Posted: 06 Apr. 2020 5 min. read

Increasing the resilience of social sector organisations in the face of COVID-19

As the impact of COVID-19 spreads across Australia and globally, the resilience of social sector organisations will be tested, not only in terms of commercial sustainability, but in meeting the increase in demand for their services. The well-being of our communities, now and into the future, is dependent on social sector organisations surviving, and then thriving, as we rebuild the lucky country.

The nature of the impact of COVID-19 will change work practices and the relationships between service providers and their customers, revealing the fundamental importance of investing in virtual resources, technology, data and information, cyber security and behavioural changes. This change, whilst potentially overwhelming, has the potential to create a more sustainable operating model during this period of uncertainty and lay the foundation for increasing the impact of the social sector into the future.

In this article, we unpack insights from the Deloitte Global thought leadership piece, ‘Future of Work – Ways of Working to Sustain and Thrive in Uncertain Times’, and apply it to meet the immediate needs of the social sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. This piece focuses on three key areas:

1. Changing Modes of Service Delivery

The primary goal for service providers during COVID-19 is to continue to deliver safe, sustained and quality services to all customers and people in need, including new customers as demand grows. The preference for face-to-face service delivery is now replaced by the necessity to use telephone and videoconferencing to ensure continuity of supports.

  • The first challenge is therefore to identify which services and customers can be moved to remote modes of delivery versus those who will continue to need face-to-face support (based on vulnerability and complexity). Customer relationship and client management systems (CRM/CMS) provide the basis for capturing these preferred methods of communication and service delivery. Effective triaging can then be used to tailor communications and services to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of all customers.
  • The second challenge is to ensure that communication channels connecting your key support staff with customers have been tested and verified to support service continuity, whilst ensuring customer privacy and confidentiality. Management oversight, tools and processes can be used to identify and overcome any risks of disruption to communications or service delivery. This challenge not only relates to the organisation, but also customers, raising the following questions:
    • Do your customers have the necessary telephone and videoconferencing technology? 
    • Do they have enough allocation of data or minutes to support these virtual forms of communication?

This opens up the role for corporates to support social sector organisations and vulnerable communities, for example, Optus have programs with The Smith Family and the KARI Foundation that provide free data and national calls to enable vulnerable members of the community to stay connected.

  • The third challenge is to prepare for increasing demand as the impact of COVID-19 extends beyond health to social and economic impacts, placing greater reliance on a wide range of community services. Remote modes of service delivery, use of proven technologies, trained staff and robust business processes will enable social sector organisations to scale up efficiently and effectively to support communities in the aftermath of COVID-19.

2.    Utilising Work, Workforce and Workplace Levers

Depending on the mix of services and funding mechanisms, social sector organisations can optimise Work, Workforce and Workplace levers to survive, build resilience and then thrive in response to COVID-19.

  •  Work: COVID-19 is stretching existing business as usual (BAU) resources within social sector organisations to maximum capacity and beyond, which can only be maintained for a short period. It is therefore important to explore ways to digitise and automate key business processes to drive greater efficiency and release capacity for staff to deliver safe and quality services to customers. Leadership can also challenge all staff to focus on problem solving, creativity and innovation during this period to identify opportunities to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness, both immediately and for the longer-term.
  •  Workforce: Organisations providing support for people in residential care, especially in regional and remote Australia, are already facing significant workforce challenges in terms of recruiting and retaining trained, empathetic workers. Projections from other countries during this COVID-19 pandemic suggest that support workers will be at risk of infection and need to self-isolate. This will lead to staff shortages and place greater emphasis on effective staff rostering and maximising the utilisation of the contracted, casual and agency workforce. Organisations will need to develop new parameters for their rostering systems so that they ready for staff shortages. Running scenarios will help this planning process, such as: 
    • Will we be able to deliver a safe and quality service if we lose access to 5% of contracted and casual staff? 
    • How can we best utilise trained team leaders and managers to supplement the workforce?
    • Can we use staff from our other services or other community service providers to supplement our support workers? 
    • Do we need to lock-in a supply of agency staff?

