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Remote volunteering to engage employees

One of the many challenges of being under a shelter-in-place order during such a major crisis is that it’s hard to know how to help. For those of us used to springing into action when a problem arises, the fact that one of the best things we can do right now is absolutely nothing (i.e. stay at home on the couch) presents a unique dilemma. Fortunately, companies can play a key role in helping their employees through this struggle while simultaneously sending key resources to organizations on the front lines of the pandemic: organize a remote volunteer day!

Social impact activities have long been a pillar of employee engagement programs for good reason: data overwhelmingly indicates that company-sponsored volunteering is important to employees. According to Deloitte’s Volunteer Impact Research, 89% of U.S. workers believe companies that offer volunteer opportunities have a better overall working environment than those who do not. Moreover, 77% consider company-sponsored volunteer activities ‘essential to employee well-being’. Seven out of 10 even think that volunteering is more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours! Volunteering is clearly a key engagement driver, so as we shift so many of our processes to remote frameworks, shouldn’t community service follow the same trend?

The answer is yes, especially when our country’s nonprofit sector is getting hit from all sides. The need for assistance is skyrocketing as the pandemic batters the economy, while the uncertainty ahead is prompting many to be less generous with their donations. Some charities are already operating with decreased staff capacity as people fall ill or need to stay home to care for children and other family members. Volunteerism is down as well amounting to an all-out crisis for many nonprofits. Some organizations are reporting as much as an 85% drop in volunteer turnout, amidst rapidly rising need.

Fortunately, there are ways to help without endangering your employees’ health or violating current restrictions. While social distancing obviously prohibits us from participating in many of the standard community service projects (e.g. serving food at a pantry or shelter, offering activities for seniors, assisting with after school programs), our brave and innovative colleagues in the nonprofit sector have pivoted to offer remote volunteering just as the rest of us have settled into remote working. Needs may vary by area, but some common opportunities include:

  1. Placing phone calls to isolated seniors to conduct wellness checks and provide social connection
  2. Tutoring children and youth who may be struggling with the transition to remote schooling to help them keep up with their coursework
  3. Making items such as masks and hand sanitizer for organizations running low on protective supplies
  4. Offering pro bono skills such as language translation, legal assistance, web design, social media marketing, etc. to help small businesses and/or nonprofits stay afloat
  5. Supporting folks facing pandemic-related mental health challenges via text message

All of these activities offer the opportunity to boost engagement during (and after) this difficult time, and can improve employees’ well-being by providing productive outlets for their stress. If you don’t have an organization in mind you would like to work with, look for volunteer clearinghouses in your area, such as New York Cares or HandsOn Bay Area. They typically list volunteer roles directly on their websites for easy searching, or you can reach out to their staff for guidance.

If you’d rather focus on fundraising, organizations are certainly in need of donations too, and you can rally your entire team around the same cause. You can start a GoFundMe for your employees to contribute to so that everyone can see the goal and your progress towards it, however it’s best not to post donor names and amounts publicly so as not to make anyone feel pressured to give during these financially tenuous times. Another low-pressure way to help employees give back is by committing to match employee donations to organizations responding to the crisis. This enables employees to choose where they give, and lets them know you support both them and the broader community.

While the switch to remote work has been hard on many of us, some of the old methods of engaging employees still work, including leveraging affinity groups and organizing social impact activities. If you’re looking for an easy way to share information with employees and organize events, activities, and groups, send us a note at hello@workrowd.com. We’d be happy to chat about how we can make it easy to keep your employees engaged and informed no matter where they are.