having a dance along to the radio.

On top of these more physical activities, Button asks that her team stay connected, to one another and to those closest to them. She says that “we’re trying to encourage everyone to download the Houseparty app,” the latest social media platform taking the newly confined world by storm. The team has their coffee break on the app, catching up as they would ordinarily do in the office kitchen.

Mental health isn’t just about your mind

Staying connected cements Button’s belief that “mental health isn’t just about your mind.” This means that when it comes to technology-assisted solutions, “engaging with an app relating to your mind isn’t enough. It’s just as much to do with your body as well.” And this is something that employers also need to understand.

BioBeats research reveals that employers are usually “employing one or the other,” says Button. “So, it’s usually a yoga class or a subsidised gym membership or it’ll be free fruit. So, everything that exists, exists within a physical environment but it also only addresses one part of your health.”

Button’s key piece of advice to those people setting out to WFH for the foreseeable is “just taking that moment to listen to your body…take a moment to check in with your body and just breathe.” Through that breath, says Button, examine how you’re feeling physically but also emotionally. “Just try and understand what’s happening in your body and then what you don’t realise you’re doing is you’re actually checking in with your mind as well.”

When you’re able to combine [the physical] with the psychological elements of the app, that’s how it gives you a complete holistic picture of one’s mental health.

Lucy Button

Holistic health tracking

This link between mind and body is an essential one when it comes to establishing the overall wellbeing of an individual. But the reality is that most pieces of wearable technology often only track physical situations, from sleep to activity and heart rate.

Button says that, while BioBeats tracks each of those things, it also measures heart rate variability, or “the period between the beats.” This is, she explains, the “one metric that can give us a direct indication of the level of stress that individual is experiencing.”

It is the combination of mental and physical tracking that can provide the holistic wellbeing support that a person might need. As Button says, “when you’re able to combine [the physical] with the psychological elements of the app, that’s how it gives you a complete holistic picture of one’s mental health.”

Technology as an enabler

As with any technological product that tracks and logs your personal data, there is an eternal push/pull between the positive and negative effects that can have. This also turns into a stickier issue when it comes to employers adopting wearable technology for their employees.

BioBeats’s most recent partnership is with WPP Health Practice who, Button says, “were looking for a digital intervention to support mental health.” While the agency already has wellbeing initiatives in place, and are according to Button, “so forward thinking,” they wanted to give their employees something tangible to support their mental wellbeing; “tools and content to see their mental health improve.”

As an employer, Button says they also “wanted to understand the status of mental health across the organisation and then in turn, put in place more targeted interventions that people actually wanted.” The result was the rolling out of a pilot scheme with 100 employees across offices in London, Italy and Sydney.

The expectation is personalisation

The growth in the adoption and expectation of technology is ever shifting; people are almost obsessed with data, particularly about themselves, without really realising it’s data. They, as every human being before them, want to know why things are the way they are.

When it came to BioBeats technology, Button says that there was an expectation from the beginning about the levels of personalisation on offer: “[users] weren’t interested in anything in the app that wasn’t personalised.” People also, adds Button, expected that this personalisation would appear alongside trends; “they’re not interested in just tracking anymore.”

Many of the tools and content within the app will only be presented to the user if relevant to them; there are many aspects some people will never see. The app contains clinically validated questionnaires whilst also tracking sleep and steps. “[We] found that the mood logging aspect was really popular,” says Button, revealing that being able to combine the mental and the physical was important to users.

“Yes, it’s technology and yes, it’s a health app but the core of it [BioBeats] is personalisation,” explains Button.

It’s setting the right expectations and creating a safe culture, and then also giving people the resources they need.

Lucy Button

Employers need to take responsibility

Tools like BioBeats are a way of employers taking responsibility for their employee’s mental wellbeing; something that is particularly important in these difficult and uncertain times.

Button says that she worries for the employees of companies that don’t offer tools and resources to support mental and physical health. “It’s going to be a super testing time for people,” says Button, adding that “even those who don’t normally suffer from anxiety are going to start to feel an escalating sense of worry. For those who already have mental health conditions or who are borderline, it’s a really scary time.”

Button says it cannot be about hosting a yoga class or ticking a box any longer; it is both business critical and vital for every individual that businesses take this seriously. If they don’t, she adds, “One, it’s really going to affect the health of the nation and two, it’s not healthy for their bottom line.”

Analysis published by Deloitte in January 2020 revealed that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year, a rise of 16% since 2016, an extra £6 billion a year. Commercially, says Button, the amount spent on absence, “can be dramatically reduced if you do take care of the mental health of your people.”

It all comes down to culture

The current crisis has created a testing time for us all but perhaps more so for those in leadership positions. Maintaining the positive mental wellbeing of your staff and trying to uphold a healthy bottom line have never been more reliant on one another, particularly as most businesses operating successfully are currently doing so almost exclusively online.

Operating online has its benefits but also potentially its downfalls when it comes to providing a space for honest and open conversation. The important thing, says Button, is recognising that “it comes down to the culture.” And this, she adds, “needs to start from the top; the CEO, the leaders to set the expectations of change.”

First and foremost, Button believes, you need to let people feel “psychologically safe to open up.” Your emotional truth is quite easy to hide behind a screen, as Button explains: “The problem with going online is it makes it so easy for us all to hide our stress. You’re not physically in front of people, you can’t pick up on those signs.”

Whether people want to talk to their manager about the way they’re feeling or not, and both choices Button is quick to point out, are “absolutely fine”, fostering an open and supportive culture is key. As is acknowledging, she adds, that “everyone’s going to be going through a completely unique experience right now,” particularly in terms of differing living environments.

Button believes that to operate during this time of crisis and beyond comes down to a few things: “it’s setting the right expectations and creating a safe culture, and then also giving people the resources they need.”

As to what will happen as a result of this crisis, Button is “hopeful that it will be an important wake-up call.”