Get the competitive edge in advancement’s new hybrid environment


Get the competitive edge in advancement’s new hybrid environment

We entered the remote work period in early 2020 with significant anxiety, reeling from uncertainty and a definitive break from the fundraising norm. The circumstances of the past year-plus have forced advancement shops to adopt new work options, resulting in a myriad of emerging workforce management practices.

Some of these post-pandemic practices will be left behind, but some are here to stay. One that’s here for the long haul is hybrid work.

Advancement staff and frontline fundraisers overwhelmingly prefer hybrid work environments compared to strictly remote or strictly in-person environments.


of gift and alumni relations officers surveyed prefer hybrid work


of CAOs and senior advancement staff surveyed prefer hybrid work

Source: Washburn & McGoldrick May 2021 Survey of Advancement Professionals.

Yet hybrid comes with significant risk. Advancement has seen its returns multiply in recent years through in-person work, and any deviation from the norm poses risks. So, what makes a hybrid workforce better, and how should you design your mixed-mode office to maximize employee satisfaction and productivity? More than ever, your strategy here can make or break your institution’s future fundraising, talent retention, and community engagement outcomes.

1. Create policies, but don’t set them in stone

Staff are anxious about the future of their work and the decisions that their leaders are making. What if they’re set on the wrong course?

Yet nothing is really set in stone. Recognizing this and tweaking practices based on experience will set the scene for a greater shared understanding of what is going on and why. Embracing policy experimentation and evolution will ultimately lead to institution-specific hybrid work guidelines that maximize performance and satisfaction.

In our current environment, flexibility is a must for talent retention. The right policy for the right employee mitigates the risk of talent loss and can attract new talent to your office. As all good leaders know, a one-size-fits-all approach to management has never been the standard, and high-caliber advancement leaders use flexibility as a tool in their leadership belt.

Some policies will fail, some will not. Your communication with employees will determine how they react to a changing environment. The key to successfully navigating rapid changes is to be transparent and flexible with your employees.  Successful institutions have formed committees of peers to address the future of hybrid work in their offices. Many combine this practice with one-on-one meetings with staff for greater personalization and reach.

2. Set performance expectations for each type of hybrid employee

Team leaders should set clear performance expectations and delineate these based on work status (remote, combined, in-person). Equity is the goal, but sometimes that means a different process for each group. Fully remote, fully in-person, and hybrid employees demand distinct evaluation methods due to differences in employee “visibility” across work types. Setting uniform evaluation criteria may be an easy lift administratively, but this strategy risks creating “second-class” employees that don’t fit the majority work option. This pattern engenders inequality based on childcare, location, health, and other factors that determine office presence in a pandemic.

Solutions that have proven to be effective include setting up more metrics tracking for remote employees with easily accessible dashboards, managers working to equalize face-to-face time across work types, training managers to handle hybrid employees, and standing up engagement surveys and working groups for continuous employee feedback.


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3. Create team in-days to take advantage of collaboration

Having a critical mass of your employees commit to coming into the office will determine the effectiveness of returning to the office. Interacting with colleagues in person can help staff develop ideas and make meaningful progress on project goals. Teamwork and innovation won’t happen unless you intentionally create space for it.

To take advantage of in-person benefits, many leading institutions are mandating one or more in-office days per week. These in-office days will enable staff to work on projects that require direct contact with colleagues, allowing them to focus on more individual-level tasks on remote-optional days.

4. Rethink how you use your office space

Work doesn’t look the same as it did in 2019, so why should your office spaces?

Forward-thinking advancement leaders understand that office design is an area of opportunity for increasing team effectiveness at work. In the same way that you should delineate evaluation criteria based on work type, you should also create spaces that work for each type of worker.

On an advancement team, your MGOs may only require touchpoint spaces and meeting rooms as most of their work occurs out of office.  Advancement communications, on the other hand, can conduct most of their work from the office and are highly collaborative, prompting the use of informal workspaces like workspace hoteling that cater to these needs.

Additional innovative solutions employed by advancement leaders include using data from surveys and conversation to determine office redesign, having teams work in a common area and keeping offices open for reservation, and detailing safety protocols that keep your office a safe hub for collaboration.

Hybrid offices are the future of advancement work. These strategies will help you build your office to maximize efficiency, satisfaction, and forward momentum into the new work era.

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