Knowledge and Insights

The Challenges and Opportunities HR is Facing in a Digital-First World

The world has changed for all of us, but for inherently culture-oriented organizations, such as nonprofits, the change has been substantial. Nonprofits rely on human connection to build interest in mission-driven work. The human resources department functions like a control center for building a positive culture, communicating vital messages, and maintaining a healthy workplace. Without the same financial incentives as other businesses, it’s essential that nonprofits maintain a vibrant, attractive culture to keep the employee pipeline alive, not to mention ensuring that people are happy to come to work. It’s not as simple as it used to be.

Almost two years have gone by since the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, but most experts would acknowledge that every industry was headed toward digital transformation anyway. In the world of nonprofits, there is no denying an accelerated progress toward digital-first operations, and HR professionals have had to be flexible and creative to maintain continuity.

But through it all, several questions persist:

  • When screen time is the only time you get, how do you effectively attract, onboard, and maintain employees?
  • What does effective culture building and team building look like among remote teams?
  • How do you maintain accountability and connectedness when people are spread out or in hybrid arrangements?

I won’t diminish the challenge of this, but I also want to underscore some opportunities. Let’s consider three key principles that will help nonprofit HR leaders succeed in this brave new world.

Visibility and Transparency

In a remote-only or hybrid environment, it can be hard for the “left hand to know what the right hand is doing.” Teams are at risk of becoming siloed, and communication can become strictly functional or even non-existent. That operational risk is augmented by an emotional one: some team members simply can’t be remote, which can breed jealousy and resentment. A first point of advice on this is to be as transparent as possible about policies, and explain why they’re necessary. The goal is to not undermine equitable treatment in the workplace, and to treat everyone as an equal member of the team.

It’s also important, as an HR leader, to stay in front of your people. Have weekly or monthly stand ups, making an extra effort to assimilate new hires into multiple teams, and give them the chance to build connections. Many of us are using unified communications platforms that include availability notifications, phones, emails, messaging: there are plenty of ways to keep close, even if it’s just to check in and make sure people feel seen and heard.

Put Your Best (Digital) Foot Forward

This is another arena in which limited resources can disadvantage nonprofits, but if your website is outdated and your social media presence non-existent, you have to do something about it. The first impression your company gets with potential hires happens online. If your business needs a round of branding work or you simply need to get active on social channels like LinkedIn: do it. You have to have something that candidates can “vet,” and, believe me, they will be Googling you.

In addition to having a solid online presence and reputation, most of your leads for new hires will now be found online. At Mercadien, we made this transition and saw significant improvements in talent acquisition. Depending on your niche or industry, you may find specific platforms that work best for posting new jobs. Do a little digging: rewrite your job descriptions, highlight your company culture, and get creative with how you attract the best and brightest.

Ask Your People What They Want

Believe it or not, most of the questions you have — like: how your people are feeling, what they’re thinking, and what they value — can and should be answered by… them. Ask them! HR professionals have always had great ways to do that. We’re experts at soliciting feedback. Don’t forget to make this a regular part of your monthly or quarterly routine.

Don’t just assume you know what people want, think, or feel. I was reminded of this recently: we sent out a survey to ask people about coming back to the office. Our assumption was that it would be a half and half split. It wasn’t. 97% of our people did not want to come back to the office on a full-time basis and have embraced the hybrid work model. They explained that they didn’t want to drive to the office and sit in a cubicle, doing the same work they could do at home. They did, however, want to come back for the “fun stuff”: for celebrations, teambuilding, and even training. This provided great insight to us, and we based decisions on what they told us.

Like it or not, we as leaders may always be a little out of touch, unless we make an extra effort to ask, listen, and respond.

Don’t Wait: Make Your “New Normal” … Now

One final thought: it may be worth abandoning the idea of a return to business as usual. You may wish for the days of group outings and in-person team building exercises. If you continue to view the current state of things as temporary, you may neglect the real work of building culture against the “new normal.” Don’t wait. Your people – both current ones and future ones – need you now to be fully present, fully engaged, and casting a vision for who you are and the good your company is accomplishing.

Mercadien’s Nonprofit & Human Services Group specializes in assisting nonprofit and human service organizations through a variety of financial and operational challenges. Additionally, we are hosting a webinar, Surviving to Thriving: Employer Considerations in a Changing Employment Market, on Wednesday, February 23rd from 1 – 2:30 PM. For more information on how our team can help you and your organization, please contact us.