Authors: Heather Rolinski, VP Nonprofit Effectiveness, and Heather Hunter, Marketing Intern
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic forced many employers to find alternatives to in-person work arrangements, many employees had already begun the transition to working remotely. Between 2005 and 2017, the number of employees working remotely in the United States increased by 159%, and that number jumped by 87% in 2020. Given the widespread changes caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s likely the number will continue to rise.
While some organizations are planning for an eventual return to a physical office, others have taken the opportunity to switch to a permanently remote workforce. If you’re thinking about a fully remote future for your organization, consider this advice from two executives who have already made the switch.
Think outside of your traditional methods.
Instead of duplicating in-person programming in a virtual space, consider how remote work can help your organization reinvent its established strategies. For example, when Girl Scouts of Central Indiana went remote in 2020, they used the opportunity to expand their geographic reach.
“We have a partnership with coworking spaces in 25 different locations,” explains Danielle Shockey, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. “In 19 of these 25 communities, we never had a Girl Scout hub. These spaces have provided a Girl Scout presence where we’ve never had a presence before.” The coworking agreement also introduces Girl Scout employees to other working professionals, who often become guest speakers at virtual events.
Additionally, Girl Scouts introduced pop-up shops and pop-up programming for scouts and their families. These have been well-received by Girl Scouts’ membership base. “Scouts and parents are happy because before now they had to travel, but now we’re bringing shops and programs to them,” Shockey says. The pop-ups have helped the organization leverage their new situation as a separate, but equally effective way to achieve goals.
Try not to micro-manage your team.
Time in the office is an easy gauge for a manager to measure productivity. However, in a remote workplace, managers can’t always see how their team allocates time. This can be a source of stress for those who feel that, without in-person accountability, their teams won’t deliver results.
“I agree that flexibility should be earned. But once earned, if you’re forcing your team to do other micro-managing types of tasks, that’s a recipe for departure,” warns Dr. Michael McRee, COO of the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC). Dr. McRee’s partially remote organization also went fully remote in 2020. In his experience, giving remote employees more freedom can lead to higher satisfaction and better retention rates. Instead of forcing his team to schedule pointless check-ins or work within certain hours, Dr. McRee trusts them to produce results without a structured method. “It’s totally possible to have an accountability system in place that’s about performance and results, but not about micro-managing,” he says. “When results don’t happen, then you’re inviting me in to have a conversation about how to improve. When results produce themselves, I don’t have to be in that conversation.”
Communicate openly with stakeholders.
Transparency is paramount when going remote. Leading internal discussions about how to support employees builds a united foundation for the organization’s future. As for volunteers and supporters, regular updates keep them involved in the organization’s progress and appreciative of results.
“Proactively think through communications, engagement, and opinion seeking, as early as possible,” Shockey advises. Girl Scouts took care to explain the benefits of remote work to volunteers, and how savings on overhead were being reinvested into camps and programs. “We wanted them to see that we weren’t leaving them – just bringing ourselves to serve them better, in more convenient ways,” Shockey explains.
NIC upped their email communications with members, exhibitors, and partners. They shared knowledge about pandemic-related changes happening within their industry: from lobbying, to PPE loans, to cleanliness standards. NIC also retained 90% of their exhibitors by offering discounts on the first year of a two-year membership agreement. “We were able to figure out how to increase our service and communication, but still offer discounts that kept them in the tent,” says Dr. McRee.
Continue to build relationships with (and between) your team members.
Many remote workers report feeling isolated and losing their connection to their company’s mission. Dr. McRee combats this through a conscious effort to build friendships within his organization. “The best type of employee relations happen when you know what’s going on with all of your employees personally. It goes beyond work assignments,” he explains. To do this, he suggests adding regular check-ins to your calendar that have nothing to do with work. “Whether that’s a short text, a quick Teams check-in, a Zoom call – just making sure that we’re touching base with people in various ways. It can be on someone’s to-do list,” he explains.
Another way to care for your remote team is to make sure your organization provides for each employee equitably. This can range from internet access, to meeting accessibility, to furniture. “It’s things you wouldn’t normally think about, like: is the chair in their office ergonomically correct?” asks Shockey. Girl Scouts provided their staff with small stipends, which helped them cover unforeseen expenses that came with the change.
Revisit the system frequently, and don’t be afraid to make changes.
As your organization adjusts to remote work, you’ll inevitably hit some snags. Frequent assessments of the system can prevent them from becoming bigger problems down the road. During Shockey's six-month check in with her employees, she asked how the system was serving them, what lessons they’d learned, and how she could help them continue to serve their local populations.
Like the decision to go remote, discussions about change should touch all levels of your organization. If it’s difficult to find productive solutions, or the problems are more serious than expected, bringing in a third party for an organizational assessment can help get things back on track.