'Peopling' Avoidance Creates Back-to-Work Issues
As the pandemic morphs into something we are learning to live with, many nonprofit leaders are hearing strange new phrases:
“I don’t ever want to come back to the office.”
“I know I run gala events, but I don’t want to be in a crowd.”
“What do you mean, ‘come back to work?’ I’ve been working for two years, just not where you can see me.”
Turnkey runs many peer experience sharing groups for C-Suite social good executives. In those private rooms, leadership talks about struggles with workforce issues regarding where and how people work. Here’s what we’ve heard:
- Event staff doesn’t want to do events if in-person interaction is required. Some were hired during the past two years when events were managed remotely — if there were events at all. Now, getting them to interact face-to-face in their local communities is proving difficult and involves coaching, re-training, and laying down the law.
- Most people like working from home better than in an office. Many people are leaving jobs when they are asked to come back into an office environment, even part-time.
- The work preferences and desires of top leadership are very different from the preferences of subordinates. The CEO wants everyone “in the room.” The subordinates don’t feel being “in the room” is necessary. There appears to be an inverse relationship between level on the hierarchy and desire to work remotely. Exacerbating the situation, productivity metrics often don’t exist that can document whether or not subordinates are more productive working remotely. The CEO, wielding the big stick, feels no need to justify their actions with metrics. Cue job flight.
- Managing a hybrid workforce is not something many people have done before. A hybrid workforce pushes us away from traditional, more authoritarian management practices: “If I can see you working, then you’re working. I will tell you when to start and stop working.” As an industry, we aren’t good at the hybrid thing. Best practices are still emerging.
- Remote work is more transparent. When workers left the office, work visualization tools to allow asynchronous coordination of work became far more important. In addition, online project management tools are becoming the de facto way to both get things done and to track productivity.
- There is great tension as we leave the time where “do whatever makes you feel safe” is no longer something all organizations can support. But how do you come back from the safety-first mindset? When is the right moment? Will it ever be the right moment? Is “I feel unsafe” covering “I want to work in my pajamas and avoid commuting”?
To dig into all that, starting with No. 6, sure, there will be workers covering their desire to work from home by saying they continue to have fears of the pandemic. Maybe that’s true for some, but assuming that’s the case would be a big mistake. It shouldn’t be surprising that the pandemic has left many of us with lingering fears that will be hard to dismiss.
For example, research has shown that many people now respond to being in crowds differently because of the pandemic. This is called pandemic-induced agoraphobia, “agoraphobia” being the fear of crowds. More generally, there’s also increased fear of just going outside. We’ve had less control over our environment for nearly two years, which has had a big impact on us. Now that we can go out, there’s still a sense of anxiety.
Face-to-face interactions can also be more anxiety-provoking because of the pandemic. For most of us, in-person social skills were dulled and stifled during the pandemic. Lockdowns and work-from-home protocols overhauled the way we interact with others. It’s not just the face-to-face meetings that the pandemic eliminated, but the behaviors that go along with it. Humans need to “practice” their social skills regularly. Because socialization is such an integral part of being human, this is easy to overlook.
So, it's important to keep the psychological impact of the pandemic in mind when making workplace decisions. What was comfortable to someone before the pandemic could now be out of their current comfort zone. Rule of thumb — whenever possible, make reintegration gradual; let people take small steps.
Finally, what is needed is a new, specific type of job description that includes the amount of “peopling” the job requires. With that level of specificity, employees can choose the right job, and employers can set forth expectations for performance.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.