The COVID-19 global pandemic has re-shaped the fabric of our society. Everything we do, from work to play to learning, has been adapted to accommodate social distancing. Now the wide availability of vaccines is slowly beginning to return the world to “normal” as restaurants open, travel begins and in-person school resumes. However, many businesses are discovering a new resistance toward returning to full in-office experience. A recent survey by the Conference Board found that 43% of U.S. workers question the need to return to the office at all, and the percentages were higher for millennials, women and individual contributors.i Another survey by FlexJobs confirms this finding – 65% of workers said they wanted to stay fully remote after the pandemic. Even more surprising – 27% would be willing to take a pay cut of 10 to 20% to keep that benefit.ii
How does culture work when everyone is remote?
Flexible work is clearly here to stay, but how can companies propagate a positive culture without in-person interaction? Losing water cooler chats and ice cream socials to remote working tools such as Zoom and Slack may have little impact. But there is no stand-in for the magic that happens when teams come together to serve a greater cause as they bond, learn and grow in a shared purpose. SCORE, a volunteer network of business mentors found that company-sponsored volunteering results in the following benefits:iii
- Happy employees (93%)
- Improved employee leadership and professional skills (92%)
- Better employee well-being (77%)
- Boosted morale (70%)
- Strengthened camaraderie among employees (64%)
Given these benefits, companies should consider including an employee volunteer program as part of their philanthropy initiatives. It provides an easy way to foster a positive culture, communicate core values and engage employees in giving back to society.
Virtual Volunteering Toolkit
How can you engage employees without in-person volunteering events? Your workforce is now hybrid, so your volunteer program needs to be as well. This toolkit will provide you with the insights, resources and templates you need to design a successful virtual volunteering program.
3 ways a volunteer program can succeed with a hybrid workforce
Implementing a successful volunteer program with a hybrid workforce may not be as straightforward but these tips may help:
Hybrid workforce tip #1 – Offer flexible volunteering opportunities
Whether you plan to offer volunteering opportunities year-round or during a one-time event, make sure to include all of your employees. Remote employees may prefer to participate in virtual volunteering opportunities or, in some cases, local opportunities that are socially distant. Be flexible on what counts as volunteering to increase participation. For example, if you decide to host a company-sponsored event to plant trees, allow remote employees to prepare tree-planting kits in their home or plant trees locally. Several organizations facilitate virtual volunteering opportunities, and many nonprofits have expanded virtual opportunities during the pandemic. Consider offering a wide variety of events, including those that may be important to your charity partners and those posted by your employees. To help, we have included a list of virtual volunteering opportunities you can use as a starting point in our virtual volunteering toolkit.
Hybrid workforce tip #2 – Foster a sense of “togetherness” locally
Virtual volunteering may not be quite the same as a team working side-by-side in a soup kitchen, but there are other ways to cultivate a sense of community. Create virtual spaces for connecting and brainstorming such as Slack or a Facebook Group. Appoint local volunteer mentors that can act as a bridge between the company and employees. These mentors can act as a resource for local employees, as well as help coordinate, communicate and recognize local events. For example, if a business wants to sponsor a company-wide volunteering event, volunteer mentors can work with local employees to decide how they want to support the event. This could include local and virtual gatherings for kickoff and post-event celebrations, matching t-shirts, sharing stories etc. Matching t-shirts for all employees regardless of their volunteer location can also help foster a sense of togetherness. As a case in point, one technology company allowed its global teams to come up with their own ways to give back virtually. Its Dublin team held a virtual bake sale for a local NGO, while its U.S. team hosted a virtual bingo night with athletes from the Special Olympics.
Realized Worth notes that appointing local volunteer mentors provides a two-fold benefit. One, it lets employees know that the company “takes citizenship and the causes employees care about seriously.” Two, elevating employees to “volunteer mentor” status is also an excellent way to improve cross-company connections and recognize employees for their leadership.iv
Hybrid workforce tip #3 – Engage employees with Dollars for Doers
Dollars for Doers is another way to encourage employee participation in your volunteer program. It matches each hour of volunteer service with an amount to donate to a nonprofit. For example, if an employee volunteers for 10 hours at the local animal shelter and the Dollars for Doers rate is $10/hour, the employee would receive $100 to donate to a nonprofit of their choice. It’s a great way to thank employees for investing their time in helping the community (or virtual nonprofit of their choice).
Getting to good, virtually or otherwise
It’s no secret that companies leading with purpose are doing well. Including a thoughtful volunteering program as part of that purpose can help foster a positive workplace culture. And that will help drive innovation, growth, employee engagement and community goodwill.
Download our Virtual Volunteering Toolkit for the insights, resources and templates you need to design your virtual volunteering program for a hybrid workforce.
[A version of this article was originally published in the Fall 2021 HR Advisory Magazine. View/download a PDF copy of the magazine.]