Zoe Amar: What does your charity’s return to work look like?

With a roadmap out of lockdown in place, planning for new ways of working is a chance to push new boundaries

The roadmap out of lockdown is here. Vaccinations numbers are rising. Meeting face-to-face might no longer be a distant dream. So, what does this mean for how your charity will be working later this year? 

We don’t yet know when offices will reopen, but it could happen this summer. 

Before that, there are choices to be made. Chancellor Rishi Sunak says working from home will not be the new normal post-Covid-19, and returning to the office is “inevitable”. 

I don’t agree. According to charity research from Open, 60 per cent of respondents said their teams were more efficient and effective when working from home. 

This might not suit everyone, however, and the charities I spoke to are pondering a range of options for a return to work. Here’s what I learned from them. 

Acknowledge that the balance of power has shifted 

Back in the day, many of us had to work in a specific location, starting at an agreed time. 

Now people managers recognise that rather than staff fitting in with your organisation, they need to work when and how they wish, so they can be at their most productive. 

Georgia Artus, development manager at the loneliness charity Vintage Vibes, told me that they will be giving their colleagues flexibility, trust, and space. She doesn’t expect her team to be available all day for calls. 

“It’s about how each person can make the day work for them – be it focusing all your calls in the morning so you get a ‘contact break’ in the afternoon if you’re more introverted, or starting the day with a virtual coffee to get energy flowing if that’s what you need,” she says. 

“Or just getting up and going for a walk, no questions asked.”

This in itself can help make your culture more inclusive, and creates goodwill by handing power to staff. 

Focus on collaboration, not just talking

During lockdown charities have been using a plethora of channels to work together, from Teams to WhatsApp. Comic Relief has seen an increase in asynchronous working, where colleagues can chat online to make decisions and share ideas. 

Andrew Broadbent, chief technology officer at the charity, wants to take this a stage further. 

“Discussions can happen using tools like Slack in advance of meetings so that, where possible, we can have fewer meetings and make them more focused on decision-making and less about discussion of potential options,” he says. 

I’m all for this. After months of Zoom-heavy slog, organisations need to reset from a meeting culture to a decision culture. 

How can we reconfigure the way we work so that the right people can make the best decisions possible? 

Invest in internal communications

In the new normal the risk is that colleagues may feel disconnected, wherever they work. 

“We need to have excellent internal communication to provide the foundation for effective teamwork and collaboration,” says Nick Temple, chief executive of the Social Investment Business.

“The channels, frequency, content and tone of that communication all needs rethinking in this new environment.”

Charities are also going to be talking a lot more about the employee experience and thinking about how to do more with all the different touchpoints, from instant messaging to team offsites. 

That will raise questions about staff benefits. Temple and his team are wondering whether a season-ticket loan or a contribution to faster broadband could be more valuable to employees. 

Allow your culture to change

This sounds passive, but only because even with the best-laid plans, the way your charity works is likely to go through a lot of fine-tuning over the next year. 

Sara Crofts, chief executive of The Institute of Conservation, wants to keep the humour and camaraderie that has become a hallmark of how her team has communicated with each other during the pandemic. This increased informality has benefitted everyone. 

She feels that, as chief executive, she now has “access to a broader range of opinions/input, and less-experienced members of the team feel more able to contribute”. 

Crofts says: “I think I’ve moved a step closer to my goal of flattening out the traditional office hierarchy and building a sense of a single team.”

None of us knows quite what the future looks like. 

You’ll need to plan for it in partnership with your teams, keep asking questions and try out new ideas. 

It’s going to feel strange, uncomfortable and exciting. Go with it. 

Zoe Amar is founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Digital @zoeamar

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