Something caught my eye on LinkedIn recently. It was a post from Rebecca Curtis-Moss, digital fundraiser at Friends of the Earth Scotland. It got me thinking about how we implement digital tools and new ways of working. As more charity workplaces modernise and embrace digital, how can we adopt new technologies for our teams so that they are genuinely inclusive, support diversity and aren’t one-size-fits-all?
Many charities I speak to are excited about the possibilities for collaboration offered by tools such as Slack, Google Drive and Microsoft Teams. I’ve seen these platforms improve company culture, increase motivation and lead to new ideas. In the social enterprise I run such tools are vital given that we have 12 team members based all over the UK and beyond. But if tools aren’t put into practice carefully, could we leave colleagues feeling alienated or ignored?
Lucy Caldicott, founder of ChangeOut, which supports social change movements, agrees that these tools must be implemented in the right way or they could reinforce stereotypes and increase division. For example, if we have lots of fast-paced written communication on an instant messaging tool, or we chat about team nights in the pub on Slack, could staff feel excluded if their first language isn’t English or if they don’t drink for religious reasons?
Caldicott advises that this can be addressed by "open discussion in advance about what any new tool can and can't be used for. For example, WhatsApp groups are great for quick and easy messaging, but how many of us take the time to ensure that all members have a shared understanding of what it's for and how best to communicate in it?"
Digital has many upsides, but of course these tools can be introduced in the wrong way. Many of us will have seen examples of this, such as a new intranet that few people use. It’s important to involve staff and volunteers in defining the problem you want to solve, such as improving the speed of communication or enabling flexible working. In the same way that you’d take the time to test a new website to increase donations, working closely with staff to understand their needs and find out what would help them will smooth the path to adoption.
For these tools to succeed we need to think about the people who are using them and the environments they are in. The open-plan office has become ubiquitous alongside the growth of digital. As well as providing the platforms, we need to ask staff how we can make it easier for them to do their jobs and give them the support they need to do that. Diversity is a hot topic in the sector at the moment and if we are to practise what we preach our workplaces need to be effective for everyone.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, about 10 per cent of the population is neurodivergent in some way and might have conditions such as dyslexia, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyspraxia.
Curtis-Moss says: "At Friends of the Earth Scotland, after holding a session on neurodiversity in the workplace, we’ve recently introduced a traffic-light system. Everyone was given a red and a green flag and digital guidelines on how to use these. Red means "please don’t approach because I’m focusing on something important; send me an email instead and I’ll get back to you when I can". Green means "I’m happy for people to approach me and speak to me in person at my desk".
But digital can also help more people feel included. Cat Hughes, research and grants officer at the autism charity Autistica, counsels charities to "consider that certain tools might make it easier for people to contribute. A conversation in a noisy office can be really difficult for autistic employees, who can struggle to block out sound. Digital communication can help."
To get the most from digital we must first think people and how we can include them. And we must walk the walk on diversity. Real change starts with us.
Zoe Amar is the founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Digital @zoeamar