Managing well-being in the virtual world of work

Insights from our SVP Human Resources, Fiona McGilly 

Change – if there was one constant throughout the last year, it was change. As things turned upside down overnight, the world had to quickly turn with it. Business continuity plans where put to the test and employers and employees alike quickly had to adapt a ‘new normal’ within what seemed like hours. At First Derivatives, we were extremely proud of our ability to quickly move our entire workforce to remote working within a few days of localized restrictions being put in place. With over 2400 employees supporting mission critical systems across EMEA, North America, Asia and ANZ this process was critical to ensure the safety of our staff and the satisfaction of our customers.

However, with such an accelerated pace of change occurring during a short time frame and terms such as ‘crisis’ and ‘uncertainty’ dominating much of the media, it is unsurprising to note the increased reports of people struggling with mental well-being. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, the Mental Health Foundation has identified ‘nature’ as this year’s theme with the focus being on how connecting with the natural world can support good mental health. We asked our SVP Human Resources, Fiona McGilly how she adapted to this new approach to working and connecting with nature to maintain healthy well-being:


Tell us about your pandemic experience – what change(s) did you have to implement within your working life as a result of the pandemic?

Working fulltime, pregnant and a mother of two, with my husband unable to work from home my working schedule in the pandemic definitely changed. However, a key ‘saving grace’ during this time was the ability to implement a flexible working approach. This enabled me to start work early, and still be able to do the school run something that has been important to me to ensure I balance being a parent whilst maintaining a full-time role. Since returning to work with three children and a daily routine that can only resemble chaos, I have had to adopt to a somewhat ‘new norm’. However, the reality of non-stop zoom meetings, limited social interaction and the tendency to work longer hours with little time for “unwinding” in the midst parental and work responsibilities can soon lend itself to an unhealthy environment. A key priority for me here, is recognizing this and ensuring I allocate time in my day for both my family and I.

What does a ‘typical’ working day look like?

You could say I have a day’s work done before another begins. Before 8 o’clock I have fed, dressed and lunch prepped for two school children and a baby fed changed and back down to sleep. Before 9 o’clock I have done the school run, dropped off the baby, tidied the kitchen and put on a wash 😊. The days of getting up getting ready and going to work are well and truly in the past for me! The working day can be intense – with colleagues around the globe now arguably more accessible than ever before – days can be characterized with early starts, late finishes and sometimes, very late lunches (is it 4PM already?) – ensuring a disciplined routine of taking breaks, getting away from the computer and going for a walk in the outdoors is key to my daily routine.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year is ‘nature’ – What was your go to means of relaxing and managing your well-being during pandemic?

Being fortunate enough to live in the country and have the ability to embrace nature has been a saving grace for me throughout the last 18 months. Walks in the park, feeding the ducks and building nests and dens in the forest has enabled me to mind my mental health and that of my family.  

What is your golden piece of advice to working parents balancing both personal and professional responsibilities?

“Do what you can today and worry about what you didn’t get done tomorrow” the gift of having a family and being able to balance a career is a constant challenge, one that no matter what you do today will not take the challenge away from tomorrow. My view is work as hard as you can, try not to overload your plate, make time for your family and try to smile all the way through the day.

Did you feel supported by the firm as you adapted to this new way of working?

First Derivatives has provided a flexibility during the pandemic some would have thought impossible prior to these circumstances. However, I have personally felt the support of my team, my colleagues and my peers. The knowledge that everyone is experiencing some form of challenge in adapting to this is a comfort and a key way to get through this is through supporting one another. With regular town halls and dedicated personnel to answer pandemic specific queries, the group was very effective in ensuring everyone stayed connected.

As SVP of HR, what plans or practices does the firm have in place to ensure employees feel supported across the globe?

The well-being of all employees has been a key priority for the leadership team during this time. For some, this transition has been challenging with some working in isolation from friends and family and others having worked more hours than normal, something that has not gone unnoticed. From the beginning we tried to maintain a consistent line of communication to employees with electronic daily Check-ins, Covid Q&A sessions, support in purchasing equipment to facilitate effective working from home workstations, weekly update emails, virtual coffees and townhalls. This has now evolved to Mental Health First Aid Training for managers and employees, sharing of Global Mental Health Signposting information, Mental health support sessions, our #MindMatters campaign and continued promotion and encouragement for employees to take annual leave to avoid burnout.  

As we emerge from the pandemic how do you plan to manage and scale this

The HR team have actively worked together to build a health and well-being strategy that supports all employees across the globe. As part of this strategy we have invested in an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to provide independent professional advice and counselling services for our employees .

To further strengthen our health and well-being strategy and best inform not only HR but, the leadership team, we are looking to facilitate a global Well-Being Pulse Survey to understand the general well-being of employees and gather information on how best to support employees going forward. By doing so, we can address the issues that matter most to our team. The landscape has changed in terms of how we work, interact and socialize Zoom meetings, virtual coffees and limited face-to-face interaction is likely to continue and so our objective from this survey is to be in a position to support employees in managing this “new norm”.


As the vaccination programmes continue to roll out across the globe, there appears to signs of some sort of return to normality. As we look to the future, one thing remains clear. By staying connected with colleagues, family and friends and taking time to experience the benefits of nature, we can continue to support one another as we tackle these waves of change.