Subscribers | Charities Management magazine | No. 143 Spring 2022 | Page 4
The magazine for charity managers and trustees

Preparing your offices for flexible working

Workers are increasingly choosing flexible working, and this includes those in the charity sector. While some charities are providing full-time remote working positions, the majority will see employees returning to the office in some form or other, with the surge in “hybrid” working allowing people flexibility in choosing where and when they work.

But what does this practically mean for the office? While flexible working provides advantages, it also creates challenges for charity employers, including how to best set up the office for a hybrid workforce. Here are some important considerations that could mean the difference between flexible working success and failure for charities.

New world of hybrid working

When faced with a global pandemic, the majority of office based workers started to work remotely and this has accelerated the move towards hybrid working on a more permanent basis. Increasingly, workers are splitting their time between the home and the office and according to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index, the number of people working in a hybrid way worldwide is 38% - up by 7% compared to last year. Plus, 53% of people are considering transitioning to hybrid working in the year ahead.

It appears that the UK is ahead of the curve in terms of adapting to the new hybrid working model, with 84% of UK employees saying they’re as productive or even more productive compared to a year ago – higher than the global average of 81%.

But how are charities coping with going hybrid? The pandemic has demonstrated that those working in the charity sector are just as flexible as private sector workers and have adapted well. In fact, in a Future of Work survey by Blackbaud, 80% of charity sector workers stated that they would like to work from home more often.

However, remote working full-time is not the preference of the majority, with most charity sector workers making it clear that they want a balance of remote and office based working.

As more charities see their employees and volunteers returning to the office, but in an ad hoc fashion, charities must get their offices flexible working ready.

Preparing for hybrid working

Hybrid working is a trend that’s not going away, and even without a pandemic some charities are faced with sudden fluctuations in office occupancy. For instance, one London based aid charity sees staff numbers fluctuate massively throughout the year. As soon as a disaster strikes, the number of office desks diminishes as employees and volunteers are sent to the disaster zone.

Here are some key considerations for charity leaders and office managers.

Office layout

Charities must consider the purpose of the office in 2022. In other words, what brings people into the office when they can just as easily work from home? Knowing the “why” of the office must inform its layout.

Workplace culture firm O.C. Tanner highlights that organisations have a crucial opportunity to rethink workspaces and employee experiences, and redesign them around clear goals for their people and cultures. It suggests that offices must become places of collaboration, connection and innovation with workspaces at home being conducive to concentration, creative thinking, and efficiency.

With this in mind, offices must be designed with inviting spaces for collaboration and socialising, in addition to hot desk areas for when independent working is required. This is possible regardless of how modern your office space is, with inviting spaces easily and cheaply created with the right consideration and décor.

Desk booking

With few employees in the office permanently, it makes sense to have “hot desk” areas which can be used as and when employees visit the office. However, what happens if all hot desks are in use at the same time, causing issues and potential conflicts when employees can’t find a free desk? Disputes over desks will cause a tense workplace and result in employees preferring to stay away.

Similarly, for some workers who have been alone for much of the past two years, or who are nervous about catching Covid, returning to a busy office could make them very anxious. Turning up to the office and not knowing where they are sitting, and indeed if a desk will be available for them, will exacerbate any feelings of anxiety, and could even result in them deciding not to return to the office at all.

The ideal scenario is that employees book a numbered desk before attending the office, ideally using a floor map so that a preferred desk can be selected, such as a desk close to a colleague or an adapted desk near to a lift. Employees should also be able to book facilities, such as an electricity point, WiFi and assistive technology, with the flexibility to make a booking while on the train, from the couch and while at the other side of the world if need be!

Using specific desk booking software is advisable as it will do everything you need it to do, rather than employees having to “make do” with a cumbersome solution. And it must be mobile friendly and incredibly intuitive to use. Plus, to support truly flexible working, desks must be bookable for full days, half days and even hourly slots.

Car parking

If employees return to the office only to find that the car parking provision is a nightmare, this will put people off attending the office. It might be the case that the car park has always been inadequate. However, with more employees having the flexibility to decide where and when they work, it’s important to address this key barrier to office attendance.

If the charity has a car park but there are limited spaces, for example, why not ask employees to book a numbered car parking space at the same time as they book their hot desk? This is especially important for employees who may need a disabled car parking space, as turning up to the office to find no suitable spaces could result in them choosing full-time remote working. Introducing bike racks and car sharing initiatives would also help to alleviate car parking issues.

Tech for connection

Research by the Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer highlighted that the pandemic has accelerated charities’ adoption of digital technology, including 82% of charities which report the use of digital technology by staff for remote work or volunteering. So, many charities are likely to already have technologies in place to support flexible working. However they may still need further systems to facilitate greater collaboration between office and home workers.

Video conferencing facilities are more important than ever, as well as an intranet to provide a central information hub while bringing people together regardless of where in the world they’re working. Plus, employees need to be able to easily view when colleagues will be in the office so that they can coordinate office time with friends, team mates and managers. Again a cloud based desk booking system or similar would support this.

Capacity management

When employees can attend and leave the office with greater ease, how can you best manage office capacity? Avoiding overcrowding is important for your busiest days. Plus, ensuring there are always enough first aiders and fire marshals on site is key. In fact, St John Ambulance warns that the switch to hybrid working could put lives at risk because of reduced access to trained first aiders. Therefore, office managers need to know, in advance, who is going to be in the office and when, ideally using technology that provides an holistic and real-time view of office attendance.

Onsite mental health first aiders

If you haven’t already invested in mental health first aid (MHFA), then now’s the time. As employees and volunteers return to the office, it’s important to always have some fully trained MHFAs onsite to spot the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, while providing much needed understanding, face-to-face support and guidance.

This means liaising with all MHFAs so that the office is never left without that all-important mental health support. This may require creating a rota system. MHFA England, which provides certified training on mental health first aid, suggests that employers should to aim for a ratio of one first aider for every 10 employees.

Making flexible credible

It’s important to put all this into the context of the office being an attractive place for collaboration, connection and innovation – and for it to be seen credibly as such by hybrid workers. Reviewing everything from office layout and desk booking to onsite MHFA provision is vital to ensure flexible working is not hindered by simple yet critical workplace considerations.


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