Many charities are facing dilemmas on how to work after the pandemic has receded, though the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) have said some home working may need to continue longer term. While most organisations look set to return to the office at least some of the time, some charities are looking to do things differently. They are considering going fully remote or even changing to a four-day week. Our article brings together research on the future of work to help charities manage the return or transition.
The workplace may be set to change greatly, but charities should consider how best to implement these new working situations. Nearly 9 in 10 (85%) adults working remotely want a hybrid approach, working from both their home and the office, and a third of employers don’t know what proportion of employees will return to the office.
Coverage of the issue of returning to the office is extensive. The Guardian considers the options in depth, the Times explores the ‘tug of war’, and the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlights the lack of interactions between staff as the undesirable aspect of remote working.
Over a third of all employees (36%) did some work at home in 2020, an annual rise of 9.4 percentage points. Those who did at least some work from home did 6 hours of unpaid overtime on average each week in 2020, against an average of 3.6 hours among those who did not work from home. Homeworkers were far less likely to take any sickness absence. The sickness absence rate for workers doing any work from home was 0.9% on average in 2020, compared with 2.2% for those who never worked from home in their main job (2 days lost per worker a year against 4.3). Despite this, those who worked from home were less than half as likely to be promoted during 2012-2017, which may have implications for charities in the future, depending on how they arrange their work patterns.
The government believes that the future of work lies in greater flexibility which will aid it’s “levelling up” agenda. This aims to spread opportunity beyond the areas in which it is currently concentrated. Unlike previously, the government will now not advise on the return to the office, instead letting employers decide for themselves. The Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto included a pledge to consult on making flexible working “the default unless employers have good reasons not to”. In March ministers were intending to hold this consultation on measures to strengthen the right to flexible working which is expected to report this year and to recommend flexible working as the default. However, the government have said “there are no plans to make [remote working] permanent or introduce a legal right to work from home.’
The private sector
The remote working revolution looks set to continue across the economy as a whole. KPMG have told its UK staff that they will work an average of two days a week in the office and finish 2.5 hours early one day a week during summer. Accountancy firm BDO is allowing staff to decide for themselves as to when they work in an office so that staff are free to work in the location which they find most productive. The chair of PwC had expected a dramatic drop in productivity among staff working remotely, but says it didn’t happen: “People have high integrity and they are committed”.
Many employers may be forced to offer remote working. One in four employees would trade a lower salary for flexible working, which may work to charities’ advantage. Employers may have their hands forced, as half of UK workers could quit if they are not offered flexible working, rising to 2 in 3 of those 18-24. So, again, charities may wish to consider their offer to their potential employees in light of this.
The future of work for the charity sector
Work from Blackbaud Europe with The Resource Alliance looks specifically at the issue of remote working in the charity sector. The findings include that:
- 74% of respondents enjoy working from home.
- 80% of people would like to work from home more often in the future.
- 22% agree that they would like to work mostly from home long-term, a further 23% disagree.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Research into remote working has highlighted the potential for remote and hybrid working to worsen inequalities and lack of diversity if done badly. The issues raised include the inadvertent development of ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups, and ‘present privilege’, allowing some employees greater access to bosses and decision makers, meaning they are more prominently in mind for promotion and progression.
The government’s Behavioural Insights team looked at the issue of home working from the perspective of gender equality. One of the main findings is that the perception of those who work remotely as less committed decreased during 2020, but that organisation leaders need to work to ensure that perception remains or improves:
“Importantly, stigma towards remote workers, i.e. the perception that remote workers are less committed to their career, was 10% lower in October compared to pre-pandemic levels. Ensuring that senior leaders – who represent ‘success’ in an organisation – do not rush back to working primarily in the office will be key for sustaining the positive reduction in stigma.”
The Behavioural Insights team conclude that remote working may be more impactful on gender equality than part-time working as it increases men’s caring responsibilities. This is partly because men tend to work overtime, which is rewarded by employers, while women tend to do the caring, which is penalised. Employers must, then, be vigilant to this. They should seek to proactively prevent increases in overtime as, where women have caring responsibilities, they have less capacity to work overtime.
Research at a defence supplier highlighted equality issues around some models of hybrid working. Both men and women had similar preferences in terms of their remote working, but messaging about the organisation’s expectations created a gender gap as women reduced what they reported as their preference. This is because women are more likely to have experienced ‘flexibility stigma’ and experience greater work-life conflict if fewer colleagues work from home, where men are less impacted by this. The research notes that “setting any kind of expectation” could see unequal uptake. Further, staff with a disability and/or with dependents wanted to work from home a significantly higher number of days.
A ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work for most people, even if that is the average preference. The authors recommend that “specifying a number of working from home days is likely only to satisfy a minority of staff and men may ignore it regardless, resulting in a gender gap. We encourage employers to allow employees to choose what works for them, while acknowledging and supporting the overall shift to increased remote working.”
The importance of flexibility
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is urging employers to give staff a range of flexible working options, including more say over when they work, not only where. This is because other flexible working options, such as part-time, flexi-time and compressed hours have implications for diversity and inclusion, including the recruitment and retention of staff.
Making it work
Cary Cooper, Professor of organisational psychology and health at the Alliance Manchester Business School, suggests that employees now work through what would have been their commuting time, and employers must take account of this upon the return to the office. He also highlights the potential savings to employers of reduced office space. In the Telegraph, John Timpson wrote about the importance of assessing staff on their performance, not their timekeeping. A recent article sets out how employers can retain the advantages of the new way of working while combining it with the best of in-person work, identifying what was successful and why. Research from the USA indicates that employers which best utilise hybrid working will see benefits in terms of employee experience and wider organisational benefits; including higher retention rates and long-term recruitment advantages.
McKinsey surveyed business leaders to consider how to best utilise hybrid working, including training managers for remote leadership, reimagining processes, and working out how to help employees thrive in their roles. Further articles have covered how to lead the transition back to the office and how to work out the best hybrid working strategy. OE Cam have explored some of the unintended consequences of hybrid working.
What are charities doing?
Macmillan Cancer Support are investigating how remote working might work for them, specifically how to maximise their potential as a diverse, inclusive and, thus, attractive employer. RNID Scotland has decided to sell all its office premises and to have staff work fully remotely from 1st September 2021. They “have decided that working like this is a far better way to enable people within the charity to be connected and work productively”. Indeed, some organisations are looking to a four day week as a way to boost employee productivity and wellbeing. Advice Direct Scotland moved to a four day week in 2018 as the move realised significant benefits to productivity, staff morale and absenteeism with no reduction in the services provided.
A changed working world
The pandemic has seen a step change in how we work. Charities may be uniquely affected by the change because of the tight budgets in the sector. Working entirely remotely can reduce costs by not having expensive office space. Those charities that continue to have offices can now use the space more efficiently if the same, or even larger, numbers can work in that space on different days. In January 2020 remote working roles made up around 5% of all charity roles, but the figure is now around 20%. All these factors may explain why CharityJob ads listed as being permanently remote peaked at 24% in October 2020, meaning 1 in 4 jobs were permanently away from the office, though the proportion has since fallen to around 15%. Further, since January 2020 non-remote jobs receive an average of 1,000 views and nearly 50 clicks on apply. Remote working roles average over 2,000 views and nearly 90 clicks on apply, indicating much higher interest in remote working roles. All this goes to show that the pandemic may have changed the experience of working in the charity sector forever. However, the Centre for Cities think tank is predicting a return to five days a week in the office within two years as they believe employees and employers value face to face interactions.