Businesses around the world have been changing in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and venture capital is no exception. With lockdowns in both the US and the UK, our staff have been tackling the challenges of working from home with the help of Rachel Frost, Occupational Psychologist. We had an enlightening discussion with Rachel and asked her to provide her psychological expertise and enlighten us on how her role at C5 Capital has helped coach our team in navigating the uncertainties throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. She offers her experience and advice in navigating the uncertain world we have been living and working in for most of this year.
Rachel Frost is an Occupational Psychologist; that is, a practitioner who applies the knowledge of people to occupations. According to Rachel the remit in the life of an Occupational Psychologist is to increase the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction for those in the workplace.
“I see part of my role as someone who creates a safe space where everyone on the team is learning.”
So what exactly does an Occupational Psychologist do every day?
Occupational Psychologists are concerned with the performance of people at work and in training, and with developing an understanding of how organisations function and how individuals and groups behave at work. The role is not to be confused with a Psychotherapist, who helps individuals change burdensome habits and overcome emotional or relationship problems or a Psychiatrist, who is a physician how specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.
Amongst other duties, Rachel assesses the new joiners of a company. During her assessment she identifies what motivates and drives them, discovers their core values and aptitudes, and helps them identify their long-term career ambitions. This requires her to build an interpersonal understanding– i.e. identifying what sorts of teams they work best in, their preferences around leadership style, management style. Intellectually, she will get to know how an individual makes decisions, determine their effectiveness at doing so, and understand what their approach is to managing risk. She also identifies what situations cause them workplace pressure, stress, anxiety, and even boredom. The goal is to make sure that the job that each individual is being considered for is as well matched as possible to the individual chosen to do it. A win-win is achieved when a job is perfectly aligned with the individual who is best positioned to undertake it.
Once new hires are on-boarded, Rachel works one-on-one with staff to maximise their strengths and address development gaps that might otherwise get in the way of them reaching their full potential. Rachel will also provide coaching at company-wide meetings where she shows the staff techniques for how to deal with particularly difficult moments using case studies. These case studies are incredibly useful in helping us learn how to adjust our communication and interpersonal styles for maximum effectiveness. Who doesn’t want to be more effective?
It’s never been more important to work effectively with colleagues as we collaborate across various countries and time zones through web conferences and emails. At C5, Rachel has been leading Lunch and Learn sessions with our staff to teach stress management techniques, communication styles, and tips on staying resilient. These sessions have helped the team thrive as we continue to transition to a new normal.
We interviewed Rachel Frost about the impact of Covid-19 on employee wellness and she shared her expertise as follows.
How has the pandemic affected employee wellness both at C5 but more broadly in your experience coaching other organisations?
Since March, Covid-19 remote work has become the new normal for many employees. The changes brought on by Covid-19 have seen a few different phases in terms of how people appeared to respond. Many staff Rachel has worked with in various organisations have reported feeling dazed and confused, working out in their minds whether the new reality would be temporary or more permanent. It felt like our world changed overnight and we had to make sense of everything new around us. Many people had to focus inward to their homes and prioritise taking care of their families. For some the real threat to life and livelihood triggered the fight-or-flight response, which is a primitive reaction to a fearful situation. Being in this state for a prolonged period is rarely healthy or desirable and having techniques to protect wellbeing and to stay resilient is essential.
Many senior leaders have found themselves having to give direction in a very uncertain environment. These leaders have had to show unprecedented resilience in providing direction to their staff against a backdrop of constantly shifting political and health policies, whilst also managing the same family and individual concerns that everyone else is dealing with.
Could you elaborate on the changes and new pressures emerging in work-life balance?
When it comes to balancing your work and home life, there is a huge difference in people’s personal circumstances. To generalise, younger workers forced to work from home are more likely to be sharing their homes with several roommates with the challenges this brings in terms of space and internet availability. The kitchen table has become their new desk, which they quite often have to share with others in a similar situation. On the other hand, there are many mid-career professionals living alone in big cities, facing the new reality of loneliness and isolation. Yet again there are workers with young families having to juggle home education and childcare with their own workload. We see a blurring of the boundaries of our at-home schedules as people sometimes work late or odd hours simply because they feel they have nothing else to do at home or are busy homeschooling their children. Zoom fatigue is a familiar new phenomenon faced by professionals. One of the most important ways you can retain a balance is by instituting your own schedule at home, involving breaks, perhaps an exercise in the morning, having a regular lunch schedule and being disciplined about when work ends and home life starts.
What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of various hybrid WFH models emerging, in terms of what enables staff to perform their best?
Rachel shared a story of a colleague who had an interesting model called the two-full desk model. The team’s responsibility – any one department – is to fill up two desks at the office on any one day in whatever combination the team members choose between themselves. The idea is that individuals can have their own personal circumstances accommodated but a balance must be struck so that the team collaborate and work together. This model requires teamwork, communication, and flexibility in practice. The staff must make their preferences known in terms of how often they want to work from home or in the office. It is an effective model because twice weekly attendance at the office for example encourages regular conversations between staff and maintaining workplace relationships. It is so important to maintain these personal connections between team members so that we do not become overly transactional or disconnected. One of Rachel’s worries in light of the pandemic has been the extent to which teams might be weakened. As new hires start joining organisations, there are new challenges in integrating them into the company’s culture and helping them build strong relationships with their team.
Does Coaching have a direct impact on company culture? Could you tell us about how you see this overlay?
Rachel says, “I see part of my role as someone who creates a safe space where everyone on the team is learning.” She likes to create an honest and helpful dialogue to coach the staff on how to become the most effective individual worker and team member possible as well as build a supportive environment where everyone can share and learn from one another’s experiences.
Rachel Frost has worked as the Occupational Psychologist and Executive Coach for C5 Capital since 2019. In this role she works with C5 Capital and its subsidiary companies with the selection and development of its leaders and staff, including as part of the selection process for potential portfolio companies. As both the London and DC offices transitioned to working from home, Rachel has been working closely with the staff of C5 as well as the CEOs of the portfolio companies to promote mental wellness and resilience throughout this time.
Rachel has worked extensively in the business and public sector in consultancy roles including as a Principal Psychologist for the Cabinet Office. She is a Chartered Psychologist and Chartered Scientist and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and the International Society of Coaching Psychologists.