At Common Impact, we know that skills-based volunteering is an effective employee engagement and talent development tool for all team members. Skills-based volunteering stretches participants’ current talents in a new environment, develops new skill sets including teamwork, navigating ambiguity, client focus, and much more. However, for skills-based volunteering to become truly transformative, it is important that organizations create “sticky” relationships between their companies and nonprofit partners to ground their pro bono programs in their people. Recognizing the benefits of experiential learning initiatives may be more obvious for team members based in an office location, but we have found that skills-based volunteering is a powerful tactic to reach employees wherever they are in the organization or the world.
Today we are excited to share three great ways to engage your remote and global workforce through skills-based volunteerism.
The Opportunity: Corporate employees have the opportunity to interact, and learn from colleagues across the globe, stretching cultural competencies and broadening networks. Companies also benefit from having access to an expanded talent pool that surpasses geographic boundaries and, if done correctly, employees who are happier and more productive. For nonprofits, removing geographic boundaries enables organizations to benefit from a wider reach of corporate talent and expertise. These remote and global volunteers also expand a nonprofit’s potential donor and volunteer pool, as volunteers share their experience with their networks and spread greater awareness of the nonprofit’s mission.
The Challenge: However, in order to capitalize on these opportunities: employees must interact effectively and cultivate relationships with each other despite cultural and communication hurdles; managers need to adequately supervise and support their virtual workforce; and cross-departmental teams need to work together across geographic boundaries.
Here are three best practices to overcome these challenges and maximize the benefits of virtual skills-based volunteering:
- Establish a local presence: There is no replacement for an in-person, local connection. When possible, Common Impact has found it helpful to include at least one employee on the team that is local to the nonprofit community. This helps to cultivate a strong relationship and connection with the nonprofit, even if the rest of the team is virtual.
- Embrace Technology: Using technology to enhance team collaboration, relationship development, and connection to the nonprofit are key to a successful virtual engagement. In particular, we have found that reliable conference call services, and screen/video sharing platforms such as GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar are helpful to support these technology needs.
- Support Team Leads: Each Common Impact project is led by one corporate volunteer, dubbed the “team lead.” Managing virtual teams can be challenging for leaders of all skill levels – making this a compelling stretch opportunity for team leads. We have found it critical to have accessible support for the team leads intentionally built into the engagement, as it ensures project success while reinforcing leadership development.
Interested in learning about how to engage decentralized employees at your company? Join our session at the upcoming Charities@Work Summit in NYC on Thursday, June 28th to hear from industry experts at JPMorgan, Marriott International, John Hancock and Wells Fargo about how you can utilize skills-based volunteering to engage global, remote and front-line employees.