Leaders are scrambling in the midst of COVID-19 to safely get their teams to a remote-working status. Nonprofit executives are among the most nimble, adaptable, and committed leaders out there. For those of you who are adjusting to a remote work model, here are some considerations around remote workplace equity.
When setting expectations for your employees to work remotely, it is imperative they have what they need. Does each employee have a work laptop with the proper chargers, software, and connectivity? If not, how can you provide the proper tools? If the funds aren’t there, reach out to your community of supporters, board members, and businesses. Many community members are looking for ways to help right now. If your employees are using their own personal devices, do you have a solid policy on personal technology usage? Have you considered offering a cell phone or wifi stipend? Even a small amount goes a long way in supporting this shift.
Clear and simple policies are a necessity in times like these. Policies outlining remote work expectations, emergency leave and pay, and other disaster-related protocols keep everyone on the same page and expectations clear. Don’t overlook resharing these policies amid this crisis. If you don’t have existing policies, I’m including some resources at the end of this post. Or email me to join the COVID-19 nonprofit leadership online group to share and request resources.
Sometimes we get all the remote work nuts and bolts in place and forget that we haven’t equipped our teams with the know-how to navigate the systems, software, equipment, etc. necessary to succeed. Arrange to check in with each employee and assess if they need any additional training or tutorials in order to do their job.
We can’t assume that each of our employees has a nice, quiet, shiny office waiting to greet them at home. Some of our employees are navigating major work hurdles at home: lively multigenerational environments, partners who are also vying for quiet workspace, roommates, kids, and more. The reality is there isn’t a lot we can do about home dynamics. However, we can make the effort to acknowledge these challenges and to seek input in identifying the most convenient times of day to schedule phone calls and virtual meetings.
For many, the biggest challenge of late has been school cancellations. As a mom of 3 children ages 7 and under, I get it. It is 7:50am right now and my 3 year old is pulling on my shirt and shouting at me to make her pancakes. Leaders – be generous in the flexibility you afford your employees who are parents. It is also likely you will have to modify your expectations of them while their kids are at home. However, as you accommodate and shift expectations for parents, make sure you aren’t unintentionally penalizing or disproportionately burdening your kid-free staff as a result. One approach you could take is asking each employee (regardless of parenting status) to tell you what is realistic for them during the next 2-6 weeks at home. What times of day and how many hours can they reasonably commit to? Take a look at this information across the board and try to set equitable expectations for all of your employees.
The reality is, some positions are more readily set up to work remotely than others. For example, a development team member who has remote access to their database may be able to take this shift in stride, with minimal disruption. On the other hand, a community outreach employee who works with groups of people in the community may have much less work to do during this time of containment. Collaborate with your team; see if busier team members can enlist help from less busy ones. This is a time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and help where we can.
I have been avoiding this one because it is painfully challenging. While I know every nonprofit leader wants to continue paying all employees indefinitely, regardless of ability to work during this time, I know it is not possible for many. Most organizations are taking financial hits during this time: cancelled fundraising events and paused revenue-generating activities and services. My advice to nonprofit leaders during this time is as follows:
- If you don’t have a disaster or emergency pay policy in place, create one. If you need help, I’m sharing some resources below, or contact me to join the COVID-19 online nonprofit leader forum.
- Whatever your policy may be, communicate it clearly across the organization. People need information shared often during times of uncertainty. Or-if you are in the process of creating a policy, communicate that to your team.
- If you can pay people for a limited time, communicate as early as possible to your team when that will expire so they have maximum time to plan.
- If your team is willing and interested, start a leave bank, where employees can share paid leave with each other.
- Reach out to your community. Go to your donors and ask for support during this time. I know you are focused on your services and clients/participants right now. But we are all in this together and if we don’t take care of our teams, we cannot serve our communities.
Hang in there, kindred leaders. You don’t have to have this all figured out. Take it one day at a time. It is okay to be vulnerable and admit things are uncertain right now. One thing you can do is to start each day with a quick email to your team sharing whatever update you have; even if it is the same as yesterday’s. I recently wrote a post entitled, Love in the Time of Corona. In it, I share,
“In vulnerable and isolating times, we need connection more than ever. So, while we may need to retreat to our own physical islands for a while, let’s resist losing touch with one another.”
Stay connected, and remember: love is our greatest resource and that is something we can stock up on. I have to go now because my 3 year old is now sitting on my lap, wearing my glasses, and trying to braid my hair.
To join one of the online COVID-19 groups for Executive Directors or Development Directors, email your name, organization, and title to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prepare.Respond.Serve – 501 Commons
Underappreciated elements of nonprofit disaster preparedness planning – National Council of Nonprofits
What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan? – Harvard Business Review
Leading and Working through a Pandemic Resources – Harvard Business Review
Lead Your Business Through the Coronavirus Crisis – Harvard Business Review