Rosemary Macdonald: How UKCF has embraced the change in working environment

03 Jun 2021 Voices

Rosemary Macdonald, chief executive of UK Community Foundations, explains how working from home has allowed her staff to feel better connected to their local area.

The ongoing pandemic has caused a shift in the working environment, with many businesses making the decision not to go back into their office. At UK Community Foundations (UKCF), we have taken this new way of working in our stride by implementing a new home-based policy. 

Our network of community foundations brings together people, charities and organisations to improve their local communities. Now they are working from home, our staff have told us they feel better connected to their local area, and fully understand and appreciate the needs of the places they serve. 

Below are my top tips on what we learnt from transitioning to home-based working.

Take a blended approach

Lots of studies have shown that employees are favouring a blended approach to home working once restrictions end. Due to this, we feel that it’s really important to give our team the choice as to whether they want to work from home full time or not. It’s also key to be considerate of the fact that remote working is a lot easier for some than others.

We will have limited office space in London which will be available for team members based there who want to use it and we’re also working with our community foundations to create hotdesking space for team members that are nearby. Overall, we trust our staff to take the approach that works best for them.

Consider how the pandemic affected your organisation

The pandemic played a big role in our decision making. Like most organisations, our team went fully remote overnight. They did a phenomenal job in coordinating the distribution of emergency funding from the NET Coronavirus Appeal. The fact that the team performed so well remotely, under immense pressure, made the decision easy. We spoke to staff and many of them were keen to continue working from home after experiencing the benefits of more free time, a better work life balance, and the flexibility that a properly enacted remote working policy brings.

As UKCF was expanding, this also presented an opportunity to recruit team members who were more reflective of our membership. We represent 47 member community foundations that all adopt a place-based approach to grant-making. Put simply, this means community foundations distribute funding to local charities based on the specific needs of the area they operate in. Having a team that truly understands the different places that our members work in is a huge advantage for UKCF and our members. It also means that we have access to a bigger pool of talent.

We’ve now got team members in Yorkshire, Bristol, Devon, Staffordshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, Derbyshire and one team member that has been able to pay an extended visit to Ethiopia whilst continuing to work for UKCF. It really was a no-brainer to make the shift.

Make sure new joiners receive a comprehensive introduction

Starting a new job can be daunting in the best of times. Working remotely can really compound this. It's absolutely essential to have a comprehensive induction process and adapt it based on the feedback of new team members. This is a whole new world for most people, so you need to accept that you might not get it right the first time and adapt your processes accordingly.

As life begins to return to “normal” we fully expect our team to want to do more in-person activities. We’re already planning face-to-face staff engagement days; however, we have to be cognisant of the fact that we’ll never be fully able to replicate the whole team being in an office together. Time will tell.

Regular catch-ups are key to success

The only surprise we’ve had is how smoothly the transition has gone and how happily the team have embraced it. We were also pleasantly surprised about how quickly the new team members were able to build a rapport with each other and the existing team. Holding regular informal team catch-ups was key to this.

Listen to your staff and adapt as you need

This isn’t going to work for everyone. For some charities, face-to-face activities are integral to what they do. However, for organisations like us that are office-based it’s a really great opportunity, particularly if you are a membership organisation or a federated body based in London. In the past we’ve been accused of being London-centric and I think this criticism was fair. Going remote and recruiting staff from different parts of the UK allows you to put your money where your mouth is and get rid of that “head office dynamic”.

It's a bit of a cliche but communication is key. Be upfront about why you want to do it and the benefits that you think it will bring to your team. Be open to resistance – this is a massive change in people’s lives and not everyone loves working from home. Be considerate of people’s personal situations and reassure them that you’re going to do all you can to make it work for everyone. 

Once you’ve decided to go remote, review your induction processes with a finetooth comb. It’s crucial to keep everyone engaged. Sometimes it might feel a little over the top but it’s vital you facilitate spaces for staff to engage with each other on an informal basis. It goes without saying but be prepared to invest in improving your team’s home-working environment.

It’s the people that make our sector tick. If you bring them with you, listen to and involve them in the process, then you won’t go far wrong.

Rosemary Macdonald is chief executive of UK Community Foundations - a national network of 47 community foundations, which have collectively given out over £1bn in grants to charities, community groups and individuals.

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