How charities are working after the pandemic

As we move beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, we spoke to four ACO member charities about how they are now working with their teams, whether at home or in the office, and how they are trying to make this a success.

Robert Ball – Chief Executive of the Architects Benevolent Society

How is your charity currently working?

All of the staff team are currently working to the arrangement that suits them best. They are able to go into the office if they would like or work from home every day if they prefer. One of the team is in the office permanently as they have very little space at home and a handful are going in once each week. We plan to start returning to the office on a more formal basis once the covid-19 situation has settled down further, with the general guidance of full-time employees working two days in the office each week and part-time one day per week, or more if they so wish.

What steps have you taken to try and make this a success with your teams?

We consulted with the team at every stage. and the current and future ways of working (once things have settled down) have come out of a consensus view. The overwhelming view was that there remains a real benefit to spending time in the office each week but on a far reduced basis than previously.

Why has your charity made the decision to work this way?

What we have yet to decide is what this means for the longer term. Once we return to the office on a formal basis, we intend to review the effectiveness of the new working arrangements on a regular basis and make further adjustments in the future if necessary. Our office lease comes to an end in 2024, so we are in a  fortunate position of being able to use that time to assess if the new way of working really suits the staff team and the organisation, whether or not we need as much space as we currently occupy etc.

How are you finding this way of working?

The team has worked extremely well remotely but we have had to work harder than usual to ensure everyone remains in contact. To bring everyone together on a regular basis; for a prolonged period we had regular tea and coffee morning chats (45 minute slots) everyone was welcome to join twice a week on zoom and that proved to be an effective way to keep the team together and communicating, on average about ½ – 2/3  of the team would join each time.

Some of the team have struggled at times working from home every day and it was for that reason, after the initial period when we asked everyone to stay at home, we made sure anyone who wanted to go to the office could do so, with the proviso that they let everyone know when they planned to do so to ensure we didn’t risk too many going in on the same day. Zoom fatigue has been a real issue at times and we have tried to reduce the use of it as far as possible.

Jane Petit – CEO of Foothold (The IET Benevolent Fund)

How is your charity currently working?

We are in a transition period from a fairly standard office-based culture with some flexible working to a fully remote fully flexible culture. All new staff since Aug 2021 are on remote working contracts with core hours for the whole team 10-11am on a Tuesday and for SMT 10-1pm on a Tuesday. We will undertake a consultation with staff on office-based contracts in the summer with a view to moving to completely remote contracts by Dec 2022.

We are working very much to an outcomes-based culture rather than presenteeism and so have none of the monitoring systems I know some business have employed, especially since March 2020. We do have a WhatsApp group so we know when someone is online and when they have finished for the day, which we use to comply with our remote working policy rather than to check hours, and we have a standing item on our 1:1 agendas about how the practice and culture is working.We abide by the EU working time directive on having breaks when working more than six hours in a day and having at least one day clear from work a week. We mainly manage the 11 hrs between work sessions but occasionally travel butts in on that!

We have agreed that we will use the standard M-F working pattern to calculate annual leave. We have weekly whole team meetings on zoom – hence the Tues core hours – and have agreed bi-annual whole team face to face meetings with training and social elements, quarterly face to face team meetings with weekly Zooms, 1:1’s and coaching normally by Zoom but face to face on request – then there are teams/WhatsApp groups, coffee hours etc.

Why has your charity made the decision to work this way?

Culturally, the working from home edict during lockdown gave staff time to reflect. We did anonymous polls/surveys during lockdown to check people’s appetite for returning to the office. For our staff group remote working has been successful and they wanted to continue with it – there are definite positives for home/work-life balance and productivity is up. The experience of working around the 9-5 to manage homeschooling or caring responsibilities also made people reflect on how they had managed previously.

We attracted a large pool of talented people for our recent vacancies, all of whom came from outside a sensible commute for London, and are keeping one member of the team who plans to move outside of London and otherwise would have needed to leave. We managed to successfully onboard 5 members of staff remotely which indicated this way of working was possible for us.

Financially we needed to reduce costs and the lease on our current office is up in April 2023 – pre lockdown we were looking at smaller premises or serviced office spaces, but with lockdown we realised that the team would be comfortable with remote working and hiring rooms as and when required for meetings, so we made the decision to go remote.

What steps have you taken to try and make this a success with your teams?

Consultation, both formal and informal, with the caveat that face to face meetings can be arranged whenever people feel that is needed. We have regular external coaching sessions to allow people to explore viewpoints in a safe space, review of policies and procedures to fit with remote working and development of family-friendly and flexible working policies. We have moved systems to cloud-based, and have provision of equipment and home based services such as PAT testing.

