Working remotely can be tough during the best of times! If COVID-19 has your nonprofit’s employees working remotely, these tips will help you stay productive.

It’s been a scary few weeks, with coronavirus (or COVID-19) ramping up from a national concern to a national emergency. The experts are recommending “social distancing” to help the virus from spreading. States are cracking down on large gatherings and taking measures to “flatten the curve.” Many companies are voluntarily asking employees to work remotely to prevent unnecessary travel and interaction that could spread the virus, while some states are mandating it.

Mightycause leaves the medical advice to the experts. The Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization are your best resources for information about COVID-19. But there is something we know a lot about at Mightycause, and that’s working remotely! Our staff is remote one day per week, with some employees working remotely part-time or full-time. So, if your nonprofit has employees working remotely full-time for the first time, these tips will help your company stay productive, keep your employees engaged, prepare for the Spring fundraising season, and prevent your workflow from breaking down.

1. Utilize tools that are optimized for working remotely

When your team is remote, it’s important to set everyone up for work-from-home success with the right tools. And you may not have the infrastructure in place to fully support working remotely, if you’re used to talking things through face-to-face at your nonprofit. But here are a few tools you can use to keep your staff in touch and on-task.

  • Communication: So, not only are many people working remotely, they’re also practicing social distancing. That’s why communication is so important. We recommend using a real-time chat service like Slack to stay in touch, talk about work, and keep human-to-human connections alive! (We use Slack at Mightycause, too.) Slack offers discounts for nonprofits, and an even steeper discount for small nonprofits. Whatever chat program you choose, allowing for real-time conversations to happen is essential to remote work!
  • Task managers: When you’re all in the office together, it’s easy enough to just go over to someone’s desk and ask where they are on a project. But when you’re remote, using a task manager is a must. We like Asana at Mightycause, but Trello, Basecamp, and Monday will get the job done too!
  • Fundraising: Okay, so, we’re biased. But Mightycause is a perfect tool for remote work! It’s free to get started, and entirely web-based, so it’s simple and easy for remote employees to securely access from home. Employees can export any reports they need, start fundraisers, manage donors and donations, and more. No remoting into serves or databases or portals required — all you need is an internet connection to use Mightycause!

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2. Clearly communicate expectations

Setting expectations is a key part of managing a staff, period. But when your team is remote, it’s even more important.

You’d be surprised how differently people can interpret “work from home!” Some employees might end up working more hours and being more productive because working remotely eliminates their commute, distractions like chatting with coworkers, and so on. And other employees might have a more, well, relaxed attitude toward productivity while remote. With school and day care closures, you also have to consider employees with children who may need to split their time working and caring for their kids.

Develop some guidelines for employees so they know what you’re expecting. When do you expect them to be online? How will the nonprofit be checking in with them? Are you making any exceptions for people with kids home from school? How will hourly employees’ work hours be logged?

Set organization-wide expectations (perhaps in an email from your executive director). Then work with with managers to get in the weeds with individual employees who might need special consideration.

3. Schedule regular check-ins

When you’re working remotely, you’ll need to be intentional about checking in with your staff. Managers should schedule regular 1:1 meetings with their staff to check in about work tasks, projects, goals, and to discuss any barriers or trouble working from home. And if those are always part of your nonprofit’s practices, you may need to schedule them more frequently while everyone’s adjusting to working remotely.

But you don’t need to keep it strictly work-related! For some people, social distancing can be tough, and the isolation of remote work can be intense. See how employees are doing, ask what they need. And don’t be afraid to engage in the same chit-chat you would have at the office on your chat program of choice. (Pictures of babies and pets are highly recommended in these trying times! Might we recommend a #just-for-fun Slack channel, or one dedicated to pet pics?)

Checking in regularly will help you stay on top of what employees are working on and how they’re doing… and fend off the desire to micromanage. When you’re talking regularly, not just about work, you’ll build trusting relationships with your employees and colleagues that allow you to trust that they’re focusing on their work while you focus on yours.

4. Focus on accomplishments

So, for hourly employees, you’ll need a proper accounting of the time they’ve worked in order to pay them appropriately. But when it comes to accounting for the work that’s done at home, it’s helpful to use bigger goals as a measure of productivity than hours worked. (And, let’s be honest, with employees taking care of kids and looking after older family members, you’ll need to be flexible. We can think of no better time for flexibility in the workplace than a pandemic.)

