A big change in nonprofit structure over the last few years in that the centralized office has likely been decentralized. More and more staff are working remotely due to budget constraints within the organization. Newer organizations may be entirely virtual with no physical office at all.
This remote structure can pose unique challenges for effectively managing your staff. Supervisors don’t see staff in person on a regular basis, so they can’t walk down the hallway for an impromptu meeting or help them in person with daily tasks. Email, messaging and video conferencing make it easier to communicate and manage from a distance, but some simple rules need to be followed if it’s to be successful:
Onboarding and follow-up training are a must
If at all possible, do your onboarding in person. If this isn’t feasible, use video tools like FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangouts. Create simple training videos that you can share with staff, as opposed to having to repeat the same material by video chats with multiple people. These have a much greater effect than emailing a PDF of your event manual alone.
Set clear expectations
There needs to be a clear understanding of how many hours they’ll put in, what their availability is, and how they should reach you. It’s also important for you to understand their working environment. Are they at home with kids, in a separate home office, traveling, or at the coffeeshop? The flexibility of working remotely is a privilege and having boundaries is helpful in starting the relationship on the right foot.
Be proactive in your management
Physical distance should not make communications distant. Regular communication is key to managing all employees, especially new ones. Look at onboarding new employees as a yearlong mentoring process and not something you can run through in an hour or a day. Set up regular video meetings. And don’t just ask, “How’s it going?” If they’re new, they really don’t know how it’s going. Instead, assign tasks and ask what challenges they’ve had in completing those and talk about what’s next. It’s much easier to let staff fall through the cracks when they’re remote, so establishing strong communication channels is a must.
Find out how they communicate best
Having too many meetings can be unproductive, even when they’re by video. A quick question is better answered by email, text or chat. Find out what channel a staffer is most comfortable with. If you use that, they’re likely to respond more quickly. If you’re managing multiple staffers in different locations, email, text and chat also give you the option to communicate as a group, as well as individually. Also, be mindful of time zones.
Establish long-term and short-term goals
Firmly-established long and short term goals for your staff help create a structured routine that keeps them on track.Create data sets that can confirm progress toward goals. It’s easy for a remote staffer to lose sight of their workload if their boss isn’t physically there to look over their shoulder or isn’t in the next office to ask a question. A clear understanding of their goals for the week, month or event helps avoid this.
Have good data that includes leading indicators of success
There’s no reason to wait for a staffer to give you a report when you can access needed data yourself in your fundraising software. With DonorDrive, we have nonprofit executives who use our Event Performance Monitor feature to check out progress in real time. Instead of running a report they can share their screen with a staffer and determine event health on the fly. This is proving to be a time-saving tool for everyone, especially when you can easily see progress on a timeline of this year’s event compared to last year’s.
If you’re not careful, remote employees can feel left out of your nonprofit’s culture. Help them to understand your mission, shared goals, and the commitment of all involved. These may be things you live and breathe every day, but may not always be conveyed from a distance. Plan to bring remote employees into the office, even a couple of times a year, and plan a company outing or event during their visit. Most importantly, don’t forget to share the successes and victories for your nonprofit. These stories may happen organically with in-person employee conversation. Don't forget to share them with the remote employees so that they can also share in the excitement of a victory for your mission. Likewise, share your remote employees’ successes with other staff.
Are remote workers effective?
According to Forbes, they’re usually more productive. I think it’s important for organizations to base their remote hires on candidates they know can work the best outside of a physical office. They need to be self-starters and self-motivated people. There are many candidates with substantial nonprofit experience who are grateful to find a job that allows flexible hours and working from home. Consider all these points when hiring and you’re more likely to find a good fit.