This year, to celebrate National Volunteer Week, we had a (virtual) conversation with Carrie Harris and Shannon Viegas about how they’re supporting volunteering on their teams, especially while we’re all working remotely. Carrie and Shannon are strong voices for community involvement at Randstad and lead a number of volunteering and community engagement activities ranging from blood drives, to food bank collections, to volunteering for national Randstad events such as our annual Charity Auction and Ride For Myriam. They have lots of impactful advice to get your teams involved and make a difference while staying safely socially distanced.
Randstad: To start, let’s talk about what motivates your teams to volunteer?
Carrie: For me, it’s making it personal. Try to involve members of their community and their circle, their family, their friends. Bring in that personal element and make it something that's accessible. Also, keep in mind time and other commitments people have in their day. Try to offer a variety of ways they can participate.
Shannon: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me, is making it easy. Having to dig for opportunities and figure out how we can get involved… that usually leads to analysis paralysis and nobody does anything. So making it easy and finding something that can be replicated. Now that we're all remote, it's not as easy as you know, we're physically together and so we’ll go out and volunteer locally. We've got people all over the place, so finding an opportunity to volunteer is a challenge. Having a theme helps. For instance, we just did a blood drive and got everybody talking about it. We explained, ‘this is a need right now,’ and got everybody hyped up about a theme and let them have some autonomy to build what that looks like.
Carrie: To piggyback on that, simplifying the process. The easier you make it, the more people will get involved. And also sharing ideas with one another. So if your team is doing something interesting, share it with everyone and maybe we’ll be able to do something similar. For instance, for our Random Acts of Kindness drive, I talked to my team about how they want to get involved and gave them some suggestions on what other people are doing.
And another example, Earth Day is coming up. So I make sure it’s top of mind. So I’ll send out calendar invites to my team and anyone I think will be interested. I also sent a reminder of when volunteer week begins to remind them. Those little reminders can be so helpful.
Shannon: I like having a social call following a volunteer event. So we'll do a Friday video call and we'll all talk about how we volunteered to give it a team vibe, versus us all doing it individually. We try to have a team lunch or a social hour, or something where we can all get online and not talk about work.
Randstad: Love that. Tying it back and making sure that everyone connects around how volunteering was a meaningful experience. One criticism around ‘making it easy’ is that it doesn't always resonate with people as personally. But you’re having them share their own experiences. How does that usually go? Do people share openly?
Shannon: They do. And I always ask for pictures and people love sharing them. For example, when we did the food bank day, I loved seeing the pictures roll in all day. It was amazing seeing one person with their husband and another person with their kids. It was beautiful to see all the pictures. In the end, I pulled them all together and was able to send them to everybody and we chatted about how volunteering looks different for everybody. To hear how some of the kids participated, it was a fun, open dialogue. It was light and cheery and I think that we needed that.
Carrie: Shannon’s right. Pictures are a big piece of it. It captures the emotions. You know truly a picture says a thousand words, right?
Randstad: Do you think volunteering and community involvement have any impact on how we’re viewed as an organization?
Carrie: Absolutely. I’ll give you an example. At Christmas, we do a toy drive. We collect donations from our clients, which I think is amazing. We have one client that sells natural vitamins teas and they're heavily involved in the community. Any time I've ever asked them, do you want to whip up a basket for this? They love doing it. I just have to give them a couple of days and they’re on it. They love that we’re as involved in the community as they are. So it's not only your personal connections. You can also make it part of your business and the partnerships that you have with your clients.
Randstad: During the pandemic, we’re all trying to do this remotely. It’s changed how we approach volunteering. Do you have any tips for employers who are trying to get something together during this time and what they should do differently?
Shannon: When the lockdown first came up we all thought, ‘This is impossible. How are we going to do this? When we can't physically get together, how can we do a volunteer day?’ It felt like we were at a standstill, thinking it can't be done. But it's been such an amazing way to keep up morale within the team. Creating team spirit is huge. Being able to do things that are outside of our standard roles, like volunteering, has really helped build our team synergy.
Randstad: How do you keep it going and keep things organized?
Carrie: I think that you need to have a team representative within a region. You have to have a cheerleader to keep people involved. People are at home and you know, the feedback that we're getting is that they're working more than ever because they’re working from their homes. I say schedule break times for them. Create time for them to enjoy volunteering. Encourage them to take that time and make it part of who you are in your community.
I also think that you need to identify if they are a person who likes to volunteer on an individual basis, or if they like to do it as a team. Everyone has different preferences. You have to identify who are go-getters and who needs the options laid out for them.
Also, get managers involved. It’s hard to get people involved if their direct manager isn’t into it. We don’t necessarily want to say whoever is the representative for the region needs to be in charge. It really just depends on what's important to them. Each person may have different interests and charity goals. You want to work as a whole. Maybe I’ll take over this initiative, and someone else will do another. Spread out the responsibility.
Randstad: How do you balance doing things as a team and building a sense of community, versus having people indulge their individual volunteering passions?