We use WhatsApp and Teams groups for communication and lots of discussion about what we mean by an outcome based culture as it is a new concept for many of the team. We have had to work with our insurer as we now have a staff member working from France and also some international volunteers to make sure everything is covered and have clarified the tax position for travel for those on remote working contracts.

How are you currently finding this way of working?

Learning as we go both as managers and team members, plenty of reassurance, and taking notice of people’s life outside of work and what stresses that may bring to work. Some of the team still find themselves justifying why they are signing off at a particular time and their manager goes back and explores that with them. We share stories of when we have worked in different cultures and why we have made the changes, acknowledging that this way of working is not right for every organisation.

Also helping the team believe that we have a no blame culture and want to learn from situations when things don’t go according to plan – quite a difficult one for some of them – not aligned to our new way of working particularly but all part of the new culture. I would say so far so good – recent comments on our new teams 3 month probation review probably sums it up for us – “ professional and relaxed”, “I have had a wonderful first three months at Foothold and at the risk of sounding like a broken record it really has been a breath of fresh air. The atmosphere here is so much more friendly, supportive, and collaborative than any of the other places I’ve worked.”

Cheng Loo – Secretary at the Royal Opera House Benevolent Fund

How is your charity currently working? 

We continue to work mainly from home, but we have been back to the ROH on a few occasions since the start of the year for meetings with external clients.

Why has your charity made the decision to work this way? 

Over the past 2 years since the lockdown, we have established an effective home working system that has enabled the charity to operate well.  Grant applications are dealt with remotely and home visits to potential beneficiaries have not been undertaken as they are not appropriate in view of Covid-19. Instead, we make regular phone calls to elderly beneficiaries who welcome a chat.

Additionally, the ROH has Covid-19 restricted working on-site and working from home was preferred.

What steps have you taken to try and make this a success with your teams?

  1. Set up an efficient remote system within the team so that each other’s work can be communicated and accessed between each other
  2. Provide appropriate IT/home equipment to set up home working e.g. laptop, mobile phone chairs etc.
  3. A weekly remote team meeting to update one another with their own/mutual work
  4. When permitted, have monthly coffee meetings at an external site (mentally and motivationally beneficial for all)
  5. Flexible working hours to take into account home arrangements for child/parental care when required

How are you currently finding this way of working?

Working from home has meant that time not spent on travelling and commuting to work has been beneficial and less stressful.  Regular contact with team members is important to maintain good working relationships and morale, which is working well for us.

For now, working from home is to continue with a review when the ROH goes back to a normal working environment (Government Guidelines). We may consider a hybrid working system whereby some of our working days will be back at the ROH.  It is important for the charity re-establish its presence in the ROH when it is fully re-opened and for staff to work onsite. Health/safety and anxiety issues regarding going back to work can be reduced with the knowledge that there are strict hygiene protocols in place at the ROH e.g. regular cleaning, sanitising stations and wearing of masks in office/communal spaces.

Jo Alesbrook – Coordinator at the Mountsorrel Community Support Fund

How is your charity currently working? 

There are two paid worker roles (both self-employed and home-based) in our charity, myself as Coordinator and Jane as Clerk. I go out to visit applicants and meet with Jane and the Trustees at our regular meetings to discuss applications roughly every 6 weeks. All the Trustees are of course voluntary.

When I took over from the previous coordinator in December 2020 there were no visits to applicants taking place due to Covid and the job has always been based at home anyway. All Trustee meetings were via Zoom. In June 2021 I began home visits and the Trustee meetings were in person.

During December 2021 I decided not to do home visits while Omicron was surging, and our Trustee meeting in January was online for the same reason. From the middle of January, I started home visits again and our next meeting on 9th March will be in person. I also have had and will have meetings with other professionals in person where that is agreed by them as well. Jane also meets a small number of Trustees in person for finance committee meetings.

How are you currently finding this way of working?

The reason I am doing home visits is because I am triple-jabbed and been given the choice of what to do. I feel I can take a better application if I meet the people in person. Meeting in person for the Trustee meetings is easier for discussing applications and for other matters. The challenge would be if some of our Trustees have been unwilling to attend in-person meetings due to personal circumstances and there is no facility to join in remotely.

In general, the processes have gone back to pre-covid times with the opportunity to change back to taking applications by phone and meeting via Zoom should there be further concerns re Covid.