When COVID-19 emerged in the U.S. in early 2020, the nonprofit sector was among the first to respond. It was also one of the last sectors to accept the shift to a remote or hybrid work environment, driven by the simple fact that nonprofits are used to collaborating and serving communities in person — something that was hard to let go of.
Some staff and volunteers have struggled to adjust to this new mode of work. Nonprofits are fueled by a passion for helping others, and face-to-face interactions with beneficiaries traditionally provide the spark. In fact, many leaders find the impact on culture one of the most challenging consequences of the pandemic to overcome. Technology enabled work to continue; however, finding ways to create or maintain a thriving culture can feel illusive.
Fortunately, passion transcends restrictions. There are steps you can take to adapt operations and maintain organizational culture to help retain, attract and inspire talent to continue your mission when your community needs you most.
Your nonprofit can still function and thrive amid ongoing challenges, even without daily in-person interactions with employees, donors and the communities you serve. Establish a strong remote or hybrid work culture by taking these five steps.
1. Lead With Humility
Strong leadership is key to persevering through a crisis, and there is evidence that humble leaders are the strongest of all. A University of Washington Foster School of Business study shows that employees who describe their managers as humble report being more engaged and less likely to leave. In this time of high anxiety and isolation, it is especially crucial that employees feel their concerns are understood and their feedback is considered. An empathetic approach to leadership goes a long way in gaining employees’ trust and inspiring loyalty.
2. Onboard Effectively
The pandemic prompted many workers to reevaluate their priorities. The Great Resignation — as the recent mass exodus of employees has been called — presents a great opportunity for your nonprofit to attract top-tier talent seeking to further a meaningful cause. Plus, a remote work environment broadens your pool of job candidates. Onboarding a new employee in a remote or hybrid work environment is not what nonprofits are used to, but it can still be done well. Just be sure to clearly communicate your nonprofit’s values and provide new hires with a detailed plan for their first two weeks with the organization, complete with scheduled meetings with other staff members. If possible, onboard new employees in groups so they feel less isolated.
3. Establish Regular Contact
Today’s wealth of scheduling and teleconferencing technologies can help you create a structured remote or hybrid work environment to evaluate employees’ progress even when they’re many miles away. Schedule regular video meetings, complete with detailed agendas, to encourage employees to share what they’re working on. Dedicate a few minutes during organization-wide meetings to recognize star employees for their accomplishments. Regular contact will help set employee expectations, keep everyone on the same page and promote collaboration.
4. Circulate an Internal Newsletter
Speaking of collaboration, you may want to encourage employees to share their professional and personal triumphs in a weekly or monthly newsletter. A frequent account of professional wins will help to illustrate how individual efforts contribute to your larger cause. Sharing personal victories (e.g., Judy in HR nailed a new recipe, Pete in marketing taught his son to ride a bike) can create a sense of camaraderie. A shared project is an effective way to pull employees out of their individual spheres and back into a sense of community built upon a common mission. Shared stories can reinforce mission, acknowledge team member successes and fill information voids attributable to isolated work environments.
5. Respect Boundaries
Are you answering emails in bed or holding conferences at your kitchen table? A work-from-home environment can chip away at the line between personal and professional boundaries. Already contending with an increased need for nonprofit services, employees may be suffering from burnout. Try not to contact staff outside of business hours. If you do, make it clear to the recipient that they can respond the next day during business hours.
The ongoing pandemic presents an opportunity to pivot your culture in a way that appeals to prospective employees and renews existing employees’ belief in your purpose. A strong remote or hybrid work culture strikes a balance between personable and professional.
Communicate warmly, regularly and respectfully. Lead with humility and onboard effectively. If executed successfully, these actions will help you secure and satisfy your valued nonprofit employees. Then your organization will be better equipped to support the passion of your workforce that fuels mission-critical work.