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  • Writer's pictureSheena Sullivan

Millennials, Pandemics, and Progress: The Rise of Hybrid Work in Nonprofits

This article emphasizes the shift in nonprofit organizations toward embracing hybrid work arrangements as the new norm, driven by the influence of millennials and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It highlights the benefits of flexibility for attracting and retaining talent. It provides insights into the challenges and advantages of hybrid work, offering four indispensable tips for nonprofit leaders to successfully implement and navigate this evolving work landscape.

Home office

In the new era of nonprofit organizations, hybrid work arrangements are no longer an exception but an imperative. Nonprofits aiming to attract and retain top talent must embrace flexible work arrangements as the new normal.

The demand for nonprofit employers to implement flexible work setups stems from two primary factors: The takeover of millennials as the majority in the workforce and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Millennials, constituting 35% of the U.S. workforce, value remote and hybrid work, with 75% of those in such roles considering a job change if required to be on-site full-time. (Check out this post to learn more about millennials in nonprofits).

The decline in traditional work structures was already evident pre-COVID, but the pandemic accelerated this transformation. Before the pandemic, only 25% of employees worked remotely in the United States, a figure that surged to 80% by June 2022.

The pandemic expedited the adoption of virtual platforms like Zoom, spurred the acquisition of work-from-home equipment, and necessitated the formulation of new policies for remote work.

Organizational leaders (maybe even you) found themselves navigating the management of a hybrid model in a trial-by-fire manner. Now, as the obligation for work-from-home diminishes but the desire for it persists, it is opportune to reassess flexible work arrangements through a more objective lens.

Let's delve into the realm of Hybrid Work Arrangements in Nonprofits.

Nonprofit employees increasingly seek flexibility in work arrangements, desiring autonomy in determining when and where to carry out responsibilities.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the blend of in-office and remote work is synonymous with an 8 percent salary boost for employees.

Notably, almost 60% of nonprofits, including potentially yours, currently provide flexible work arrangements, as reported by the NonProfit Times.

As executive director of a nonprofit organization that embraced flexible work arrangements long before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can attest firsthand that offering a hybrid approach to work provides a competitive advantage. It bolsters staff morale and instills a sense of autonomy frequently praised by our team members.

I’ve witnessed the dynamic evolution of the work landscape in the nonprofit sector, from the initial tolerance of remote work to the transitional phase of adapting to hybrid models as employees cautiously returned to physical offices.

In today's evolving landscape, some corporations appear to be waging a return-to-office war based on dubious research. For instance, Amazon has taken a stringent stance, leveraging the threat of withholding promotional opportunities to coerce compliance with return-to-work directives.

As nonprofit leaders, it is crucial that we learn from these challenges and prioritize the needs of our mission-driven employees. A hybrid work environment, balancing remote and in-person settings, proves to be the optimal solution.

Now, let's understand what a hybrid work environment entails.

A hybrid work environment allows our nonprofit workers to seamlessly transition between

remote and in-person settings. This balance between on-site and remote work optimizes the overall work experience.

Remote work options provide several advantages, including heightened commitment levels, elevated morale, and increased job satisfaction. However, as experienced during lockdown, prolonged remote work can have negative repercussions.

Less teamwork, more isolation, loneliness, work/life blurring, and decreased life satisfaction all emerged as the dark side of remote work after the initial novelty of working from home during the COVID lockdown wore off. 

Striking the sweet spot between on-site and remote work, hybrid work setups effectively quash the fervor surrounding the traditional return-to-office narrative. This approach not only liberates employees from the daily grind and expenses associated with commuting but also underscores a noteworthy sentiment – workers often loathe the commute, not the work.

In the context of environmental considerations, organizations can embrace hybrid work as an environmentally friendly option. Focusing on energy efficiency and sustainable building practices lowers costs and contributes significantly to environmental sustainability.

The environmental impact of building operations plays a pivotal role in the global battle against climate change. Opting for a hybrid work model aligns with the aspirations of the younger workforce, actively advocating for greater climate action from their employers.

Now, let's explore how to make hybrid work successfully.

Navigating the complexities of a hybrid work environment requires strategic planning and thoughtful implementation of practices that cater to the unique demands of remote and in-person work settings.

For nonprofit organizations, driven by their commitment to impactful missions, here are four indispensable tips to make hybrid work arrangements successful and advantageous for organizational growth and employee satisfaction.

1) Systematize performance management:

A well-crafted performance management system is the linchpin for effectively overseeing hybrid employees, especially in remote work scenarios. The system should foster autonomy and trust while establishing clear and mutually agreed-upon benchmarks for evaluating individual contributions.

The challenges witnessed during the COVID lockdown, where stories of managers excessively micromanaging employees' work-from-home activities became prevalent, highlight the urgent need for a system that fosters autonomy and trust.

It became apparent that a rigid and intrusive approach to managing remote employees was counterproductive. Employees reported instances where they felt compelled to move their computer mouse incrementally to avoid being marked as "away," revealing the negative impact of overbearing supervision.

