The mass transition to home working in March last year forced Newcastle Building Society completely to re-evaluate how its 1,300 employees volunteered and engaged with their local communities, explains strategic people partner Erin Mulligan.
“Community is really central to us; it is a big part of our purpose. As a business we have always been flexible with people’s time to make sure they have got time to volunteer; we actively encourage that. We also give lots of community grants and funding for projects,” she says.
“Pre-pandemic, a lot of our volunteering was often based around teams coming together, so things like beach clean-ups, helping vulnerable people in the community, employees working in animal rescue shelters, community-based activities and initiatives and so on. When the pandemic came along, the challenge was that we couldn’t be close to people anymore; the traditional ways we connected to our communities through volunteering just disappeared,” Mulligan adds.
The society turned to the onHand app which, because it is based around an individual’s location, has allowed employees to sign up to short ‘on demand’ local volunteering opportunities that they can fit around their work. These have been everything from doing someone’s shopping, running errands, prescription collection, companionship calls and even gardening, with hundreds of small-scale volunteering ‘missions’ now carried out.
“[Employees] can choose how [they] want to give [they] time, who to and what is best for [them]; a meaningful flexibility for colleagues juggling other commitments in their life. The empowerment for people is fabulous, and the engagement has just been amazing. And we’ve had so much great feedback from our communities as well,” says Mulligan.
Use of the app has also helped to keep employees connected while working apart, something again important for wellbeing, she emphasises. “Colleagues haven’t been able to have those water cooler moments and get out to branches, so volunteering through onHand has been a way for people to talk about the experience they are having and the impact they are having on their communities.
“We also recognise the wellbeing element of being able to stay connected in this way, the way helping others makes us feel, and how important that is,” says Mulligan.