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  • Writer's pictureSteve Henigan

A lesson from the English Channel

As we hokey cokey our way back to the office over the coming months (years!?) I am again able to draw on lessons from my open water swimming.

In 2019 I completed a solo English Channel crossing. It is an achievement I am incredibly proud of and as we returned to Dover on the boat on that day in July I questioned whether I would ever get that feeling again and wondered what I might have to consider to surpass or even replicate that moment. In 2020 I planned (and successfully completed) a Jersey to France swim but also agreed that I would complete an English Channel relay with two good friends (Gary and Adam, hence our team name The GAS). Having completed a solo the year before I was asked whether I had lowered the bar for this challenge? Perhaps there was some truth in that. If I could complete this swim a soloist where was the challenge in doing it as part of a team?

Covid effectively closed all of the UK swim venues (including open water venues and swimming in the sea) for about 2 months and so for this period I was contained to swimming in a paddling pool in my garden, tethered to my shed to create resistance. Needless to say it provided some amusement for my neighbours during lockdown. Whilst the swimming pools were closed for some time it was deemed safe to swim in open water again in May and so our team of 3 began to train together, swimming in the sea 3-4 times a week. I realised during this training that there was something special, a feeling that I had not got from any of my solo swims. A feeling of togetherness, fun, support and crucially no loneliness, something I am sure every long distance swimmer has experienced when training for a big event.

Throughout this period getting ready to go training always bought a smile to my face. Regardless of the weather, the wind and other external factors, spending time with my two friends and working together on this challenge played a significant part in my personal journey through lockdown. When I was swimming with my team I felt normal, quite a unique feeling in a very strange year.

Come the big day that sense of normality remained but was also joined by excitement, adrenaline and lots of banter. Despite poor visibility and the tides not going quite the way we had hoped we made a successful crossing. The feeling I got and still get from this achievement is as good as and if not better than what I got from my solo – being part of that team was a truly awesome experience and a memory I will treasure.

So what does this have to do with the workplace? Throughout this period we have confirmed that individual working can be undertaken remotely, at home, in isolation. But just because it can does that mean it should be? I could complete that swim alone and in isolation. On paper I guess that is a bigger achievement but the “experience” I got from doing that activity as part of a team surpasses anything I have done on an individual level. What that did for my mood, morale, motivation and mental health might be difficult to quantify but I can assure you it had a significant positive impact on my life at a very difficult time. So as you plan your return to the office whenever that may be consider those difficult and incredibly important feelings and experiences that people need as well as the most practical and efficient way of working.

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