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Four CSR best practices for a remote work environment

The COVID-19 pandemic saw organizations across the globe pivot their operations essentially overnight. As the pandemic continues, the flexible work-from-home models that were originally implemented as a temporary measure are likely here to stay for many businesses.

This evolution of work environments has impacted more than just how we meet with our teams or the time we spend commuting to and from work. It has had a major impact on the effectiveness of an organization's corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy.

Why CSR is important for businesses

CSR refers to the notion that, in addition to creating value for shareholders, a business is also expected to benefit society environmentally, ethically and philanthropically.

In the last decade, a CSR strategy has gone from 'nice to have' to 'must have,' with a successful strategy positively impacting business performance in more ways than one. For example, companies with well-planned CSR practices are more likely to attract and retain engaged employees. According to the 2020 Employee Perspectives on Responsible Leadership During Crisis report by Porter Novelli, 88% of employees today say working for a company with a strong purpose is more important to them now than ever. And considering the Great Resignation — a phenomenon that describes a record number of people leaving their jobs, prompted in part by the pandemic — retaining your employees is essential.

While the benefits to employee engagement are clear, a strong CSR strategy also helps to improve brand reputation and customer loyalty. A study by Echo Research and public relations and marketing firm, Cone Communications, revealed corporate social responsibility is a reputational imperative, with more than 90% of shoppers worldwide likely to switch to brands that support a good cause, given similar price and quality.

The future of CSR: How a shift to remote work has made an impact

Like most aspects of our daily lives, there is a "new normal" for CSR. The in-person activities like resource groups and volunteer initiatives that help to foster a sense of belonging and purpose have been greatly reduced or completely eliminated due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The abrupt nature of how corporations had to transition to a work-from-home model at a time when customer needs were at an all-time high posed a real challenge for businesses. TELUS International was no exception, says Marilyn Tyfting, chief corporate officer. "With health and safety the priority, it took us time to figure out ways to keep our team members engaged in our volunteer initiatives when regulations and restrictions were in flux around the world."

Not only has the pandemic changed where we work, but it has also impacted the relationship between employees and employers. The same Porter Novelli report found that 66% of employees say that the pandemic has caused them to care more about how their company acts.

With COVID-19 causing such a major shift in organizational strategy, it can be easy for leaders to lose sight of their CSR goals. Thankfully, the future of CSR is rooted in the basics that were fundamental in pre-pandemic years, says Tyfting. "Focus on your business purpose and how you can provide value to all stakeholders."

Adapting your CSR practices for a remote work environment

Below are four CSR best practices that any brand can follow to ensure their CSR strategy is relevant to today's changing workplace landscape.

  1. Get creative: "Be flexible with event dates, get creative and do things differently," suggests Tyfting. "We haven't found the full secret sauce, but with flexibility, we've been able to exceed our global volunteer hours in 2021 compared to 2020." For example, TELUS International team members found that they weren't getting enough exercise or spending enough time outside as a result of the pandemic. With this in mind, local teams started running and walking programs for a cause. Volunteers recorded their distance traveled in an effort to raise funds for nonprofit organizations in their communities. "The idea came from thinking outside of the box and it made for a very successful CSR activity that also benefited team members' health and wellness," Tyfting added.
  2. Focus on what matters most to your employees: Involve your team members in the decision-making process in terms of what charitable causes your organization supports, suggests Tyfting. Should your business span several geographies, be wary of trying to implement a one-size-fits-all approach. The needs of communities can vary significantly depending on location, she adds. "We provide regional autonomy so that team members can decide on the initiatives that matter most to their community."
  3. Leverage technology: Intranets and social media are perfect ways to communicate your CSR initiatives, build excitement around the causes that are important to your organization and provide an outlet for your team members to engage with your brand and share your success with their network. "In some instances, team members can vote on which charities they want to see funds allocated to through our internal social media platform," explains Tyfting. "The tool also serves as a great way to promote upcoming events, and how team members can get involved."
  4. Measure success: Technology also plays an important role in measuring the success of your initiatives. It's important for businesses to keep track of what's working, and what isn't, in order to continuously improve engagement and participation. The key is to have both long- and short-term goals along with benchmarks for success. Fundraising apps can help by tracking money raised, the number of participants and how many volunteer hours are completed. Ensure that you are utilizing the data you collect, along with participant feedback, to make regular changes and improvements to your strategy.

A CSR strategy is like a living and breathing organism; it needs to be given the freedom and flexibility to adapt to its changing environment. Being creative, engaging your team members, leveraging technology and measuring your success will help to ensure your CSR strategy continues to flourish now and in the future.

Below is a video from TELUS International Philippines highlighting the TELUS Days of Giving. This is a great example of how one region decided to give back to the community in 2021.

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