How CSR can supercharge a WFH company culture

When workforces are dispersed and challenges are myriad, introducing and embedding corporate social responsibility as part of their business purpose might be the answer to strengthen a company’s culture.

The coronavirus pandemic and various countermeasures employed by governments has heralded a seismic shift in how many of us are working. The number of people now operating from home has dramatically increased, with entire workforces moving online for their nine to five.

While some companies have already begun making moves to ditch their offices entirely, many others are opting for a split week or semi-regular occasions where their teams can reconvene for strategic meetings, or just a chance to catch up with colleagues face to face.

Working together, apart

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, the great debate about how working from home compares to office-based working continues to rumble on with seemingly every aspect of work life up for discussion. While some have celebrated not having to endure the daily commute, others have actually started to miss it and the space it afforded them by bookending the working day.

Equally, there are those who will thrive in the freedom afforded them by working from home, with their productivity increasing as a result. Without the distraction of colleagues and office politics, these individuals are able to zero in on their work with real focus. Yet this can also come at a cost, as teams risk becoming groups of individuals working on specific tasks in a context ever more removed and remote from the collaborative environment an office can provide.

The counter-argument (that collaboration doesn’t rely on a physical office environment) leans heavily on the technological advancements which provide users with a growing choice of communication, project management and collaboration tools. For many people, and in many instances, these tools are more than enough to facilitate collaborative working, keeping people connected and enabling leaders to retain strategic oversight.

Respect the culture

Yet while remote collaboration is definitely possible, there is an opposing view that there is something specific about meeting physically which cannot be replaced or replicated digitally. That no matter how frequently you schedule calls or chat online, something is lost: culture.

What may have once seemed superfluous to business success, in recent years company culture has become a major focus for startup enterprises and established giants alike. Whether or not you agree with the practice, many firms now actively recruit based on ‘culture fit’ as much as they do skillset and experience. The reason for this is clear. Culture is not only important, but acts as the glue which holds disparate parts of an organisation together.

So, when a normally centralised workforce is scattered to their respective homes, preserving and maintaining culture is difficult to say the least. Factor in unprecedented external pressures such as juggling childcare, caring for elderly relatives or simply the oppressive white noise of anxiety and uncertainty caused by coronavirus, and it’s easy to see how employees and the culture they help to propagate can come under considerable strain.

A culture kickstarter

Set against this context comes a somewhat unlikely saviour in the shape of corporate social responsibility (CSR). During a time where businesses are making thousands redundant in order to cut costs as they stare down the barrel of reduced sales and income, it may seem counterintuitive to champion supporting others when there is need so apparent closer to home. But to paraphrase the famous saying, home is precisely where charity begins and either introducing or ramping up your CSR might just be the masterstroke your business needs to navigate these turbulent times intact.

It can galvanise your existing workforce behind a worthy cause, endear business leaders to their teams and even simply provide a much-needed distraction from the seemingly daily dose of bad news. Moreover, prioritising helping others during a time of need communicates to both employees and customers that you’re both secure and conscientious enough to do so. This confidence can have a positive knock-on effect for your team’s productivity and performance, as well as provide a medium to longer-term upswing in securing new business and recruiting top talent in the future.

Never more needed

Supporting third sector organisations has also never taken on this level of importance. In the same way the global pandemic has decimated certain commercial sectors and undoubtedly affected nigh on every business you care to think about, it has wreaked havoc in the charity world.

Latest predictions from the sector see it facing 60,000 redundancies, with up to one in ten UK charities facing bankruptcy and as many as forty per cent of international development charities at risk of folding this year. Unlike businesses, which can sometimes pivot to offer services or products in a new way, charities exist to service specific communities in specific ways, and largely rely on donations to stay afloat. Yet with members of the public and funders also comparably hit by the coronavirus fallout, these are seriously worrying times for charities and — crucially — those who depend on them.

So, while there is undoubtedly need in the business world, charity support is never more needed than it is now. Businesses are of course also strained financially and the pros and cons of any expenditure or investment needs to be carefully weighed up. But any business leaders concerned about the loss of the office environment and its ability to unify company culture could do a lot worse than prioritise charitable giving and CSR. Especially at this time, when social need is so acute and apparent, if business leaders can introduce and embed CSR as part of their company’s purpose, they stand to give their remote working culture a serious boost and benefit the company in myriad ways both now and for the foreseeable future.

I write about what I’m interested in: the charity sector, CSR, wellbeing, tech, productivity, life, culture and media. www.twofirst.co.uk

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