Can an Old Fashioned Day of Service Strengthen Post-pandemic Connections? 

Apr 27, 2022

The collective global experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in many ways. The shift to remote work has revolutionized the workplace, with positive outcomes such as reduced commuting times and increased flexibility. On the flip side, it has resulted in isolation of workers from colleagues, a depleted sense of belonging and sometimes struggles with mental and physical health. These disruptions to workplace relationships, as well as volunteering, have kept us apart, separating us from our communities and each other. 

Workplaces around the world are seeking strategies to build post-pandemic culture and reset toward a future vision.  As a civic engagement leader, it got me to thinking, can an old-fashioned day, week or month of service hosted by businesses around the world spur a culture comeback and reconnect colleagues and communities? 

The answer is yes. At Points of Light, we live by this principle every day, and it’s a clear affirmation of everything Global Volunteer Month stands for. 

In a recent conversation, a Points of Light corporate partner reflected that, “Volunteering used to be a way to get people out of the office. But now, perhaps, it’s a way to get people back in.”  

Focusing on greater purpose, both individually and for your company, can boost your mood, improve work performance and help rebuild a values-based culture. Bea Boccalandro’s, Do Good at Work and purpose generator are both fun and meaningful tools for exploring how you can build purpose. purpose. 

There are countless ways to help your community — a host of issues just waiting for a willing pool of volunteers to help solve. Throughout the pandemic, communities have struggled as rates of litter and illegal dumping have increased and spread from cities to suburbs. Volumes of residential waste and recycling have placed increased demand on city workers and infrastructure.  There’s no denying the increase in plastics and cardboard usage as ordering-in and home delivery have thwarted our reduce, reuse, recycle goals. School districts and parks need a helping hand to refresh and revitalize their public spaces.  

Can your company build a day of service into its return to work plan? The classic example of a clean-up day provides much-needed extra hands to tackle a real need. It also engages colleagues, captures the health benefits of people being outside and introduces everyone to neighborhoods and communities for ongoing learning and action.  

Perhaps there is a hybrid volunteer model that matches your company’s hybrid return to work. Recent research from McKinsey showed that all students are behind in reading and math, and students in majority-Black schools are now 12 months behind their peers in majority-white schools.  Programs like AT&T Believes are responding to those challenges with new initiatives that engage employees as mentors and coaches and use aligned talent and capabilities to bring programs that close the gap both in-person and online.  A great volunteering experience can address important community needs, inspire your employees and support your company’s comeback strategy, but how do you make it great? Points of Light recommends working at the intersection of good for community, good for employees and good for your brand: 

  1. Focus on Company Values: What aligns with the authentic products, services and values of your brand? Who are your customers? What community needs align with these attributes? Company values demonstrated by volunteering in support of a community need offer the greatest opportunity to instill refreshed purpose and strengthen culture. These efforts can start in the virtual world as listening and learning efforts that prepare employees to be better leaders and citizens when in-person volunteering returns to your company. Many companies are expanding their employee engagement and volunteering programs to include training that serves a social purpose or benefit. Examples include providing opportunities for employees to learn sign language or take disaster training courses through the American Red Cross.  Are the uncertainty, delay and hybrid variations challenging your planning? Some companies have had great success with projects like “virtual” cleanups, where employees coordinated and tracked cleanup efforts in their local areas. 
  2. Listen to Your Employees: Employees are citizens first. Are they raising community needs? How can you support them as change agents to tackle the challenges they identify?  Consider offering volunteer time off and matching grants for volunteer time.  Can you help organize teams of colleagues for a day of service? Can you bring leadership together with employees hired in the last two years for a litter pick up or schoolyard refresh? 
  3. Identify Your Strongest Assets: Can a day of service launch a place-based commitment for your organization?  Perhaps a schoolyard update introduces your company to a school and community that might welcome mentors, advisors and coaches for students and faculty.  Are there career learning experiences that your company could offer?  Can leaders build relationships that expand the networks of nonprofit leaders to help them better connect to media, mentors and money? 

Board training and matching programs present an impactful and scalable opportunity to engage employees. Not only can companies track and set targets for employee board service, but these programs can also support the organization’s DEI initiatives to increase minority board representation and expand support for racial equity-focused organizations. Check out organizations like DiverseForce to further diversify your boards:  

No matter where you chose to start, now is the time to build service into your comeback plans.  

Points of Light supports companies of all sizes that are interested in building and growing their civic engagement programs. You can access tools and resources to help you get started at the Points of Light’s Community for Employee Civic Engagement and contact us for program design consulting and engagement solutions. 

Jennifer Lawson