Contrary to such experiences, a performance management system, when thoughtfully designed, operates as a mechanism that empowers you and your team. It achieves this by establishing clear and mutually agreed-upon benchmarks or outputs that are the basis for evaluating individual contributions to your organization's overarching goals.

Furthermore, a successful performance management system incorporates regular and transparent communication channels. This ensures that expectations are clearly communicated and your team comprehensively understands how their contributions align with your organization's strategic objectives. Whether conducted virtually or in person, frequent check-ins and feedback sessions are integral to a system that values ongoing dialogue and collaboration.

As a nonprofit leader, you can cultivate a culture of trust and accountability by establishing a performance management system that emphasizes autonomy, clear expectations, and constructive feedback. This, in turn, supports the seamless functioning of a hybrid work environment, where your employees feel empowered to manage their responsibilities effectively, whether working remotely or in traditional office settings.

2) Set the scene for hybrid work:

Ensuring engaged employees have a seamless remote work experience hinges on providing appropriate materials and equipment for their virtual work environment. When opting for a hybrid model, you must proactively identify remote workers' needs across various roles and furnish them with essential resources. This includes video conferencing equipment, printers, copiers, ergonomic desks and chairs, and any job-specific supplies for the home office.

Effective hybrid work arrangements also demand careful consideration of physical spaces for on-site work. Hybrid offices, at the very least, should feature well-equipped communal rooms fitted with video conferencing systems for both in-person and remote connections, laptops, dry-erase boards, and other relevant materials.

At the same time, consider providing private office space for onsite work that doesn't involve collaboration. It’s advisable to grant access to private offices for individuals who want solitude while maintaining the option to convene in communal meeting rooms as needed. This approach aligns with best practices for fostering a conducive and flexible work model.

3) Make hybrid work inclusive and "normal":

The implementation of flexible work arrangements hinges on a crucial element: trust. It's a two-way street, requiring not only the trust of management in the commitment of employees to fulfill their assigned tasks but also the trust of workers that opting for at least partial remote work won't result in negative repercussions.

Research tells us that employees will only participate in hybrid work arrangements if they are confident doing so will risk their job security or hurt their chances for promotions and other rewards. Thus, you must facilitate inclusive cultures of hybrid work to support an engaged workforce. 

Furthermore, inconsistency in making hybrid work arrangements available to staff can create resentment for leadership and within teams. 

If you implement a hybrid work arrangement, leadership at all levels must demonstrate that both onsite and remote work is acceptable and equally encouraged. Everyone with a remote-friendly job should receive equal access to the opportunity to work remotely some or all of the time and be provided with the equipment and support to be successful.

To prevent “accidental” discrimination in a non-static NPO work environment, implement systems for performance appraisals, incentives, job assignments, and promotions that reduce the risk of implicit bias so that onsite employees, remote workers, and combination staff receive fair treatment and access to opportunities.

4) Promote collaboration in hybrid teams:

In this evolving work landscape, the ability to collaborate seamlessly stands out as a key differentiator for high-performing nonprofit teams.

Scheduled team meetings and regular check-ins, whether conducted virtually or in person, provide dedicated spaces for collaboration. These meetings are forums to discuss ongoing projects, share updates, and address challenges. You can further strengthen interpersonal relationships by incorporating activities for team building into these sessions.

Creating virtual collaboration spaces is another effective strategy. These spaces, whether virtual whiteboards, shared documents, or project-specific channels within collaboration platforms, allow team members to brainstorm, share ideas, and collaborate on projects. Encouraging active contributions to these virtual spaces will foster a sense of shared ownership among team members.

The importance of fostering a culture that values collaboration cannot be overstated. As a leader, you play a pivotal role in this endeavor, setting an example by actively participating in collaborative efforts conducted virtually or in person. Encourage open communication channels and create platforms for employees to share ideas and insights.

In summary…

In the evolving landscape of nonprofit organizations, shaped by the post-COVID era and the predominant influence of millennials in the workforce, the paradigm of a hybrid workplace has transformed from an exception to an imperative. To attract and retain top talent, we as nonprofit leaders must embrace flexible work arrangements as the new norm. 

Nonprofit professionals increasingly seek flexibility, yearning for autonomy in determining when and where to carry out their responsibilities. 

Hybrid work, allowing transition between remote and in-person settings, strikes a balance between the drawbacks and benefits of remote work, liberating employees from commuting while increasing engagement and productivity.

Implementing flexibility hinges on trust, requiring management’s trust in employees' commitment and workers’ trust in remote work without negative repercussions.

Facilitating trust involves systematizing performance management and setting the scene for hybrid work. Performance management harnesses autonomy through agreed-upon benchmarks while providing essential resources for remote work to ensure a seamless experience. 

Inclusive cultures of hybrid work, demonstrating equal encouragement for both onsite and remote work, prevent resentment. Leadership must ensure equal access to remote work opportunities, equipment, and support for all.

The resilience of our workforce and the advantages of working from home deserve collective applause.

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