Collaboration, Connection Top of Mind for Remote Association Professionals

In its fifth benchmarking survey, the Virtual Association Network looks at how associations are handling their HR functions and other operations in a remote environment, as well as where they are facing challenges.

The Virtual Association Network was formed in 2017 after its two cofounders, Kevin Helm, CAE, and David Westman, CAE, recognized the uniqueness of organizations that were 100 percent virtual.

Since the beginning, VAN has conducted research on how remote and hybrid organizations handle human resources and operational management issues. In its soon-to-be-released Fifth Benchmarking Survey, 57 percent of the 150-plus respondents reported working fully remotely, 14 percent were remote one to two days a week, and 19 percent worked outside of the office three to four days a week.

Westman shared four areas from the 2023 benchmarking survey that association professionals should pay attention to whether their organizations are fully remote, hybrid, or considering making the change.

Hiring and Managing

The survey looked at how associations interview candidates for remote positions. Sixty-four percent of respondents conduct completely remote interviews, while 33 percent do a combination of in-person and virtual interviews.

Respondents noted that if they do conduct in-person interviews, it’s typically for the final round and they’re more likely to bring a candidate in if they’re up for a more senior role.

When asked about what they look for in remote candidates, respondents said they need staff with strong communication skills who are disciplined and organized. Associations also want people who can work independently and are self-starters.

“When it comes to management techniques for remote employees, 90 percent of respondents indicated no difference from in-person staff other than an increased focus on outcomes and results,” Westman said.

Culture and Communication

Building community and culture were among the biggest challenges of remote work for respondents. They reported difficulty developing trust and chemistry among a virtual team.

In addition, respondents struggled with increasing staff engagement, as well as keeping everyone updated and communicating effectively. However, respondents did share how they are working to improve communication and connection through regular virtual meetings, as well as virtual and in-person staff retreats.

“They run virtual social meetings like coffee breaks, meals, and happy hours,” Westman said. “Some hold virtual team-building activities like brainstorming sessions, book clubs, and fun contests.”

Compensation and Benefits

Compensation can be complicated for associations with remote employees who don’t live in the same state as the organization’s headquarters. While there wasn’t uniformity among respondents, 41 percent base compensation on national norms, 32 percent base it on the location of the headquarters or mailing address, and 13 percent base it on where the employee lives.

Though approaches to compensation differ, handling office expenses was more uniform: Sixty-nine percent reimburse remote employees for expenses, while 31 percent provide a periodic stipend. While all respondents provide their remote employees with computers, 55 percent also pay for printers, 44 percent pay for cell phones, and 23 percent pay for office furniture.

When asked whether their association allows remote staff to care for dependents in addition to their job, 48 percent reported no restrictions if the work gets done.

“Many respondents found that this was a critical benefit for employees,” Westman said. “From an HR perspective, this offering can help attract candidates. Being able to care for a dependent was a huge plus for retention and satisfaction.”

Evaluation and Success

One area where organizations fall short is when it comes to measuring the success of their remote work structure. And the VAN survey shows the same: most respondents reported they don’t have a formal evaluation process.

“They often rely on anecdotal or word-of-mouth feedback,” Westman said. “Associations that do track these things use staff engagement surveys, results of organizational or individual goals, or results of assignments or projects.”

To measure remote employee satisfaction, respondents conduct one-on-one meetings, annual or biannual engagement surveys, and regular check-ins with supervisors.

“All respondents indicated that staff retention is essential in evaluating how well the remote structure works,” Westman said. “Staff recruitment [the ability to recruit quality candidates] was mentioned by nearly 90 percent of respondents as another key factor.”


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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