While many other industries have already returned to the traditional office, a new survey reveals that associations are moving toward more remote and hybrid workplaces as they look to offer staff more flexibility and retain employees.
While associations are sometimes criticized as being slow to embrace change or different ways of working, a new survey shows that a lot of associations are going all in when it comes to hybrid and remote work options, as compared to other industries.
The “State of Association Workplaces Post-Pandemic Survey,” conducted by Achurch Consulting and Association Trends, asked associations a multitude of questions about their work before and since the pandemic and their future plans. The survey found that in March 2020, 85 percent of association staff were onsite, while in March 2021, nearly the opposite was true, with 83 percent working remotely. (This compared to 21 percent of all workers who were still working remotely due to the pandemic in March 2021, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics pandemic data.) Moving forward, 79 percent of associations plan to be hybrid or fully remote.
Rebecca Achurch, CAE, founder of Achurch Consulting, said associations seem to be on the leading edge of this workforce opportunity, in part, because the work they do is well-suited for remote and hybrid.
“We don’t have to be in person most of the time to carry out our job,” Achurch said. “Our organizations are primarily fewer than 200 staff members, so our processes aren’t as complicated. We have opportunities to re-create or just become more efficient.”
The survey was primarily targeted toward C-level association executives. While the execs embraced hybrid and remote, Achurch notes the shift was pushed by employees, who were looking for more flexibility. A general desire by organizations to retain and attract talent played a role as well.
“We want people to be engaged,” Achurch said. “We want people buying into our mission. We want our team members to really be performing and bringing their best to our workplaces. The workforce is saying is saying, ‘Yeah, I want to do that, but part of what’s going to make me at my best at work is a more flexible work environment.’ In order for organizations to hire the best talent, employees are demanding this flexibility.”
Adjusting to Hybrid and Remote Work
While associations are embracing hybrid and remote, there are some concerns about how it will affect the organization.
“Our study showed that communication challenges were the number-one challenge that people were concerned about,” Achurch said. “The second challenge was culture.”
To reduce the impact of those challenges, Achurch recommends thinking intentionally about how you want your organization to work and implementing a plan to achieve that.
“This is the time where every organization can take a step back and reimagine what work is going to look like for their organization,” Achurch said. “That’s where we see a great opportunity to engage your staff now and ask about their needs. Understand what it is that makes your organization unique, what makes it remarkable. Then, craft your processes around that.”
To address the challenges that can crop up as organizations shift to hybrid or remote, Achurch had three pieces of advice, based on the report’s data.
“First, you need to understand the perspective of your workforce,” she said. “You need to actually ask and be transparent and talk about what works, what doesn’t work, and you have to iterate. We’re not going to get this right out of the gate, immediately. It’s going to take some patience and some time. That open, transparent iteration and constant communication about how you’re making tweaks is going to be really important for the long-term success of your organization.”
Because communication was listed as a top challenge, it’s important for organizations to make that a high priority.
“We believe you need to embrace new communication models and set some boundaries with them,” Achurch said. “What we hear is, ‘I’m feeling bombarded all the time; there’s so many different channels of communication.’ We need to understand how digital communications are received and set protocols around them, so that people know when to use email, know when to use Slack.”
Finally, people managers need to get more training on how to manage people in remote and hybrid environments. “We need to give them tools in their toolbox so that they can be successful managers and leaders,” Achurch said.
How much does remote or hybrid work play a role in your association’s plans? Share in the comments.