Digital tools have made it easier for charity workers to hold team meetings, organise projects, and streamline operations from outside the office. Working remotely has not only transformed relationships with colleagues, but, how charities see their physical office spaces.
For senior leaders, the successful shift to remote working has called into question what the future of the physical office space looks like.
Charity employees have not only adjusted to remote working but are showcasing immense resilience and strength. Charities are fundraising from home through the use of virtual events and solo challenges. They are delivering services through live chats, chatbots and video conferencing. And they are motivating teams with quizzes, karaoke and solo exercise challenges. These new working patterns may be here to stay and looking across the sector, views are mixed on the return to the office.
Speaking to charity digital leaders, Zoe Amar found that some charities have become more agile, while others still feel physical meetings are important. Matt James from WellChild says that: “The pandemic has shown us that productivity and impact do not rely on our four walls. Recognising that has made us a more dynamic, agile organisation overnight.” As a result of the lockdown experience, the charity is accelerating its digital transformation plans, rather than return to an office setting.
Taking a different approach, Zoe found that Women’s Resource Centre still found face-to-face valuable. Noting the value of trust, relationships, and support, Women’s Resource Centre is looking to blend both digital and physical operations, rather than shifting fully to remote working.
Charities are ahead of the curve in offering remote and flexible working to staff. In fact, remote and flexible working policies are aspects which make the sector attractive. Overall, TPP, a specialist recruitment firm says that: “Offering greater flexibility at work could be the tool that charities need to compete in recruiting the best talent.”
Prior to lockdown, the recruitment agency also said that: “However, while charities might be good at providing flexible work on a case by case basis, they are less effective at rolling out options for flexibility to the workforce as a whole.”
Contrary to TPP’s observation, charities have rolled out remote and flexible working across staff lines. This has left charity digital leaders with new choices to think about. Charity digital leaders could offer more permanent remote and flexible working options to all staff, while allowing others to return to the office. As the demand for digital arrangements increases, charity digital leaders could see fewer people needing fixed, formal working spaces.
Driven by digital, many charities will soon be asking why they are renting offices spaces at current levels, and what purpose they serve.
Navca, the local infrastructure charity shifted almost entirely to remote working in 2018. The charity found a new, much smaller office space, fit for a different purpose. Driven by the shift to remote working, the charity reduced spending on rent by 50%.
Jane Ide, Chief Executive of Navca, says, “We were an almost entirely office-based organisation. We have switched it around completely so that we are almost 100 per cent remotely mobile. We do have a very small office, but it is more for administrative purposes and giving us a place to come together for meetings than to house the team.”
For those rethinking space, offices could be reimagined and converted. Larger meeting, event, and shared spaces could mean that charities use their offices for other mission-driven purposes.
Remote working could spell the end of fixed desk spaces and office cubicles, and see them replaced with hot-desking and virtual spaces. With the reduction in charity staff coming into the office, hot-desking is an option where staff share spaces. Coordinating digitally, rotas can be organised to make sure that everyone who needs a desk gets one.
Taking digital tools further, virtual office spaces could become more popular as charities look to reduce costs and shift more towards remote working. Virtual offices spaces are services which enable charity staff to work remotely while providing a physical presence in key areas. Physical mail collection, receptionist, scanning facilities, and phone services can be part of the virtual office space package which charities can look at. In effect, virtual offices spaces in London hubs can enable charities to achieve a desirable postcode at a lower cost when compared with renting.
As an example, CAN Mezzanine specialises in providing virtual office space to charities and non-profits. Standard ‘spaces’ include a mail collection service, where charity workers could go in and collect post, but actually be working remotely. Other perks include hiring out meeting rooms and spaces as an when charities need them, rather than paying the ongoing costs to maintain the space. For charity digital leaders thinking of new spaces, virtual offices could provide a neat bridge between physical and digital locations.
Ultimately, the decision will come down to individual organisations to decide what they do with their office space going forward. But one thing that lockdown has taught us is that the capability is there. The sector has become more creative through remote working and we’re excited to see what the future brings. Let us know what your Charity’s plans are in the comments below.