Remote Team Management for Nonprofits
There’s no sugarcoating it: These are challenging times for nonprofit organizations operating in any industry, in any area of the world.
As Jeff Jowdy recently explained though, these challenging times are the exact moments your nonprofit team needs to lean into serving those you’ve always pledged to serve.
Of course, with global shutdowns and social distancing laws in full effect, your organization will need to revamp the way it operates.
The key to keeping things moving in the right direction: enabling remote operations throughout your organization.
How Can Operating Remotely Benefit Your Nonprofit Organization?
OK, let’s say your nonprofit hasn’t yet made the jump to remote operations in any capacity, let alone in full.
To be sure, undergoing such a transformation can seem like a monumental task — especially during a global health crisis. While it might not be easy, it’s definitely worth it for your organization and the communities you serve. (This goes for the present moment and in the future when things return to some semblance of normal.)
For one thing, remote workers are more productive than their in-office counterparts. As a 2018 survey from Flexjobs shows, 65% of employees feel more productive when working from home.
To add to that, operating remotely allows nonprofits (and other organizations) to run more efficiently. Conservative estimates from Global Workplace Analytics show that companies can save an average of $11,000 per employee per year by enabling teams to work remotely. (And this is only if they work from home just half of the time. Imagine how much you could end up saving by taking your team completely into the digital realm!)
For nonprofits looking to add talented employees or volunteers to their team, offering remote work is vital. By today’s standards, most highly-qualified individuals actively seek out companies that provide remote working options. What’s more, operating remotely allows you to tap into talent pools all over the world — not just your own backyard.
As the manager of a nonprofit, your main goal is always to keep productivity levels high, while keeping costs as low as possible. This, of course, applies now perhaps more than ever before.
So, in order to continue pressing forward and providing valuable service to your clients (throughout this crisis and beyond), you need to take your nonprofit operations online.
4 Key Remote Team Management Tips for Nonprofit Organizations
Like we said, making the transition to remote operations during the COVID-19 shutdown will take some effort on your part, as well as that of your team.
But, it’s not impossible to make it happen.
And again: You may find that operating remotely actually allows you to do more for your clientele than ever before.
That is, as long as you approach the transition strategically.
Let’s take a look at what this all entails:
1. Set Expectations From the Start
If the concept of working remotely is uncharted territory for your nonprofit, the prospect of making this transition will only add to the uncertainty that the shutdown has already brought about.
Unfortunately, this uncertainty can derail your efforts from the get-go if you haven’t sufficiently prepared your team.
So, don’t dive in just yet.
Take a step back.
Recognize that you’ll likely need to tweak — and even overhaul — a number of your processes to make them work when operating remotely.
This means you’ll need to revisit your standard operating procedures, your employee handbook and any other documents detailing how your team members are to approach their duties.
As you optimize your processes for virtual operations, it’s crucial that you communicate these changes clearly to your employees and volunteers. On a team-wide and individual level, be sure that everyone knows how their responsibilities and priorities have shifted — and what they need to do to streamline the transition for everyone involved.
It’s also important to communicate the ways in which making these changes will benefit your employees, your volunteers, and the people your team serves. This will make it more likely for the changes to “stick” in your team members’ minds — and will ensure they put in the effort necessary to bring your new vision into reality.
On the other side of this, it will also help to explain to your team how things aren’t changing within your organization. In such times of uncertainty, keeping your team grounded in the familiar will allow them to expand their comfort zone in a productive and manageable manner.
2. Allow for Flexibility
The key reason remote workers are generally more productive and efficient is increased flexibility.
(As a quick side note, the current situation obviously doesn’t allow for complete flexibility for your team members. For the time being, they don’t have the option to, say, head to their local coffee shop to get work done.)
At any rate, your goal is to provide your remote team members with as much flexibility as possible — while still ensuring they stay on track to complete their assigned tasks.
The key area of concern here is in regard to your employees’ on-the-clock (and off-the-clock) hours. As much as possible, you want to provide your employees the freedom to work when they know they’ll be at their most productive… and to be able to step away when they aren’t at their best.
Basically, you don’t want your team members to feel like they have to be at their desk from nine to five if they can sufficiently get their work done at other hours of the day. And, hey, if it takes them less time to get it done (and done well), there’s no reason for them to be locked in their home office, right?
Providing this flexibility is even more important during the current global shutdown. It’s likely your team members are juggling many other priorities in their life at the moment — and they might not even be able to be at their desk during traditional office hours.
Do you need to be confident that your team members will get their work done when working remotely? Absolutely.
But you can’t expect them to put their family and other major priorities on the backburner during these times in order to do so.
