Step Count Blog Logo Blog

A Year of Lockdown Challenges

Paths for All Senior Development Officer Carl Greenwood reflects on a year of supporting workplaces to keep active and connected during the Covid-19 pandemic and looks ahead to this year’s spring Step Count Challenge.

Published: 29/03/2021

Prior to the first Covid-19 lockdown just over a year ago, we were busy preparing to launch our brand new website for the spring Step Count Challenge. When lockdown started and offices closed their doors, key workers were run off their feet and many staff were being furloughed we wondered if this was the right time to be asking people to take part in a workplace walking challenge.

However, as we settled into the new normal of working from home, back-to-back Zoom calls and home schooling, we felt that the Step Count Challenge could offer a positive boost to bring colleagues together again and provide motivation to build walking and physical activity into our new-found routines.

Over 6,800 people took part in our spring and autumn challenges. Around 67% of participants were working from home in both challenges. Key workers made up the majority of other participants.  

We also saw a 50% increase in the number of workplaces running their own bespoke Step Count Challenges. Speaking to challenge organisers in these workplaces, one of the main motivations for delivering a challenge is to keep staff connected with each other.

This year, we have focused on the following key messages in all of our Step Count Challenges to support and motivate teams through what has been a year of disruption and uncertainty.

Keeping Active

Working from home we found that we were all sitting more and moving less. In normal times, walking would be part of our commute to work, or trip to the shops at lunchtime. Now, Zoom meetings and phone calls mean long periods spent sitting, something which is linked to poor health.

We have been encouraging people to move throughout their day to break up that sedentary behaviour. We have provided guidance on how to maintain health and wellbeing whilst working from home, shared tips on keeping active and created some simple One Minute Movers that people could slot into their day.

Staying Connected

Our second key message was to support people to stay connected with their colleagues. Whilst Zoom and Teams are great, we’re all missing the informal social activity we’d normally have at work, catching up with a colleague in the kitchen whilst the kettle boils or quick catch up at the photocopier.

Because the Step Count Challenge is team based, it’s a really effective tool to bring people together in a more casual way. It creates a bit of a water cooler moment, which can help boost team morale which has benefits for the business or organisation, as this quote from a team in our spring challenge illustrates:

It has brought our team closer together. Until Covid-19, we never really interacted with each other. Something we all say we will do is, we must meet up, we must call one another which never happens as we are all busy with our own lives. As a group of 5 of us we all work in senior roles in different areas… It has been difficult to ensure we are all supporting one another. One of our team had resigned from her post as she felt very much alone. Since starting the Step Challenge and setting up our group WhatsApp the team member has retracted her resignation and is now staying with the company.

Mental Health

Most of us will have felt overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or down to some degree over the past year. Promoting good mental health was one of our key aims. Walking, and particularly walking in nature, can have a really positive effect on our mental health and wellbeing. It can provide a change of scenery that disrupts routines and that sense of deja-vu or cabin fever.

We shared blog posts on this subject and resources like our Mind to Walk mindfulness podcast.

We also carried out some research with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh looking at the impact on participants’ mental wellbeing during our spring challenge. This found that over 90% of people completing a post challenge survey felt that they could cope better with Covid-19 and lockdown as a result of taking part in the challenge.

Loved the walking which I aim to continue. Great for my mental health in the current climate, I also fell in love again with the area I live. You never take the time to take in your surroundings, and that's what this challenge has done for me.

Enjoying the outdoors

In challenges of old, participants would be free to walk far and wide to increase their step count and climb the challenge leaderboard. With restrictions on the amount of time we could spend outdoors, at least in the first lockdown, we wanted to put an emphasis on quality rather than quantity and really make the most of our time outdoors.

We provided easy-to-access information on the latest government guidance for outdoor activity, tips on connecting with nature and really celebrated the simple pleasure of finding new walking routes on your doorstep.

I am in the shielding category and have been working from home which has difficult, it has been a lifesaver in some respects. My sleep pattern was getting out of kilter with the lockdown, but the exercise helped. I can walk where I live without hardly even seeing anyone and whilst nature has always been an important aspect of my life, I have noticed so much more than before.

Seeing the impact of the challenge for participants over the past year has really underlined how valuable walking is on an individual level, for our physical health, mental and social health, and for businesses in creating a happy and healthy workforce.

So, as we step into spring and we start to see green shoots appearing we are once again promoting our spring Step Count Challenge. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we can meet our colleagues once again for a lunchtime walk.