The bosses of a North West animation firm say protecting their staff’s mental health was one of the main reasons for returning to the office.

After more than a year of working from home, several staff at Viddyoze returned to their office near Preston at the end of July on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Co-founders David Chamberlain and Joey Xoto said it’s already boosted productivity and strengthened company culture but the main driver was protecting their staff’s health and wellbeing. 

Chamberlain, who has spoken about his own struggles with depression, said he was worried about the impact that long periods of isolation and working from home was having on people’s mental health.

He said: “Working from home, being isolated from your colleagues and not being able to see your family is not a good combination for your mental health.

“I’ve had depression since my 20s and I know that a lack of routine and sleep has a detrimental impact on my own mental health.

“We did a staff survey and got a really high level of engagement. One of the questions related to the work / life balance and we decided the best thing to do was to encourage people back into the office.

“Not everyone is the same. Anyone who is concerned about COVID-19 is double-jabbed and has the option of wearing a mask or working in a quiet area of the office.

“Since returning to the office at the end of July we’ve found that things that took an hour on Zoom can be decided over a two-minute conversation in the kitchen.

“Ideas can be pushed forward quicker in the office and the company culture benefited 100%. However, the situation is constantly under review.”

Viddyoze was founded in 2015 by Chamberlain, Xoto and Jamie Garside and their technology allows people to create and use their own video animation in just three clicks.

They saw a huge spike in demand as the lockdown created a generation of new video-makers and the company’s workforce grew from 37 to 57.

Xoto said: “When the first lockdown was announced in March 2020 we pretty much switched to working from home overnight.

“At the time we employed 37 people around the world, including 12 people at our head office in Bamber Bridge, and were well equipped to work from home without the business missing a beat.

“However, the start of the pandemic was scary. We hadn’t started growing overnight. The way I deal with anxiety is to be busy and try and take control of the situation.

“We didn’t want to close the whole office completely because we didn’t know what everyone’s homelife and domestic situations were like. For example, some people may have lived in a studio flat and they may have wanted to come into the office because there’s more space.

“At the start of the pandemic we used a mix of virtual meetings, Google Hangouts and communication platforms like Slack to stay in touch with staff.

“At first a lot of people liked the novelty of working from home. The roads were quieter and the weather was great but we noticed a big change with the last lockdown in January 2021.

“David and I have both experienced mental health problems and we recognised some of the telltale signs in the staff feedback so we took the decision to bring staff back in the office three days a week.

“Understandably there was some anxiety at first because a lot of people had got used to working from home but working together has really boosted collaboration levels among the team.”