By providing your employees and volunteers the flexibility that comes with operating remotely, you’ll make clear that you trust them wholeheartedly to keep your organization moving in the right direction.
3. Keep Your Team Connected and ‘In the Know’
One clear disadvantage of operating remotely is that communication becomes a bit more difficult than it is in a traditional office setting.
Because employees and volunteers are working in isolation, as opposed to under one roof, it simply takes more effort to reach out to one another. This goes for manager-employee communications, cross-team communications and even simple “water cooler” chat.
Unfortunately, this lack of communication can lead to a number of negative outcomes for your team, such as:
- Misunderstandings regarding assignments, tasks and overall responsibilities
- Disjointed teamwork and unnecessary blockers throughout certain projects
- A lack of camaraderie and shared company culture
But again: It’s not impossible to enhance communication throughout your virtual team. You’ll just have to be more intentional in both reaching out to your individual team members and in facilitating communication throughout your organization.
For starters, you’ll want to set up daily check-ins with your various teams to keep apprised of their progress on a given task. Additionally, it’s important to set up one-on-ones with staff to check on their wellbeing as well as any challenges they may have with their current situation.
Remember that in contrast to the traditional office setting, you won’t have incidental opportunities to engage with your team members — so you’ll want to make it a point to check in with them regularly to ensure that they feel supported as well as have the resources necessary to do their job effectively.
As Terri Sorensen, CEO of Friends of the Children notes:
“Our staff is our most precious resource. Like all other businesses, we are having to juggle keeping the business running, while ensuring our staff feels supported while working remotely. We are building individual work plans that are tailored to our staff’s unique circumstances and connecting more often and in fun ways (virtual happy hours!) to ensure that our staff feel connected to the work and know they are during this difficult time.”
This is why it’s important to provide multiple ways for your team members to communicate remotely with one another — both directly and indirectly. As we’ve mentioned, this involves instant messaging, video conferencing and more.
Which brings us to our last tip...
4. Integrate Technology Throughout Your Organization
Needless to say, bringing your nonprofit operations online means you’ll be relying heavily on technology in a variety of ways.
Above all else, tools for communication are essential.
Slack, for example, allows your team members to stay in constant contact with one another. As a manager/administrator, you can set up different chat rooms for different teams, or for certain team members who may be working on a project together.
You can also use Slack to facilitate more recreational interactions between your team members — which can go a long way as far as creating a company culture goes.
Sometimes, though, text-based chat won’t be the most efficient way for your team to communicate. So you’ll also need to find a video conferencing tool that fits your organization’s specific needs. While Zoom has become the go-to software for many companies at the moment, there are many other video conferencing tools available for you to choose from.
Nonprofits looking for a free and easy-to-use video conferencing tool will want to check out Jitsi.
Other video tools to consider include Lifesize and MeetFox.
In looking to maintain oversight of your team’s productivity and progress, project management software is vital. Trello makes it easy to set up workflows, create and assign tasks and check in with the appropriate team members as necessary.
Celeste Mergens, Founder & CEO of Days for Girls International had the following to say:
“Trello’s base package is free and we use it to build our agenda and white board during meetings.
We can add cards for each agenda item and add any attachments or documents relevant to the agenda items right to the card. You can even move it to done or further work categories. It’s like having a virtual white board with virtual ‘sticky notes.’"
Other tools to consider include Wrike and Asana.
Your individual team members should also be able to easily keep track of their productivity and progress, as well. Timely, for example, automatically keeps a record of an employee’s time spent working — then automatically generates reports based on their productivity levels during these times.
Additional tools to consider include Pomodone App and OnTheClock.
Finally, you’ll need a way to create, store, access and deliver the many documents that flow through your nonprofit organization on a daily basis.
Need to distribute SOP and employee handbook documentation to your team?
Collaborate with clients, donors and other stakeholders as you finalize certain files?
Deliver onboarding instructions to newcomers?
You’ll want to look at a knowledge management solution.
Tools to consider include Google Docs, as well as Helpjuice.
With the right tools and technology on hand, your nonprofit will not only be able to survive the current global shutdown; it will be able to thrive through it.
Like we said from the start, it’s definitely going to take some effort to bring your nonprofit organization’s operations online during this time of uncertainty.
But with a strategic and methodical approach to this transition, you’ll be able to make the absolute best out of such a dire situation.
And, when the global shutdown eventually comes to an end, your team will be much better able to serve your community — both online and offline.
Emil Hajric is the founder and CEO of Helpjuice — a powerful knowledge management solution. Helpjuice’s knowledge base software can be used to onboard nonprofit employees as well as encourage collaboration and improve engagement amongst employees.