We are busy. We are screen-obsessed. We are lonely. Times are not necessarily harder than they’ve been in the past and people are not worse than they’ve been before, but we are faced with new and unfamiliar challenges. Technology changes the world, it levels the playing field, it expands our reach, it builds relationships. It also isolates and disconnects us – not just from each other, but from history, nature, and how human beings are innately connected.
We’ve heard these warnings a thousand times and yet we all know screen time is not likely to limit itself anytime soon. Parents need help caring for their children and screens make a great babysitter. Kids spend so little time outside these days – less than prisoners, according to a recent UK survey – that there are campaigns to help teach them “dirt is good.” These kids grow into adults who experience difficulty in creative problem-solving and a lack of empathy for others. Teenagers need to socialize, learn, and find their way in the world and screens are the chosen medium. Adults, besides staying relevant to the younger generation, are often working hard to keep up at companies that require them to constantly adapt to new technology. In fact, these adults are powerfully influenced by the expectations and hidden rules of the workplace – often taking work home in the form of stress, lack of time, and of course, screens. According to a Harvard Business School survey, 60% of those who use smartphones are connected to work for 13.5 hours or more a day
Altogether, our screen-obsessed, busy lives present a pretty dire outlook. Is there any version of this story that offers a picture of hope? Technology and work have such powerful influences on our lives, but perhaps they are the answer to what it will take to change the tide, to connect with each other, and to live meaningful lives. If anyone is trying to do this well, it’s the field of corporate citizenship.
The New Voice of the Corporation
Researcher Brene Brown, in an interview with Krista Tippet, speaks to the difficulty of vulnerability by saying, “The one place I see this shifting is in the corporate sector. Right now, with the #MeToo movement and this reckoning we’re having around sexual violence and sexual harassment and assault of women, we see the corporate sector taking really firm, hard stands on this, while we see zero movement from government and politicians.”
Companies, for better or worse, are in positions of overwhelming power. Historically, that power has been categorized as a dangerous one and for good reason. But recently, the corporate sector has demonstrated its potential to be a voice for the marginalized and oppressed and to move society in ways that individuals and governments have not. If millions of people who work for companies around the world are invited to put down screens, connect personally with one another and take action for their fellow human beings, the results, according to science, could be significant.
Companies and Technology for Good
At last count, our list contained 37 software platforms built to support philanthropic giving in the workplace. From automatically allocating a percentage of your paycheck to charity to recording volunteer hours so your company can donate a per hour amount to charity, workplace giving platforms are leveraging technology for good – and in a way that allows companies to increase the happiness (and engagement and productivity and loyalty) of their employees.
With these software platforms, companies increase (sometimes by two or three times) the impact individuals can have on their own. Sounds like a great idea, right? It is – when employees understand and take advantage of the opportunity. Unfortunately, the percentage of users on workplace giving platforms comes in at an average of 10% and a high of 30%. (These percentages are based on anecdotal evidence provided by RW clients and extended network.) Why?
It’s not worth the trouble. Change is hard – especially when the perceived value of that change is low. Employees are asking, “Why does this matter to me? How does it help me do more of what I want to do?” When employees do not understand how their personal values are extended by using workplace giving software, they don’t try it, they continue giving and volunteering on their own, and they dismiss the platform as “the company’s thing.”
I don’t know about it; I don’t get it. Again, this is a perceived value issue. For the same reason we don’t use 90% of the apps on our smartphones, most employees don’t use workplace giving platforms even if they seem like a good idea. When employees are not given the opportunity to develop a personal and intrinsic reason for using the platform, it will remain one more “should” that triggers guilt rather than empowerment.
It’s not a habit. There are 100 good things I should do today to make my life better, but if they’re not part of my habitual behavior, I won’t do most of them. Even if I think it’s worth the trouble and I understand the value, my brain has not developed a synaptic pathway that drives me toward that behavior. As unlikely as it sounds, companies can help make giving a habit by framing giving and volunteering experiences to alert and orient the brain toward new actions.
Workplace giving platforms are a step in the right direction as they focus the impact of technology on human compassion – but in order to work, they have to account for the motivations of the people expected to use the platform. Consider the employee’s WIIFM (what’s in it for me), provide opportunities to develop intrinsic motivation, and frame giving and volunteering experiences to create space for neurological transformation.
Bringing Tech to the Community
Workplace giving platforms come with their own set of engagement challenges to overcome, as I outlined above. But, when comes to leveraging technology for human connection, companies aren’t stopping at software platforms. They are taking their technology resources, including human capital, and bringing them to people and places who may not otherwise have access. Most companies refer to projects like this as “skills based volunteering” or “pro bono volunteering.” A few of our favorite examples include:
We are proud to brag about (ahem, our client) SAP’s Social Sabbatical Program, the handiwork of Global Head of CSR, Alexandra Van der Ploeg.