As a last resort, it may be necessary to work individually and collectively with quality and safeguarding regulators to temporarily change service staff-to-customer ratios without impacting on safety and quality levels.

  • Workplace: COVID-19 has also fundamentally changed the concept of the workplace, with blended physical and virtual workplace environments shifting dramatically to the virtual. Collaboration tools, virtual shared workspaces and cloud-based systems therefore become essential to maintain productivity, communication with all staff, and to maintain staff morale in this time of uncertainty.  

3.      Future Fit and Thriving

COVID-19 is changing the way social sector organisations are operating and provides an opportunity to learn in real-time by testing and proving the efficiency and effectiveness of the following:

  • New modes of customer communications and service delivery
  • Flexible workforce and work practices
  • Digitisation, automation and cyber security
  • Collaboration tools and systems

During this period of uncertainty, identifying and capturing these learnings can deliver a more sustainable operating model, build more resilient organisations and enable social sector organisations to become future fit and maximise their impact for the longer-term.

To help you, your leaders and your workforce make the most of working virtually, please refer to Deloitte’s Thought Leadership on the ‘Ways of Working to Sustain and Thrive in Uncertain Times’

Need help?

Deloitte Social Impact Consulting

Deloitte Australia’s Social Impact Consulting Practice supports social sector organisations, government agencies and businesses to deliver greater social impact aligned to their vision and mission. Our team is passionate about bringing the latest trends in strategy, technology and innovation from adjacent industries and global players to support social sector organisations to be ‘future fit’ in an increasingly complex, disrupted and competitive market.

Should you require any support during this period of uncertainty, please feel free to reach out to either Tharani Jegatheeswaran (Partner – Social Impact Consulting) or Les Hems (Director – Social Impact Consulting).

More about the authors

Tharani Jegatheeswaran

Tharani Jegatheeswaran

Partner, Social Impact Consulting

Tharani leads Deloitte Australia’s Social Impact Consulting Practice, a dedicated practice supporting social sector organisations, government agencies and businesses to deliver greater social impact aligned to their vision and mission. Drawing on over 15 years’ of consulting experience, combined with a deep passion for social change, Tharani has partnered with many organisations (including, disability, homelessness, and community services providers) on their transformation journeys. Her areas of experience include – strategy, growth, operating model design, operational excellence, and governance. She is passionate about bringing the latest trends in strategy, technology and innovation from adjacent industries and globally to support her clients to be ‘future fit’. Tharani is a Director of UNICEF Australia and the Deloitte Foundation, an Ambassador for Good Return, a judge for the Good Design Australia Awards and a passionate advocate for greater corporate and social sector collaboration.

Les Hems

Les Hems

Director, Social Impact Consulting

Les is a Director in Deloitte Australia’s Social Impact Consulting Practice, a dedicated practice supporting social sector organisations, government agencies and businesses to deliver greater social impact. Les has over 30 years’ experience advising NGOs, government and business. His specialties include strategy, organisational performance, social innovation, service design, social impact investing, public service reform and social impact measurement. Les supports organisations to jointly achieve social impact, operational excellence and commercial sustainability. He works across disability, ageing, family and children, homelessness, justice, regional/remote and Indigenous communities. Les has an MBA from Aston Business School and has held senior research positions at UNSW’s Centre for Social Impact, University College London and Johns Hopkins University. Les is a board member of the NSW Centre for Volunteering and a founding member of the Social Impact Measurement Network of Australia.

Amanda Navaratne

Amanda Navaratne

Consultant, Operations Transformation

Amanda is a Consultant in the Social Impact Consulting and Operations Transformation practice. She has experience in strategic project delivery, data driven consulting, process improvement, implementation planning and business case analysis and has worked with social sector, aged care, government and community-based organisations. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Economics and a Bachelor of Arts in Politics from the University of Otago.