The flexible working revolution in the third sector

Third Sector Promotion Harris Hill

Faye Marshall, deputy CEO, Harris Hill, offers insights into how the third sector is adapting to the accelerated flexible working revolution as a result of the pandemic.

Faye Marshall, deputy CEO, Harris Hill

The pandemic has been a crisis for every charity, but many have surprised themselves by how quickly they’ve adapted their operations and services to meet new rules and restrictions. Many of them are considering retaining some of the changes, which go beyond remote working. Faye Marshall, deputy CEO at charity recruitment specialist, Harris Hill, tells us more.

Faye, how have charities had to adapt their working practices during lockdown?

Some service delivery organisations have actually seen improvements in services when delivered remotely, both in terms of volume of delivery and individual outcomes. In some instances, charities have been able to reach users via virtual methods who would not otherwise have been able to benefit from those services at all.

What has helped charities to make this transition successfully?

Innovation in technology is the common change amongst all charities, regardless of their model. Everyone has had to get used to remote working and in some cases charities have had to adapt their core business functions to meet the Government’s COVID guidelines. The sector has moved quickly to offer greater flexibility to staff and more trust has been given to employees. Organisations have crucially encouraged their staff to look after their mental health by introducing flexible working patterns too.

Has the pandemic created any new opportunities for charities?

Fundraising teams in charities have had to make a lot of quick strategy changes overnight. Whilst this has been a challenge for some, it’s been an opportunity for others. Some charities with causes that have been relevant within the context of the coronavirus, for example, have been catapulted into the spotlight, and this strategy shift has been hugely beneficial to their 2020/21 budgets.

From a recruitment and HR perspective, organisations have had the opportunity to restructure teams, identify gaps and write new policies. Many charities we work with are now less restricted to recruiting within a 20-mile radius from their office, as staff can work remotely from anywhere in the UK. This is a significant advantage, allowing charities to gain wider access to talent and expertise.

What challenges have charities faced?

There is a lot of uncertainty as to what the future holds, a lack of cash and some programmes of work have been suspended. Staff furloughs and redundancies have exacerbated what is already a difficult time. Charities have also had to work out how to onboard new staff remotely as well as manage existing staff remotely. Many have also had to deal with staff mental health and stress-related issues.

What kind of work/life balance should third sector professionals expect?

Managers and leaders who are stable and established in their lives and careers need to be mindful that working from home is a very different experience for lower paid staff and those at the beginning of their careers, who are more likely to be working from less-than-ideal home/office setups in their bedrooms, in their parents' house or in shared houses. Staff should be supported as far as possible with what they need to do their jobs safely. This may go beyond a computer and phone to furniture such as a suitable desk and office chair.

Managers and leaders should also be wary of the examples they set to their teams. When the office is home and home is the office, it is harder than ever to ‘switch off’ and they should think twice about firing emails off to their team late at night or early in the morning, or if they do, be clear that they don't expect responses outside of working hours.

Looking for your next charity job? Search and apply with Harris Hill on Third Sector Jobs, the specialist charity jobs site

Will working from home continue after lockdown?

I think there would need to be a really​ good reason not to allow at least some home working in the future for office-based roles. From talking to candidates and hiring managers, the majority of people hope to continue the flexible working approach that most charities have now adopted. However, most would like a mix of office and home working now too.

What skills are in highest demand among charities and how might this change in future?

Within fundraising, a lot of demand was for trust fundraisers as this was one of the more stable income streams. More than 1,700 grant-giving charitable trusts and foundations were registered with the Charity Commission in 2020, the most for eight years according to Civil Society News. That just shows the demand for good trusts fundraisers!

Generally speaking, specific skills and experience remain the same depending on the job. I would say that management and leadership styles that can cope with remote or flexible working are probably at a premium.

As candidates take the driving seat again, how can charities compete for the best talent?

Charities need to set a clear, transparent process so that candidates aren’t left with a large gap between stages (such as between closing date and interview). Good candidates will find other opportunities that will snap them up. Being able to offer competitive salaries, flexibility and an agile recruitment processes are all things that will certainly help attract talent. Good benefits and career progression are also still areas that candidates are looking for.

If a charity has a clear strategy post-COVID and the reassurance of stability, that alone will help attract candidates who might have previously been nervous to leave their current roles.

Harris Hill has these top tips for candidates looking for a new charity job:

  • Carefully tailor your applications to selected roles. This is always a better use of your time than a scattergun approach to applying for anything that vaguely matches a couple of keywords in the job title.
  • Use all the resources available to you and ask for more details if needed. The recruiter or hiring manager should be able to help. It really shows if a candidate is passionate about the cause and has done a lot of research into the charity. We would also suggest that building a strong LinkedIn profile would be beneficial.
  • As with our advice pre-COVID, if someone is looking to move into the sector, we would always suggest volunteering with a charity. This is now becoming a more feasible option again as we move back to face-to-face working.

And this advice for charities that are looking for top talent:

  • Work out what your charity can deliver to attract new talent. It might be a competitive salary, flexible working, extra holidays or perks, but should also include development opportunities.
  • Think hard about what potential would look like in the right candidate for a position, and how you can support that person to reach it. Don’t be too narrow-minded about the type of person you are looking for. Someone from a different sector (for example) could bring new ideas and experience to the charity.
  • If your charity is going to have a flexible work pattern, be clear about it and decide what this looks like at the start of the process – there can be quite a big difference for some candidates between two days a week in the office or three.
  • Top candidates often look for a strong online presence from a charity, especially during COVID - make sure you communicate clearly what your charity’s strategy is and what the job entails. Candidates like to have some clear direction and insight before they make the decision to join.

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