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A Company That Helps Out Together, Stays Together: 2 S'pore Firms On Why They Volunteer

Whether their company is a small startup, or a large corporation, employers hope to build a dream team that’s not just great with their skills, but also feels motivated to work together.

Finding the right talent is one thing. After checking that off the list, fostering team spirit and a sense of fulfilment is a whole other challenge of its own—and this achievement still eludes many firms.

In 2018, a global survey by Aon found that only 59% of employees in Singapore are well engaged, the least among our Asian neighbours.

Companies try to improve that by providing career progression, rewards, recognition, and work-life balance, but enjoying strong relationships with your colleagues sure helps too.

The problem is, forming a camaraderie beyond “just work” doesn’t always happen on its own, even when co-workers see each other for 40 hours or more every week.

So some employers initiate cohesion activities to bring their staff closer, and may even take a step further in making it meaningful through giving back to the community together.

How Colleagues Go From Working To Cleaning Houses Together

The team at local furniture maker, Commune, found themselves in new territories outside of their roles at the workplace, as they entered the houses of underprivileged residents to help improve their living conditions.

Unlike their usual day-to-day tasks of sourcing materials, designing and selling furniture, and managing company operations, they were engaged in cleaning, repainting, and moving new furniture into residents’ flats themselves.

Doing volunteer work together was a first for the homegrown firm, but an experience that carried on impacting the way they worked since then.

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Two of Commune’s employees work on giving the walls a fresh coat of paint

Commune’s Marketing Manager Bonnie Oeni shared how they first came to know about an initiative called Young NTUC & NECDC Project Refresh, when the North East Community Development Council (CDC) reached out and invited them to take part.

“What attracted Commune to Project Refresh was that it served as a good opportunity to rally our employees together to contribute to a bigger social cause that meets residents’ basic needs,” she said.

Till then, they had yet to find a cause that resonated with the nature of their business—Project Refresh was a fitting opportunity for Commune to use their craft to directly support people in need.

“We are particularly passionate about social causes that elevate quality of life through furniture and design, especially as we know that furniture has such a personal impact on the way people live.”

After being approached by North East CDC, Commune’s senior management went on the ground to understand how the residents were living.

From the site recce of residents’ homes, we saw the unsanitary and [poor living conditions they were facing]. [They live with] peeling paint, old and broken furniture, and soiled mattresses.

“We discussed what we could do to contribute, [and decided on] donating furniture [from our brand], buying them new mattresses, and giving our time and effort to clean up the units and shift the furniture into their homes,” Bonnie said.

As it came down to the actual weekend, Commune’s employees gathered not only to declutter and refresh the homes physically. Their presence, though intangible, also lifted spirits.

Especially for senior residents living alone, the volunteers’ companionship helped to lessen their social isolation, and brought some cheer to their lives.

Experiencing “A Sense Of Purpose In Enacting Change”

Many of us, including Commune’s employees, don’t always get to see the other side of Singapore, where people are living with much less than what we’re used to.

Bonnie said she was taken aback to learn that “such living conditions could even still exist” in our community.

It was so shocking to see their living and sleeping conditions, as many of their mattresses are second-hand, and very old. Most of [the residents got] their furniture and mattresses from the void deck or [rubbish] chutes.

Standing amidst the clutter in a one-room flat, and realising how different it is from your own comfortable home, can really be a humbling experience. To Bonnie and the rest of the Commune team, they felt it taught them to care for others beyond themselves.

While volunteer work may not increase a company’s revenue or help employees hit their KPIs, it was no less valuable to them.

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A bonding experience for volunteers

We felt a sense of personal contribution in making a difference; a sense of purpose in enacting change.

Helping out together became a form of team building for Commune that strengthened relationships within the organisation. After that, they went back to work with “a brighter outlook” and “more positive attitude”, and were also reminded to be more “other-centered” in their daily work.

When Social Responsibility Becomes A Company’s Continual Effort

Asked if they would volunteer again, Bonnie answered “yes” without a doubt.

In fact, their positive experience with Project Refresh has since inspired Commune to extend their support to other causes such as the Autism Resource Centre Singapore and Singapore Cancer Society, through monetary and product donations.

Sometimes, giving back grows into a habit that keeps businesses connected to the community. Parkway East Hospital (PEH) is another firm that takes part in Project Refresh, and they’ve participated twice so far, intending to return for future exercises too.

The hospital isn’t new to voluntary work—Assistant Operations Manager Amelia Chua shared that they began adopting one charity each year, since five years ago. With the efforts of their staff and doctors, PEH runs fundraising events, donation drives, and activities for their chosen beneficiaries.

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PEH’s team of volunteers

“We heard about Project Refresh through North East CDC a few years ago and decided to take it on as one of our hospital’s charity projects,” Amelia said.

Even though it was the second time, they still gave an overwhelming response and snatched up all volunteer slots in an hour, eager to serve again after meeting the residents on their first session.

As the company makes volunteer work a frequent commitment, Amelia believes it has fostered relationships within their team, through the chance to band together for “a common and meaningful purpose outside of work”.

Memories Beyond The Office Form Lessons To Last

Conversations exchanged at work may not have much impact on an organisation’s individuals in the bigger scheme of things, but moments spent beyond the office can make room for experiences worth remembering.

It’s only by stepping out to volunteer together, that some of PEH’s staff gained the opportunity to witness excitement spread across a resident’s face as she hurriedly put on a change of clothes to take a picture in her newly cleaned home.

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Volunteers got a group shot with Mdm Yap after the cleaning was done

“We had completed our task for the day—giving the unit a fresh coat of paint and dusting all the furniture—when we requested to take a picture with Mdm Yap.”

“Upon hearing this, Mdm Yap disappeared into her room and came out wearing a fresh set of clothes for our picture together.”

“It also warmed our hearts when she insisted on handing us a red packet as a token of her appreciation, a gesture we gently refused,” said Amelia.

This exchange with Madam Yap would become a memory they share for time to come, and a reminder that their combined efforts can bring joy to others.

That aside, the experience also gave them confidence and satisfaction in their teamwork, as the staff recognised that they completed their tasks ahead of schedule due to their ability to work hand in hand.

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PEH volunteers work to clean and paint homes together

“We were happy to learn that a little help and time goes a long way for the residents, [and our] team bonded over the experience.”

Commune and PEH both echoed sentiments of feeling humbled and fulfilled, and the two companies were glad to recommend that volunteering together is worth a try for any organisation.

Want To Give Corporate Volunteering A Try?

Looking for a place to start, local companies can take leaf out of Commune or PEH’s books, and find a volunteering opportunity through Young NTUC and North East CDC, which work closely with corporate partners to organise outreach programmes and provide assistance to residents.

They’re able to help companies connect easily to the community, especially when you want to lend a helping hand but you’re still not sure who to reach out to.

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Image Credit: Unscrambled

North East CDC has been running Project Refresh in collaboration with Young NTUC since 2017, and creating meaningful experiences for youth, schools, and organisations that participate each time.

It’s safe to say that when it comes to volunteer work, parties on both ends—whether giving or receiving—always walk out of it gaining something that adds value to their lives.

If you’re interested to try it out and take on a mission alongside your co-workers, find out more about North East CDC and Young NTUC’s community outreach initiatives here, and drop your boss a hint!

Young NTUC, the youth arm of the Labour Movement, wants to help youths in Singapore develop their best qualities in career and life. Project Refresh is one of their initiatives organised in collaboration with North East CDC to support the holistic development of youths and to provide meaningful assistance for the community.

Featured Image Credit: Smithankyou

 

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