A Mindful Practice

6 January 2020

As a new decade begins, professionals across the country have returned to work, with the intention to make working life happier and healthier in 2020. As well as targeting physical exercise, the British workforce is increasingly turning to long-established meditative practices as a means of improving overall health and wellbeing.

Modern Meditation, as it is now known is fast becoming a popular ingredient in the successful modern workplace; with law firms, advertisers, armed forces, software companies, schools, and even prisons pioneering and embedding the approach within their day-to-day work.

With so much potential for unlocking creativity and productivity - both individually and among teams - it’s surprising that architectural practice, which relies so much on creative thinking and focus, seems to be lagging behind in the use of these new, but very ancient wellbeing practices.

According to award-winning artist and architect Mick Timpson, the sector is ripe for change. After managing a number of architecture practices over the years, Mick has embraced the benefits of mindfulness on working practices by becoming a senior yoga and meditation teacher.

Through beanddo™, the company he founded in 2017, Mick is now helping people and businesses to thrive through modern meditation training sessions. His background in architecture and design has naturally led him to focus primarily on helping peers within the industry.

As Mick explains, countless great architects have adopted mindful meditative states to open up creative flow and problem-solving in their work - whether they were aware of it or not. Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Louis Khan all described the positive, unrestricted mindsets they developed to solve problems and create solutions.

The most famous example of all is Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto, who referred to ‘letting go’; in effect putting the demands of the brief and the site into the background, in favour of focusing on the act of drawing in the present. This in turn, Aalto claimed, would unlock an intuitive, moment-by-moment ‘inner flow’ leading to ‘effortless’ solutions being developed.

“Ideas come from people and so does happiness,” Says Mick. “If you look after your people; if you nurture them and help them understand their own wellbeing, you protect your core asset while opening up an inexhaustible supply of creativity. After all that's primarily what architects sell.

“Most designers know it's their internal world that influences their impact on the external world. It is a home for all the ideas, intentions and plans that are yet to take shape. It is a very important place to nourish and take care of - because not only is it important for wellbeing, it's also where we cultivate the joy of what we do and the creativity that clients ultimately pay for.”

The shift towards mediation-based wellbeing is something the UK government has been quick to promote. Its 2016 All Party Report (Mindful Initiative 2016) proposed meditation practice as a low-cost, high-impact way of tackling the effects of a growing workplace stress and anxiety epidemic - which is hitting business output and productivity.

As the first architecture practice to be recognised by the Investors in People (IIP) programme, Pozzoni Architecture has always considered itself to be a people-oriented organisation. With a thriving northern operation, Pozzoni is among the first supporters of the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter, which supports employers to develop good jobs and opportunities for people to progress.

Over the past two years, Pozzoni has placed extra focus on maintaining and improving staff wellbeing, because as Director Catherine Mulley explains: “it was simply the right thing to do”.

Pozzoni is taking a holistic approach to employee wellbeing; aiming to provide a working environment that continues to stimulate positive interactions and experiences, as well as offering accessible support and resources when they are most needed.

Staff satisfaction is measured biannually, through a company-wide survey, and a suggestion book sits in the kitchen year-round to encourage regular feedback. Pozzoni has also invested in upskilling more than 10% of its team to provide mental health ‘First-Aid’, while all Directors and Associates have also undergone training to identify and manage mental health issues.

Recognising the importance of mindfulness on happiness and productivity, Pozzoni has also started a quarterly Walk & Talk event; where employees can get together to discuss work, home life, or anything else on their minds - while taking a welcome break from the office environment.

Catherine continues: “Our Walk & Talk events have been really well received so far. It can be really liberating to break up the normal routine and come together in such an informal, relaxed setting. About 30 people took part in our first event and around 25 for the last one, despite some pretty terrible weather!”

“We’re already noticing some really encouraging signs around the office since we made wellbeing an area of focus. People are definitely finding it easier to talk to one another and any of our seven mental health first aiders, which is helping us address any potential issues before they can develop.”

Pozzoni has also engaged with external partners to help provide wraparound support. An external Employee Assistance Programme is available to all colleagues, offering impartial guidance on any matters that may prove challenging to raise internally.

beanddo’s modern meditation sessions were the logical next step towards building a happier and more productive practice on solid, resilient foundations.

beanddo held its first modern meditation workshops with Pozzoni staff last month, when colleagues from its London and Manchester offices came together for their annual staff conference. As well as exploring breathing and visualisation techniques as a group, the team also practised free-writing and free-drawing to encourage self-expression and renew confidence in their creative output.

Catherine is effusive about the impact of the activity: “People really engaged with the beanddo workshops and we had some fantastic feedback after the sessions. Having such a stimulating programme rooted in drawing and creative writing – skills we all possess as architects – made for a really interesting introduction to workplace meditation.

“We’re planning to keep investing to improve the work-life balance for our people in 2020 – including offering more flexible working conditions – and I’d like to see more meditation as part of this offer.”

Timpson is excited by Pozzoni’s appetite for new ways of working: “Pozzoni certainly seems to be leading the sector with its people-focused approach. I’ve no doubt that modern meditation, as part of Pozzoni’s broader people strategy, will have a really positive impact on creativity and wellbeing.”

Mick is clearly enjoying the evolution of his career, from architect to meditation trainer and yogi. He says, “There’s definite continuity, because I’m still helping to create space - just in a different way. The first part of my career involved empowering others to design and shape their external world. Now I am empowering people to design and shape their internal world - where everything really begins.

“Just as there’s an art and science for designing the outer world, there’s also an art and science for designing our inner world. It's called meditation. When practiced thoroughly and consistently - real change is possible. We can empower our inner architects.”

To find out more about beanddo, visit www.beanddo.co.uk