Virtual volunteering gains momentum in a digital, flexible work culture

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By Heather Wilson

Lory Manrique-Hyland was looking for an opportunity to volunteer with her team, but was challenged by family and career commitments that make for packed days. So she and her employer came up with an idea: give her time and talents right from her desk and during work hours. 

“I work from home and I wanted an opportunity to give in a meaningful way – but virtually, and I knew other people I work with want the same. We’re in Beijing, Ireland, and Brazil,” Manrique-Hyland says.

Manrique-Hyland is a Senior Manager in Talent Enablement for Dell’s Global Sales Operations and works from her home office in Ireland. “I support our Sales Support and Sales Operations teams through training, so I took those skills and put together a volunteer mentoring program that my global team could get involved in.”

Manrique-Hyland launched Dell’s virtual mentoring pilot program with Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, one of Dell’s strategic charity partners in South Africa. Sci-Bono’s programs improve children’s access to math, science and technology education. Through phone calls, video chats and emails, Manrique-Hyland and other Dell volunteers from around the world mentored Sci-Bono’s teachers to help them enhance their technology skills. 

“Now, giving your time and talents from your office is another way to volunteer. At the other end of virtual mentoring are people you are truly helping,” Manrique-Hyland says.

Virtual volunteering and skills-based volunteering are a growing trend for corporations in an ever-advancing digital environment, according to Jenn Friday Jones, Dell Corporate Social Responsibility – Global Employee Engagement.

Forbes reports, when Millennials are considering applying for a job, what matters most to them – beyond compensation and benefits – is the company’s work culture, involvement with causes, office environment, and attention to diversity and HR standards.

“Increasingly, we’re finding that people want a company and managers who want to give back to their communities, especially the younger generation. So we meet that passion with a work culture and tools that make volunteering possible for our diverse and global employee base,” Jones said. “Dell team members can choose to give in a variety of ways – including through virtual and skills-based volunteering, which are easier for people to integrate into their workday. This variety makes Dell unique.”

And while employees want to work at companies with good values, those companies like Dell are also reaping the benefits of hiring and retaining forward thinking, socially conscious employees.

Two-thirds of employers report that entry-level candidates who have social action experience demonstrate more employability skills, according to a survey published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). The top three skills cited by respondents were teamwork (82 percent), communication (80 percent) and understanding the local community (45 percent).

Wells Fargo also supports volunteerism by offering many options to its employees, including virtual volunteering and a volunteer-leave program with paid leave to selected employees. As reported on the Wells Fargo web site, last year its workforce volunteered 1.74 million hours, for a total of over 6.4 million hours since 2011.

The company’s blog highlights how Mark Schaffer – a computer systems architect – jumped at the opportunity to volunteer remotely through Wells Fargo’s Global Fellows program. Schaffer was able to make technology recommendations to a New Delhi company, as part of a partnership that sends business professionals to help people in poverty around the world.

Wells Fargo encourages team members to invest in the communities where they live and work and offers full-time team members Community Service Time to help them do so. Community Service Time is paid time away from work that is separate from paid time off, or PTO. Team members use Community Service Time when volunteering at an eligible organization during the time when they would otherwise be scheduled to work.

“We’re fortunate to work for a company that understands that not all team members can use their personal time off work to volunteer,” explains Patty Pannkuk, Senior Vice President in Team Member Philanthropy. “Our Community Service Time policy helps fill that gap and enables team members to take work time to support their communities. It also helps build their knowledge of community needs which helps both our team members and Wells Fargo to develop a better understanding of how we can make our communities stronger and more successful.”

While it still organizes formal volunteer events, providing virtual and non-traditional opportunities helps Dell engage a dispersed global workforce in community service, as more of the company’s workforce participates in flexible work programs that enable many people to work from home – including Manrique-Hyland and her team. More than 25 percent of Dell team members are enrolled in flexible work programs, and that number is expected to increase to 50 percent by 2020.

“Aligning our community service efforts to our new flexible work model helps more people participate, even if they’re working remotely. This in turn helps them feel more connected to Dell, their team members and the community,” Jones said.

But the real winners in all this are the nonprofits and cause partner that benefit from more volunteer support that this digital age is enabling.

Virtual mentoring complements local Dell team members’ ongoing, in-person service to Sci-Bono. For example, in 2014, Dell representatives taught 1,500 female high school students about IT careers for Girl Learning Day.

“Our partnership is more than funding. What we appreciate most is the support of Dell’s people. They provide us with technical expertise and advice. They participate as role models and advisers to the students. They have helped us plan – David Kramer, CEO of Sci-Bono”

In 2014, 54 percent of Dell team members engaged in skills-based/pro-bono volunteering, providing 390,000 hours of service—up from 13 percent of team members and 215,000 hours in 2013.

As part of its Legacy of Good Plan, Dell has captured goals that drive volunteer initiatives like this, putting its technology and expertise to work where it can do the most good in communities. To learn more, visit www.dell.com/legacyofgoodupdate. 

Read more about how enabling a flexible workforce can result in real business benefits.

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