Shannon: I think it's the theme. It allows people to choose whatever that looks like for them. We did the food drive, but each individual chose how to contribute. Whatever that looks like in your local space. We had some people do it solo. Others went to the grocery store and did it that way. Some people went to their local food bank. So letting them create the experience and being able to make it come to life in their own way is important.
Randstad: Can we hear some specific examples of volunteering initiatives that were really successful?
Carrie: Let me think. We’ve done so much! We've done food drives. We're heavily involved in the Charity Auction. We’ve supported Women in Crisis. We’ve supported the Humane Society because a lot of people are invested in animal welfare on my team. We were deeply involved with Ride with Myriam, which supports cancer research.
Randstad: Could you tell us a little bit about what you do to volunteer for each organization? For example, for Women in Crisis, what does that involve? How do you support them?
Carrie: You know, that was an interesting one. It was actually collecting feminine products and baby products for women. Over the Christmas season, they really needed those items. So we all came together and made it happen. We gave them a big donation over the Christmas holidays. It was really special.
Carrie: Food drives are another good one. I’ll call the food bank and get the bin dropped off. That way, it's top of mind, because it's right there. You can't forget about it. Before you know it, it's full. I always like to send out a picture when it’s full, as it’s nice to see the accomplishment. We call it the ‘topple over tower’ because we don’t just fill the bin, we'll have a whole bunch of food around it. Literally to the point where you can't walk around it. It really gets people involved. We also try to beat what we do each year, you know?
Randstad: Do you think that helps? With Randstad being a competitive organization, do you think everyone’s invested in beating their previous best?
Carrie: Yeah, it gets everyone talking about the charity, which helps spread the word and keep it going.
Randstad: What about you, Shannon, what types of events are you running?
Shannon: Our events are similar. I'm sort of the go-to person for community involvement in our engineering division. So I've kind of rallied some troops across the country to have a few boots on the ground in local markets. Sometimes we’ll put together local experiences with a few people and sometimes we’ll do things nationally.
The national event we did last year was our food drive. To have that experience and see the folks out in Alberta participating at the same time as the team out East, it’s amazing. Again, pulling pictures from across the country was key. We’re the smallest division at Randstad, so we wanted to rattle some chains and be heard and show what we can do. We got on our intranet and posted some things to show how we're making a difference. We all do things our way and we want to keep doing them our way. But when it comes to a greater cause, it seemed like everybody got on board, which was cool.
We've done a couple of local events recently as well. Last week, a couple of girls on the team did a blood donation drive. They set it up and one person collected all of the information and sent it out to the team with all the information about the number to call, how to book a spot, and so on. The goal was to make it very clear and make sure that people understand that it’s not mandatory, but if they can participate, great. The amount of support and praise and encouragement for the people that actually did it was beautiful. For the people who weren't comfortable doing it, we became the loudest cheerleaders for the people that did participate. For any physical activity like that, there are people on the team that love it and are driven by it. And there are people that can't do it. Creating some modifications for people so they can participate in some way is important.
Another example, Ride for Myriam looks very different for me than others on my team. I'm putting my daughter on my bike and I'm going around the block a couple times and taking a picture and sending it to the team. Meanwhile, we've got some others that are on their spin bikes in their living rooms. It looks different for all of us. That's the beauty that we've been able to create remotely.
Randstad: Do you find having those options helps parents and people who have other commitments get involved in volunteering when they know they can include their family?
Carrie: Oh, definitely. Being at home is hard for families and kids especially. That's how we get burnt out. It’s all about ‘Don't do this. Don’t go here.’ That's just not natural for children. Children want to be together and play. I know everybody has their circle and I'm not promoting seeing people that are not in your circle. But if they're in your circle, go give a parent a break for half an hour. Take their kids to the park and get them involved in an activity. We're talking about random acts of kindness. How kind is that?
Shannon: You're totally right. If I look back to this time last year, for many parents, you’re working your full-time job and you're also a teacher. And Grandma can't watch the kids anymore because it's not safe. Most of us, we want to be good at what we do. Feeling like you're not giving anything 100% is tough. I think creating opportunities and making it known to your team that it’s okay to get the kids involved can be such a huge relief. You're not trying to keep the kids quiet for or entertain them so you can participate; they’re part of it. This is something they're excited about and you can rally them and feel like you're doing something with them as well as your team.
Finding modifications to include kids is great, but it’s also important to make sure you’re not excluding people that don't have kids. Because sometimes we don’t think about that, how can an individual participate? It’s all about creating those different experiences, depending on your situation and comfort level. Comfort levels have been huge during all of this. I want to tell everybody to go to their local park to pick up garbage, but I don't want to tell people that they have to if they don’t feel comfortable doing that right now.
Carrie: But at the same time, right now, more than ever, people need ideas. They're stuck. They’re thinking ‘what am I going to do from home?’ If we just keep shooting little ideas for ways they can give back, one of them's going to stick and it’s going to resonate with somebody. Like when I think back to ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ - the list of ideas was just a few lines at first and then it grew to a hundred ideas once we got everybody involved. That’s the beauty of it.
Randstad: Definitely. It’s so beautiful to see how we’re all coming together to make a difference, particularly during such a difficult time. I'm so glad we were able to do this and highlight the amazing work you’re doing in our communities.