“The SAP Social Sabbatical initiative is a portfolio of pro bono volunteering programs where highly diverse teams of SAP employees solve strategic challenges of nonprofits and social enterprises focused on bridging the digital divide. The programs are designed to solve concrete business challenges of nonprofit organizations by bridging the digital divide. Social Sabbatical also challenges SAP leaders and talent to understand the global consequences of a rapidly digitized world, to embrace the idea of life-long learning, and to be role models for living SAP’s vision and purpose.”
Realized Worth had the privilege to work with the Taproot Foundation to support the design and implementation of Microsoft’s Tech Talent for Good (TT4G). TT4G encourages employees to use their technical expertise to help nonprofit organizations, which often lack adequate staff, technology training and knowledge, do more and achieve more in their programs. TT4G works with a diverse portfolio of nonprofit organizations in Washington state that represent “a broad range of causes, from hunger to youth unemployment to health and human services.” Within the initial roster of nonprofit organizations, there was a wide range of technical projects, from technology strategy planning, to data mapping, to deploying productivity tools, to website development, and more. Additionally, for every hour of time a Microsoft employee gives to a nonprofit through Tech Talent for Good, Microsoft donates $25 an hour in cash to that nonprofit.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) hosted the Living Progress Challenge, an innovative program that aimed at creating digital solutions that improve people’s lives. HPE asked the global community to submit ideas and proposals that answered the question: what software tools and applications would you create to improve people’s lives?
HPE received more than 130 proposals from 28 countries around the world, and ultimately selected 17 teams to build out their ideas. Ten of the 17 teams were selected to demo their solutions live on stage at the HPE Living Progress Challenge Finals in Brooklyn, NY. A panel of judges selected four finalist teams to complete development of their solutions with the crowdsourced design and development talent in the Topcoder Marketplace. Read about who was selected here!
Programs like this incur the greatest value when they create space for all types of volunteers to contribute in a meaningful way. We refer to this as meeting volunteers at their highest level of contribution. Employee volunteers are met at their highest level of contribution when first-time or inexperienced volunteers are given a chance to discover their intrinsic motivation for volunteering, when more experienced volunteers are recognized and given higher levels of responsibility, and when veteran volunteers are put into positions of leadership and asked to guide others. This enables employees to own the experience for themselves, learn new skills, and take new attitudes and behaviors into their work and personal lives.
Companies dedicate huge budgets to employee training. According to the experts at the Training Industry, “..the outsourced market for training services and tuition reimbursed by corporations in North America was approximately $63.7B in 2016, while the insourced spend for training activities was approximately $98.6B in 2016.” Of this amount, 39% is spent on external expertise and support.
When it comes to training that’s specific to employee volunteering, most of the financial expense goes to event and project management. Many companies also provide toolkits, online platforms, and even conference calls prior to a “Day of Service” or during a “Month of Giving.” Events and short-term projects, unfortunately, leave most of the potential value of employee volunteer programs behind.
Formalized training provided through online technology decentralizes program management, enables broader participation, and empowers employees to apply the skills they gain through volunteering. Formalized training also provides a mechanism for recognition, as employees complete coursework and achieve badges and certification that can be shared on social media and included in their titles. Most importantly, formalized employee volunteering that takes place through e-learning connects volunteers all over the world; it makes them part of one community and gives them a sense of belonging.
In 2017, Realized Worth launched the industry’s first e-learning platform dedicated to employee volunteering training, and it’s called Voyager. Voyager is engaging and user-friendly, with useful tracking and reporting capabilities, but it’s not the platform itself that matters. We are not interested in contributing to platform fatigue. We are interested, however, in cultivating a sense of belonging, empowering employees to become more of who they want to be and increasing the impact companies have on their communities. The platform is built for these things. By teaching employees how to recruit volunteers by connecting with intrinsic motivation, how to frame employee volunteering and giving experiences in the transformative method, and how to report on real impact, we are making technology work for us – and it is becoming a source of connection rather than isolation.
Leverage the power of technology
We are busy, screen-obsessed, and lonely, but we are not without hope. In an era where work and technology hold such massive positions of influence in our lives, we are given the opportunity to leverage their power to change the tide, connect with each other, and live meaningful lives. Want to learn more about how companies are using technology for good? Get in touch at email@example.com.
Angela Parker, Co-founder & CEO, Realized Worth
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Realized Worth is a global agency that specializes in employee volunteer training, volunteer program design, and employee engagement. Want to talk? Shoot us an email. You can also reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter.