Tell me the top 3 things that you love about working here.
Now tell me the top three things you don’t like.
When I work with a client to audit their prospect research department, the answers to those two questions tell me a lot about both the nonprofit and the person I’m interviewing. When I review the answers of 10 or 20 employees, I start to see patterns of strength and gaps to be filled. Taken across several organizations, I hear a lot of the same things. From prospect researchers, I almost always hear
I wish they would let me work from home.
I would like flexible hours.
When I bring this up with their supervisors or leadership, I often hear “Yeah, yeah. Employees always say that. It’s never going to happen. They’re not living in the real world.”
Here’s Real World: A recent survey by career-management firm Right Management found that 86% of the people they polled said that they planned to actively search for a new job in the coming year, up 26% since 2009. A combination of work-place stress and doing more for the same salary were the major contributing reasons.
The reality of a typical prospect research professional’s work environment is that it’s a 90 percent computer-based job. If researchers and front-line fundraisers in medium to large shops communicate, it is mainly through email, forms, or on the telephone. Face-to-face time is generally a very small part of the relationship, maybe a couple of hours a week.
Research requires concentration – a lot of it. Have you ever tried to add up a column of figures while someone else is carrying on a conversation in the next cubicle over? It doesn’t matter if they’re discussing a work project or dishing about Downton Abbey, a constant background hum like that is distracting. The more distractions, the more on-the-job stress there is.
On Marketplace Radio, Stephen Dubner, the Freakonomics co-author, told the story of C-trip, the Chinese equivalent of Expedia. In order to save money on expensive office space, the C-trip CEO, James Liang, PhD (Economics, Stanford) decided to try an experiment. C-trip allowed 255 workers that wanted to work from home to try it out for 9 months. The company figured that they would save money on office space and attrition, but lose money on productivity. They hoped that those factors would balance each other out.
What they found was that productivity from the work-from-home group was actually 13% higher than their in-office peers. Employees’ stress from commuting was eliminated, they took fewer sick days and they got to work on time more often than their office-commuting colleagues.
In fundraising, we all know that it’s always cheaper to retain a donor than it is to acquire one, and the same is true for workplace talent. Some people prefer (and thrive in) an office work environment, and working from home is certainly not for everyone. At-home workers have a responsibility to track and maintain their same (or increased!) productivity levels, and the arrangement does require a commitment to communicate well. But for the manager of a valued, reliable prospect researcher, the flexibility of offering that worker the opportunity to work from home even a few days a week might be just the perk that not only retains them, but increases their job satisfaction, their loyalty to the organization, and their overall health.
Here at HBG, we have a new and beautiful main office where I and two other colleagues work most days, but the rest of my senior staff work from home. It works out well for all of us, and I think it’s one of the reasons why my staff work hard, produce great research, and stay with the company.
Does your nonprofit allow you or others to work from home? If so, what are the positives and negatives that you’ve found?
For further reading:
The Brown university white paper on the C-trip experiment can be found here.
Richard Branson’s recent blog post: Give People the Freedom of Where to Work
Forbes blog guest post by Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk: Marissa Mayer Is Wrong: Freedom For Workers Means Productivity For Companies