Allison Arendt

Executive Event Producer

Like many advancement pros, I get a lot of my energy from people and places, so in the early stages of my career the idea of remote work seemed just that…remote. Isolating, boring, even unproductive. But then like everyone else, a global pandemic completely intervened with how we think about and where we do our work. Now like many others, I’ve had a hybrid component to my work life for years, and it has truly changed the way I think about integrating my work with everything else. This maybe-new-normal, but-still-new topic can certainly divide a crowd, so I’ve been curious how others do…or don’t… make it work. So, when there was a session offered at a recent CASE conference around this topic, I set down my complimentary promotional coffee cup and headed in.

In the session “Here, There and Everywhere: Hybrid & Remote Work Insights and Strategies” we discussed this growing topic across many industries but specifically how it’s being examined in advancement work as institutions weigh the benefits of meeting their workforce where they are, while still working to uphold the value of engaged teams and cultures.

The session was particularly interesting because we were able to hear a wide range of perspectives from those who work in large vs. small shops, public vs. private institutions, as well as new vs. established professionals. The common thread between everyone’s experience? Trust in your team.

Just as it is a pillar in advancement work, trust and communication are key to success.

Sure, there are logistical factors that come into play when deciding if a totally remote, totally in-person, or hybrid work experience makes sense for your team, like setting expectations for response times, or the appropriate mode of communication such as text (emergency only!) vs. an instant message (informal, but sooner rather than later) or email (notes needing documented action items, and within a day or two is best here) can certainly set your team up for success. But, the biggest driver is ultimately dependent on whether team members can rely on each other and hold themselves accountable.

This idea of work-life integration rather than balance expounds on the notion that employees can fit their work in their life, rather than around it and has granted employees the autonomy to do their best work when it’s best for them. It gives the freedom of time and how best to use it back to me when I weigh logistics that dictate my workday like weather, projects I need to tackle with minimal distractions, personal appointments or responsibilities, and meeting format. (Why are we all gathering in person just to be on individual Zooms?) That trust between me and my team is invaluable.

One speaker noted how ideal it was that she could still work for her beloved alma mater, despite living two states away, and when she did make it to campus for quarterly team building, it was that more special. I know in my own experience, it has been an incredible benefit to have the flexibility to swing between the home office clad with slippers and furry assistants and the shared workspace of colleagues where we can collaborate when necessary, and more importantly, catch up!

As responsibilities increase at work and at home, and the anxieties of getting it all done grow, this flexibility is key for employers to stay competitive for talent. Seeing how successful this model can be for the well-being of teams, I would expect this flexible option with any future employer and also the culture of leading with trust and compassion that comes along with it.

Speaking of culture—what about it!? You can’t beat face-to-face interactions! While there is certainly some truth to that, we all know that putting people in the same room does not automatically equal a healthy or engaged culture. Moreover, organizations are taking a more intentional look at how their teams gather and why. Many attendees reported back that an unintended consequence of the hybrid office setting is that their teams have prioritized regular gatherings to interact with each other and are putting more stock in meaningful interactions…the goal of all we do in advancement. Best practices suggest that team brainstorming or complex tasks, along with team member coaching and development still work best in an in-person format, but with the understanding and trust of your team, meaningful contributions can happen in either setting.

We in the advancement profession work to honor what our donors value and the impact they want to create. By putting that same lens on our colleagues, we may very well create a more intentional, engaged team. Just as a trust-based relationship is the gold standard with our donors, trust leads the way in establishing an effective work culture no matter where the work happens.

At Advancement Resources, we spend a lot of time thinking about the culture for philanthropy—and teaching others what we’ve learned so they can strengthen theirs. As I sat in that CASE session, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the two cultures. I’m sure developing robust cultures for both philanthropy and work are top of mind for advancement leaders. I’ll be at the CASE Summit for Leaders in July and would love to talk with you about culture—or any other issues that are top of mind—and explore ways AR can partner with you to help your organization flourish.