Supporting volunteer and staff communities remotely
Samaritans provides emotional support to anyone in distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. You can call them for free on 116 123 or email [email protected].
Samaritans are changing the way they are supporting their staff and volunteers during COVID.
Volunteers are providing some services whilst located at home. For these people, the usual face-to-face support of their co-volunteers in the branch is not available. Samaritans have been looking at creating online spaces for these interactions to take place.
Users and needs served
As a volunteer, I need support from my peers.
As a charity, we need to provide support to ensure the well-being of our staff and volunteers who are working remotely.
Facebook Workplace is a virtual workplace platform for organisations to connect, communicate and collaborate. It offers features like Facebook Groups, Facebook Messenger, built-in audio and video calling and access to events and live-video tools.
Free to use for education, non-profit and emergency service organisations.
Allows your team members to stay connected and recreate some of the comfort and support offered by a physical workplace environment.
It has different ways of communicating and connecting including a video and voice calling, chat function, ability to create groups as well as a news feed for broadcasting.
1. Choose a platform
Choose a platform that can replace an interaction, in this case to allow for communication between peers. Try to use a platform that your staff is familiar with.
Samaritans’ priority was accessibility - choosing a low barrier to entry platform suitable for their volunteers who may only use technology to communicate with family and friends normally, rather than as part of their job.
Samaritans team is now piloting using Facebook Workplace to create an online community for support staff & volunteers.
2. Design the workspace to suit your team's needs
Create the group(s) that you need.
Define any security settings for the workspace.
Define the privacy settings.
Set up access and permissions settings.
3. Set up the workspace
Test it out with a small group. For example, Samaritans tested it with their online chat project first to understand what works and doesn’t work for their volunteer and staff needs.
Encouraging staff to use the software/technology
A good way to start is by enrolling the leadership team. It can be easier to cascade the new software/tool down when the leadership is championing its use. Create rhythms and rituals for using the software, such as regular check-ins, check-outs and other activities it can be used for. Samaritans are taking an open approach to how they use this space to leave room for staff to create their own spaces for different topics. Informal communication is and should always be part of the workplace, so choose a platform that aims to recreate this informal interaction.
Do not assume that it will be a sufficient level of support for your team. Samaritans’ volunteers will also receive support over the phone from their designated shift leaders. Consider making it voluntary. Let your team choose whether or not they want to use this software/tool. Think about how you will ensure people who can’t use the tool will access support.
Risk of people getting left behind. Needs some level of moderation. Try designating a moderator to be responsible for keeping everyone engaged and positive. This should include looking out for people who are not using the platform.
Some people may not be comfortable using a Facebook product. Organisations need to have a conversation about GDPR and making sure everyone understands it’s a separate product to Facebook.
There can be a lack of clarity around what the tool is for (and not for). Communication around these types of questions should be really clear for the entire community from the beginning. You could set some global guidelines for the tool and allow additional local ones to emerge alongside them based on the needs in some discussion groups.
Points of contact
For further information about this recipe, you can contact:
Senior Product Manager
Many thanks to Samaritans for contributing this recipe.
Do you have thoughts on this recipe? We would love to hear from you.