How one major charity, Parkinson's UK, manages its flexible, remote team

 

Parkinson’s UK works to improve care, treatment and

support for people with Parkinson’s. 

The charity is also deeply committed to flexible working,

with more than half of its team working from home.

 

Parkinson’s UK is one of the UK’s larger charities, with a several-hundred-strong team delivering a national hepline, local support to people affected by Parkinson’s, research projects, community fundraising events, and much more.

In this two-part interview, we asked Spencer Quieros, Head of Human Resources, and Katherine Crawford, Director of Support and Local Networks, about the role of homeworking at Parkinson’s UK

In Part 1: Spencer Quieros, Head of Human Resources at Parkinson’s UK, talks about the charity’s approach to working from home – and why the charity has built such a large remote team.

Hi Spencer. Do you work from home or flexibly yourself?

I currently work from home once a week, if I can, but this really depends on the types of meetings or group discussions I’m involved in at the time. Sometimes there’s more value in me actually physically attending a meeting, particularly as I’m new to the charity.

I work full-time. We do operate a flexi hours system, and I’m an early starter, out of choice, but I’ll stay later to make sure I fill the requirements of the role and meet other staff members that work different patterns to me. I do get the opportunity to take flexi-time, which gives me these hours back. 

Spencer Quieros, Head of Human Resources, Parkinson’s UK

Are you part of a remote team? Do your colleagues mainly from home or in the office?

The HR team are mainly office based. However, I encourage the team to work at least one day a week from home, and also one day a week remotely within the wider organisation, so they are sitting within the business areas that they work with.

 How widespread is working-from-home at Parkinson’s UK? Are there particular roles that are done remotely and others that are mainly done in the office?

Just over 55% of roles within Parkinson’s UK are home-based, with the rest being based in our offices in England, Scotland and Wales.

A range of Support and Local Networks roles are home-based, including Parkinson’s Local Advisers, Volunteer Co-ordinators, Area Development Managers, Country Directors, Service Managers, and England Area Managers, plus campaigns and media roles in countries. Some strategic intelligence roles are also home-based, for example Service Improvement Advisers, and Education roles. Our Regional Fundraising roles are also home-based.

What were the main factors that led your organisation to embrace home-working?

There was a range of factors behind the decision to make so many roles home-based. Having local staff really helps us to be visible in each area – and it also lets us build up our local knowledge of the groups, services, fundraising opportunities, and client base in each area. Some roles really do need to be in the field, as they are responsible for a particular geographic area, and being locally-based helps them build professional contacts with their client group (people with Parkinson’s), meet clients when needed and also attend local group meetings. It also helps with building a network for influencing and sharing information at a local level. For example, Regional Fundraisers are home-based so they can find and use local opportunities for fundraising.

Office space and costs are at a premium, so having people work at home has helped with this…But it’s not just about that – working from home also helps with service delivery.

What are the main impacts of remote working for Parkinson’s UK (either positive or negative)?

Office space and costs are at a premium, so having people work at home has helped with this. We also encourage hot-desking and working at home once a week for office-based staff, which helps ease the space issue. But it’s not just about office space and costs. It also helps with service delivery. It wouldn’t make sense or be realistic for us to have one central office and ask people to travel out from there to support their local areas, as they wouldn’t be visible enough, and they’d lack the local expertise and knowledge that’s built up when people are based locally.

Although we do save on office costs, there are some expenses involved in building a home-based team. For example, we supply broadband and equipment to all home-based staff. Sometimes there are IT issues to deal with if broadband reception isn’t great in very remote areas. We also cover travel costs, and need to manage local travel so there is still time for people to do their work in their contracted hours.

In terms of productivity, we do see a positive impact when people are able to work from home. For example, if the person is office based, working at home for one day per week can allow them some uninterrupted time to concentrate on particular pieces of work. Allowing people to work from home also has another positive benefit – because it shows real trust in the individual, this can promote more engagement with their role and the organisation.

Which roles are the hardest to carry out remotely, and why?

We find that helpline roles – plus central functions such as IT, facilities, HR, internal communications, plus our media and PR teams – need a lot of interaction to be successful. We find that these teams work well when they are in one place and can support each other, and share knowledge and ideas. It also helps with being visible in the office and available for ad hoc queries and action from the CEO downwards.

What happens when you hit a snag? What are the most challenging things to handle remotely?

Key challenges for us include managing dispersed teams, breaking down any divisions between the UK office and people who are home-based, dealing with IT challenges, and ensuring that home-based staff don’t feel isolated.

We use a range of solutions to tackle these. For example, Skype for business has helped us bring people together – using video tools helps make meetings more personable. Using the Staff Intranet and [social networking tool] Yammer have helped break down any ‘us and them’ perceptions, as everyone can share ideas and talk to each other, whether they work from home or in an office. It’s also important that staff feel they have a real voice – everyone, regardless of where they work, has a rep to represent their views. Staff volunteer to be a rep as part of Staff Voice, a panel which meets regularly to discuss any issues raised by their colleagues.  

 

Allowing people the flexibility to work from home raises staff engagement and promotes productivity; it also has a positive impact on work-life-balance, as it reduces commuting time. 

It’s also important to have strong, confident managers who can manage a dispersed team effectively – which includes dealing with any staff performance or other issues, as well as being able to unite a dispersed team, encourage engagement and productivity, and be aware of the wellbeing of their teams.

In your opinion, does working remotely offer any particular benefits – or raise any particular problems – for the charity sector?

I think that working from home offers a number of benefits for the charity sector. It helps with delivering a service to local areas, as staff can develop greater local knowledge and have more impact, as people know what’s happening in their areas and can be proactive in dealing with any challenges or opportunities that come along. The challenge here is ensuring consistency of messages and service delivery.

Having a lot of home-based staff also eases the cost of maintaining multiple office buildings. Even though there is a cost to supplying equipment to home-based staff, it’s still more cost-effective to work this way, given the savings on office costs, combined with the real value to the organisation of these roles being home based. Allowing people the flexibility to work from home also raises staff engagement and promotes productivity, and has a positive impact on work-life-balance, as it reduces commuting time.

The challenge is making sure that staff feel that they are part of one organisation, and limiting fractures between and within teams if most people are working at home. Managers also need to monitor the health and wellbeing of their teams, and need to be able to support anyone who feels isolated working this way.

A big thank you to Spencer Quieros. You can learn more about Parkinson’s UK and the charity’s approach to working from home here. Part 2 will be published in February.

If you’ve found this article useful, add your email in the box below to receive our newsletter.

We want to help you build a remote and flexible career that fits your life

Click the orange button to receive our regular round-up of remote jobs and useful resources

Share This

Share This