6 Ways to Create More Flexibility in Your Nonprofit

June 26th, 2018

Ellie Milano

Flexibility is a buzzword in today’s workplace. The option to work from home may first come to mind, but "a flexible work environment" can actually mean a variety of  things from operational policies to more subtle cultural norms. Recent studies are finding that even small changes can make a huge difference for your staff by giving them the freedom they need to be more productive, and reduce stress and burnout. Here are just a few easy changes that will create more workplace flexibility, helping to bolster productivity and improve morale.

Recent studies in both the U.K. and the United States have found that employees want a more flexible working environment. It’s not much of a wonder why. The benefits of offering workers more flexibility are becoming increasingly well documented. According to the College of Adult Learning, flexibility can lead to higher loyalty and improved morale in employees, resulting in less turnover and higher engagement amongst workers. Millennial workers in particular – who will soon make up a large proportion of the workforce – believe that it makes them more productive.

In fact, many companies have begun to view flexibility as the business-savvy choice: leading to better employee buy-in and support of the company, increased value-add of employees, and of course, enabling the organization to reach – and more easily retain – an inherently larger talent pool.

But where should nonprofits start? The idea of flexibility at work can bring to mind institutional policies like having the option to work remotely, flexible schedules, or even unlimited vacation policies. But thanks to the internet, an abundance of tools supporting workplace accessibility, and a growing body of research about the positive impacts of team dynamics and culture, flexibility can be achieved in a variety of ways. Offering more flexibility doesn’t have to mean a big overhaul in operations or policy. Even small changes in your organization’s cultural norms, or even changes at the team level, can make a big difference for your people.

The tips we offer here are simple, achievable shifts that nonprofits of any size can implement without major alterations to operations or budget. .

 

1.     Create internal professional development opportunities. When internal professional development programs are inspired, well-implemented, and fully supported by leadership, they can be a huge boon for staff. Take, for instance, tech consulting firm Kepner-Tregoe’s program where employees are cross-trained with skills to do work that sits outside their job description. This simple policy has enabled a more competent workforce at the firm, where bottlenecks due to staff being out or on leave are virtually non-existent. Staff are kept engaged with new material and opportunities, and retention rates are kept high due to increased mobility within the organization. For an even more vested approach, take VMware’s 3-part career development program, a tiered approach to professional development, where opportunities for staff who remain at the company year after year become richer, lengthier and more desirable.

2.     Allow staff to allocate a percentage of their work week to creative projects. Recently, more companies have been experimenting with creative ways to boost staff engagement and productivity. Google and LinkedIn, for instance, have both tried their hand at policies that designate a certain percentage of staff time toward creative projects. Similarly, innovative media-company Ideo suggests spending some time in “play” mode to help boost creative juices and re-energize workflow. The idea behind these policies is that overworked employees are at risk of spending too much time stuck in unproductive work cycles. Instead, the policies encourage staff to spend dedicated time working on a creative project, breaking them out of those unproductive work and stimulating new thought processes.

3.     Allow staff to use a small percentage of their work week for self-care. Self-care is getting evermore recognition as being critical for stress management, work-life balance, and even physical health. Far from the indulgence the term implies, self-care can mean taking off early once a week to go to the gym, spending some time volunteering, or even finding a quiet spot away from your desk to eat lunch.  The idea of the importance of unplugging is not a new one – overworked teams have higher rates of stress and burnout. Stepping away from work allows people to re-charge, and come back to their work with a refreshed attitude, and a new perspective that can lead to innovative ideas.

4.     Offer paid time off for volunteering. Volunteer Time Off, or VTO, is an actual type of benefit that organizations are adopting to help connect staff with opportunities to do social good. And there’s no wonder why, as employees  – particularly Millennials – continue to seek employment where they feel they can have an impact. Especially at nonprofits where staff spend most of their time behind a desk, volunteering can help them stay connected to a mission and what matters. Organizations offering such policies – even as little as 8 hours per year to spend volunteering – have found it leads to higher retention rates, wider applicant pools, and improved visibility.

5.     Allow project teams to agree on their own office hours. Allowing teams to have a say in how their work time is scheduled – and create that schedule as a team – can build appreciation amongst individuals, allow for teams to have some flexibility while maintaining the same schedules, and enhance motivation. This idea also has the added benefit of building culture within a project team, as staff will be bonded by having created their own working norms together – which can strengthen dynamics and lead to greater efficiency.

6.     Allow employees to work from home one day per week. Allowing staff to work from home just one day per week can improve satisfaction, boost morale, reduce stress and burnout, and even boost attendance. The number of organizations that offer telecommuting to their employees, at least for part of the week, is growing rapidly and likely to become a new norm for many industries. And it’s not just young workers that want remote positions – telecommuting policies are making it easier for older workers to stay in the workforce for longer.

 

One of the most important factors in creating a more flexible work environment is making sure that whatever you choose will work for your staff, as well as for your the dynamics of your nonprofit's operations and culture. It’s important to conduct some research if you do not already have a good idea about what your staff want, to find out what sorts of changes they would most value, and most realistically be able to take advantage of.

Feel free to run some trial and error – but make sure you’re capitalizing on the “error” side of the coin by collecting feedback from staff and internalizing any lessons learned. After all, a policy instituted without staff buy-in will fall flat in its ability to create successful institutional change.

Still not sure what might work for your nonprofit? Contact us with your questions!