Alex Ritchie and Rachel Smith, Co-CEOs of GlobalGiving UK, have always nurtured a flexible working culture. They both work part-time and were open to staff working the occasional day from home. But when the pandemic hit and the whole organisation had to operate remotely, they noticed their employees were coping very differently, depending on their life circumstances, often related to living situation and career stage.
The UK operation of GlobalGiving – a US-based company which connects donors with charities around the world – employs just 15-16 people, so managers had good visibility of how homeworking was affecting them. They found that, while employees with children were really enjoying more flexibility, younger staff were finding it more difficult.
‘In the first few months, everyone was very happy,’ says Alex, ‘but over time, the initial shininess of being able to work from home wore off. Some colleagues, many earlier in their career, felt they were missing the social life, learning opportunities and a good space to work in.’
Looking at the individual needs of employees was a key driver in working out what to do next. Rachel says, ‘We had to tread carefully by not just saying: “Oh, isn’t working from home great?”, because actually it has been quite detrimental for some people’s mental health. Everybody’s situations are different.’
To tackle the problem, the company sent out an employee survey. 'We had an open, transparent conversation [about hybrid working] and asked how we could continue to inspire some of the values our team have, like collaboration, creativity and innovation, at times when we are working from home.'
Managers are still distilling the survey feedback, but there are clear indications that there is an appetite to return to an office – preferably within 20 minutes of home.
The plan is to invite staff to use a variety of shared office spaces across the UK, allowing staff to meet face-to-face, while enjoying a shorter commute. The only requirement is for everyone to come into a central hub once a month for a whole-team meeting. These pay-as-you-go spaces will allow the company – which previously rented a central London head office – to save money, while giving staff the flexibility to book into a physical office whenever they feel the need.
‘You can often just turn up – you might not have a dedicated desk, but you can work on your laptop in the lounge area or sit in booths to have smaller meetings – there are some really nice spaces out there,’ says Alex, who also sees sharing an office with other companies as a chance to expand the business. ‘It’s a benefit to getting staff networking in person again – if we go into a space with companies, there’s a good opportunity to talk to them about charity donations.’
‘We’ve realised virtual networking is impossible,’ continues Alex. ‘We’ve tried attending some of the online events but it’s nothing like meeting someone over a coffee for a chat.’
Rachel expects the evolution of GlobalGiving’s workplace to continue to be shaped by staff, especially the younger members. ‘Generation Z are coming into the workforce and, even pre-pandemic, have demanded that companies should be more values-driven, and to offer more technology and digital…organisations will have to keep adapting based on their expectations.’
In this series
Sayma Salik, People Partner at Central Surrey Health (NHS), says hybrid working is here to stay, but the balance will lean towards returning to the office.
Explore career areas within the people profession, and the typical activities you may find yourself doing
Information and guidance to help you excel in your role, transition into the profession, and manage a career break