• David McLaughlin

How to maintain good mental health in an agile working world.

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

I recently started a new job, and like many modern companies our workplace is agile.


For anyone not familiar with the term, an agile workspace is essentially one where employees are given the freedom and flexibility to work wherever they feel most comfortable – whether this be in different areas of the office; or remotely from home or another location. With less constraints and more flexibility, the focus is more about performance and quality and less about where tasks are undertaken. 


From an individual perspective, the biggest change is that employees don’t have their own desks – but instead sit at whatever desk is available when they arrive.


It’s a change that’s here to stay, with 70 per cent of organisations predicted to adopt some sort of flexible working by 2020; and with agile working at the heart of this transition.


As I arrived at work on the Friday of my first week and looked for a spare desk next to a friendly or familiar face, a few thoughts crossed my mind.


‘How would I feel about this if I was a little shyer or a little more introverted?’

'Would my comfort at work each day be dependent on whether or not I was able to find a desk next to people I knew or felt I had developed a connection with?' 

'Could a way of working that’s designed to encourage collaboration actually make me feel isolated?'


To be clear, my first week was fantastic. I was well looked after, and even though I was surrounded by a number of different people each day, everyone made an effort to say hello and introduce themselves. Also, I’m not especially shy so striking up a conversation with the new person beside me or across from me isn’t something I find too challenging. 


But everyone is different. 

  • I live in a country where 21% of us took time off work in the past 12 months because we felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.  

  • A country where around 90 per cent of us think that mental health is an important issue for businesses, but only 50 per cent of us believe our workplace to be mentally healthy. 

  • A country where one in five of us experience a mental health condition in a given year and almost one in two will experience a mental health condition at some point in our lifetime. 

And these stats are not unique to Australia.


So in these agile times, how can leaders make sure that their new employees have a mentally healthy on-boarding experience, and ensure all existing employees (not just extroverted ones) feel a sense of inclusion and belonging. 


Here are five super simple tips that can make all the difference to someone’s experience in an agile workplace.

  1. Do the first day rounds No matter how busy you are, make sure you take your new team member on a tour of the floor, introducing them to as many people as you can. Having that first introduction under their belt will make it much easier for the new person to strike up a conversation with whomever they may find themselves sitting beside over the coming days and weeks.

  2. Buddy them up You’re probably a busy leader who spends a lot of time on the go or in meetings, meaning that you’re not always available or visible. To help your new starters feel comfortable, assign them a buddy. It’s the buddy’s job to sit beside (or close to) them during their first week to make sure they don’t get forgotten or left out amongst all the comings and goings of a busy agile floor. 

  3. Team meetings are a must Depending on how much your team embraces agile, it’s possible that you’re never all in the same place at the same time. A weekly team check-in is important – especially for the new people – to establish and maintain a sense of inclusion and belonging for everyone. Just because you have reason to talk to everyone regularly during the course of your working week, doesn’t mean others do.

  4. Move yourself around Humans are creatures of habit and can often gravitate toward the same desk each day even in agile world. We also gravitate towards those we like siting beside.  Challenge yourself – and your team – to regularly sit beside those team members that you perhaps don’t know so well. Making the extra effort could well make someone’s day.

  5. Keep your eyes open Be observant and mindful of what’s going on around you. If you notice that someone seems to be isolating themselves by sitting alone, or choosing to work from home more often – take the time to ask ‘are you ok’.


Workplace mental health