Flexible working: Which charities are moving away from the office?

The Covid-19 pandemic saw working from home became the ‘new normal’ for thousands of charity workers, from frontline professionals to chief executives.

As lockdown restrictions have now eased, charities can now return to the workplace, although government advice suggests organisations should stagger the return where possible to avoid a surge in cases.

But even with a relaxing of the rules, many charities are looking to continue offering staff options to work from home, as part of blended and flexible working arrangements.

These arrangements focus less on where and when work is being carried out and more on the work itself. This can involve working outside of normal working hours to free up time, for example to pick up and drop off children at school. It can also see staff share their working week between home and office. A factor in this trend is demand from staff, who are looking to better juggle their home and working lives.

Eight out of ten charity workers back working from home, more often but not exclusively, according to this year’s Blackbaud’s Future of Work report. This found that a fifth of charity workers would like to work mostly from home, while the same proportion favour spending more of their time in the office.

Home working also gives charities the chance to cut costs of leases and sell part of their property portfolio. With less staff in offices at any one time, less space is needed.

Here we look at some of the charity sector organisations that are already looking to move away from the office and explore more flexible working arrangements for their staff and volunteers.

Directory of Social Change

Among the most high-profile flexible working offers in the charity sector has been made by think tank Directory of Social Change. It has moved all its full-time staff to a four-day week.

This had been carried out amid the pandemic but is being made a permanent arrangement following feedback from staff.

“Having an extra day at the weekend makes so much difference to overall happiness and motivation. I feel much more rested and ready for the week and can get more work done,” said one DSC staffer.

This gives “everybody a three-day weekend every week”, said the DSC.

The DSC's four-day week is being achieved through splitting staff into two teams, working Tuesday to Friday and Monday to Thursday.

The move by the DSC has been widely welcomed by charity sector leaders, indicating more voluntary sector organisations could follow its lead.

Charity sector consultant Zoe Amar said: “I hope we will see more measures like this across the sector to improve staff wellbeing and productivity”.

Meanwhile, Ed Holloway director of digital and services at the MS Society, said “I love this idea”.

Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

Around one in five charities are considering office closures and offering staff the opportunity to work on a remote basis, research released earlier this year has found.

The research by insurer Ecclesiastical found that 19% of charities are looking at downsizing and 17% are considering closing some of their offices.

Meanwhile, one in four charities are considering changing their long-term office arrangements, such as sharing with partners or reducing the space they need.

Among those looking to explore different ways of working is the RNIB, which earlier this year announced the sale of its London headquarters that is shares with the charity Guide Dogs.

RNIB chief executive Matt Stringer said the sale is being carried out as the property has more space than it requires.

He said: “As part of our ongoing plans to transform RNIB to meet the 21st Century needs of blind and partially sighted people, we have been assessing our office space to ensure it best meets our needs and we are using our resources as effectively as possible.”

He added that the sale of the lease “will fund our future strategy and allow us to develop a more modern, fully-accessible central London office that better meets the needs of our customers and staff”.

St John Ambulance

Another charity looking to increase remote working and reduce its property portfolio long term is St John Ambulance.

It announced plans in 2020 to close a third of its buildings. The decision was taken due to the impact of the health crisis on the charity’s finances and as it looks to the future of how it delivers services and how staff work.

“We have not taken this decision lightly – we know our buildings represent more than just a physical presence in communities,” said St John Ambulance’s chief executive, Martin Houghton-Brown at the time of the announcement.

“However, we have a duty to continue serving these communities by responding to their health needs and it is with regret that we have to reduce our estate to shore up the charity’s future.

“As part of this process, I will be exploring, with St John people, how we evolve to still meet and serve communities. Whether that’s using technology to better connect with people or finding partners in the community who would welcome St John, we will find new ways to continue our life saving work now, and for many years to come.”

Homeworking guide

To support charities that are making the move to blended and flexible working arrangements, Charity Times has produced a guide to essential homeworking tools.

This includes a look at the basics of video conferencing via Zoom and Microsoft Teams as well as more collaborative online products such as Slack and Asana.

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