Stay focused on what employees are accomplishing. Trust employees to continue completing their work and meeting deadlines. If they’re falling short, you may need to work more closely with that employee, or find out if there’s something standing in the way of them being productive while working remotely.

5. Set and encourage healthy boundaries

Work/life balance is a hard thing to master, but it’s even harder when your work happens in your living space! So, when working remotely, healthy boundaries are essential, from the top down. Here are some boundaries that can keep working remotely from turning into working 24/7:

  • Do not contact employees outside of work hours for non-emergency issues
  • Take breaks. Spend time preparing and eating lunch, go for a walk, spend a bit of time in the yard with a pet, take a moment to check in with your kids. Whatever you do, taking some time throughout the day to get up from your desk and do something else be good for your productivity and your mental health.
  • Don’t be overly available, or expect the same of others. Sometimes when people are working remotely, they can feel pressure to basically be on-call and immediately available anytime someone contacts them. That leads to reactionary working, being overly plugged in, and poor boundaries. So, take time away from your laptop, and don’t huff and puff if you send a non-emergency message or email and don’t get an immediate response! Just because you, or someone else, doesn’t reply immediately does not mean they’re slacking off.
  • Remove or mute work-related apps from your phone so you can be truly offline when your shift is over, and encourage employees to do the same!

The Bottom Line

Working remotely can feel like strange new terrain at first, but thoughtful adjustments can make it possible for many nonprofits. Front-line staff may not have the option of working from home, of course. But allowing those with administrative roles to telecommute can help keep them and vulnerable populations safe from COVID-19. We hope these tips help you set your workplace up for remote work success!

Tips for working remotely for nonprofit employees

Working from home can be a dream for some. But the reality of it can quickly turn it into a lonely, tiring, disorienting experience if you’re not accustomed to it or develop poor work-from-home habits. These tips have proven useful to our team at Mightycause.

Get dressed

So, the siren’s call of your yoga pants or PJs or favorite pair of sweats can be hard to resist. But, work from home on a regular basis, and those comfy pants can be your downfall. Getting dressed helps put you in “work mode” in the morning. While you don’t need to observe a business professional dress code, obviously, the routine of getting dressed and ready like you would if you weren’t working from home can help you be more productive — and keep you from panicking if someone knocks on the door, or your boss wants to do a surprise video call!

Have a dedicated workspace

A home office is a luxury not everyone has access to. But carving out a dedicated space in your home where you can sit down, log in, and get into a work mindset (and walk away when you’re done) is not only essential for productivity, but for building a healthy work/life boundary while working remotely. Whether it’s a spare bedroom, your kitchen table, or your porch, find a space that can be your work zone.

Manage your time with “time chunking”

Here’s a fact we’re often hesitant to acknowledge: multi-tasking doesn’t work. The human mind is not wired to do two things at once, and what we call “multi-tasking” is usually “task switching.” Time-chunking is a time management solution that can help you hunker down, complete tasks, and meet deadlines while working remotely.

Basically, “time-chunking” is exactly what it sounds like. It’s dividing your day into “chunks” where you concentrate on a single task or area of work. So, for instance, someone in HR for a nonprofit might set aside a 2-hour chunk of time for reading and responding to job applications, a 3-hour chunk of time for phone interviews, and an hour at the beginning of the day and end of the day for reading and responding to emails. During this time, you minimize distractions that might sidetrack you from the task at hand. (For instance, turning your phone off, logging out of your email, or muting Slack.) Time-chunking keeps you on-task, helps you get work done, and builds a schedule and routine.

Develop a routine

You’ll hear this on pretty much every list of tips for working remotely… and that’s because it’s so important! Without colleagues, meal times, and a commute to keep your day moving and give you external clues that it’s time to eat lunch or pack it in for the day, it’s easy to feel adrift and lose grip on your day. Getting up at the same time each day, getting dressed, making time for meals, and taking regular breaks to stretch, decompress, and perhaps taking a walk in the middle of the day will help you take care of your mental and physical health when you’re working from home.

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