The Pros and Cons of Working Remotely for Nonprofit Employees
In 2005, I was working as an administrator for a hospital system. For some time, I was asked by a nonprofit fundraising consultant to switch careers and proceed into the world of consulting with his firm. A combination of change in hospital leadership and wanting a new challenge promoted me into the land of the remote of nonprofit employee.
The consulting firm I worked for was in the cold Northeast U.S. I worked for three weeks a month in my home office. The other week was spent in the northeastern home of the consulting firm. Fast forward several years. I worked in 2011 as a consultant/employee for a nonprofit in the Western U.S. I had remote employees report to me from across the country. I traveled constantly and had to spend one week a month at the home office of the nonprofit where the summer temperature averaged 110°F.
In both cases of remote work, I was not prepared for the experience. The good news was that some days, I did not have to shave or dress up. In fact, I lived at my computer. My meetings were either by phone or skype. I could say I set my own hours, but I did not create unique hours. I still began each workday by 7:00 a.m. EST. I ended the day by 5:00 p.m., except for the many days of late hour meetings or weekend assignments. This was the northeast assignment.
The west assignment was worse. While I started each day at 7:00 a.m. EST, I could not finish the day until 8:00 p.m. or later, as the home office was on Pacific Time Zone. In fact, when I had to fly out west for meetings, I would get up at 3:00 a.m., fly west and arrive by 7:45 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. meeting, which meant it was 11:00 a.m. in the east. This made for very long and tiring days.
Forbes states that telecommuting has grown by 140% since 2005, according to the Global Workplace Analytics. Also, more than four million U.S. employees now work from home at least half of the time. The nonprofit industry has eagerly joined this trend. According to a 2016 Nonprofit HR report, nonprofit employees working remotely has been slowly but steadily increasing.
Offering employees remote work enables organizations to seek out the best talent available and avoid the hassles that employees must deal with by going to a work site. On a negative note, many remote employees who don’t work at standard desks could cause shoulder, wrist and neck injuries.
Suggestions for remote employees include the following:
- Invest in a supportive chair.
- Consider a sit-stand desk.
- Avoid distracting locations.
- Light up the room.
- Stay at arm’s length.
Remember to take breaks away from your home office space. Try jogging or walking during each day. Seek to feel more focused and energized, so you can be more productive.
According to this Toptal article, as productivity wanes , the most effective solution is to get motivated. However, this is easier said than done.
Neuroscientific research links motivation to self-sustaining productivity. This is particularly important for people who choose an alternative to the traditional office environment. According to Buffer’s “State of Remote Work Report 2019,” 99% of respondents would like to work remotely for at least some of the time for the rest of their careers. They want to shift the way they work. Research has found that the act of imagining the feeling of a potential reward can motivate immediate action.
Motivation tips for remote work include getting addicted to productivity through chemical changes in the brain, defining the purpose to find motivation through achieving smaller goals leading to larger goals, passionately contribute to reach personal potential and trigger productive behavior through motivating oneself toward an end goal. Working remotely poses a challenge to productivity. If you understand that the reward of work motivation (the act the working), you will be more productive working in a remote role that could provide reduced positive feedback given in a regular office structure.
sgEngage indicates that remote work has benefits, such as greater productivity by workers, reduction of company’s expenses and employees ability to work from anywhere. On the flip side, employees feel isolated and lonely, communication suffers, collaborative efforts plummet and security of information is an issue. If you have remote employees, don’t trust the Wi-Fi, consider high-level security, use secure cloud-based services, never use USB devices and create complicated password requirements.
The National Council of Nonprofits suggests the following practices for using remote workers:
- Create uniform arrangements for all remote workers.
- Nonprofits need to invest in new technology for safety purposes.
- Use video conferencing regularly to connect remote workers with the home office.
- Create policies that are standard for all employees, plus take remote employees into consideration.
- Set expectations, such as working hours and practices, for remote workers;
- Create policies for insurance, equipment and workplace practices for remote employees.
The Clyde Fitch Report points out that remote work will inevitably shape the future of the workforce. It is in the best interests of nonprofits to adapt to this change now. They are well positioned for remote work, because many employees work outside the office and could work out of their home as opposed to the usual office structure. “The 2019 Deloitte Millennial Survey” showed that excluding salary, 16.8 % of Millennials prioritize work-life balance and 11% prioritize work flexibility. It also shows that 68% of current workers expect to work remotely in the future. We are not going back.
The bottom line for nonprofits is to be proactive and not reactive with remote employees. Weigh the pros and cons of using remote employees. I, for one, feel this practice has merit, especially with development officers and others constantly outside the office with geographical responsibilities. Create uniform practices, and experiment with it yourself. Once you experiment with this concept you will have a greater appreciation and understanding for its use.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.