Running Your Nonprofit Virtually – Lessons I’ve Learned From 10 Years Of Working Remotely

Who knew that “social distancing” would be one of the hottest buzzwords of 2020? With the practice in full effect due to COVID-19, a whole new world of working remotely has suddenly become the reality for a lot of nonprofit professionals. Running a nonprofit virtually is no easy task.

You’re probably enjoying not having to get dressed or commute to the office. Feels nice, right? Having worked remotely for 10 years myself, I’m a fan of the model and there are some amazing benefits to it. That being said, there are some definite challenges that come with the territory that you might not be used to if this is your first-time. Prime among them is figuring out how to stay effective as a team, with external stakeholders, and as an individual over an extended stretch of working remotely.

During these difficult times, it’s important that we help each other wherever we can. I’m here to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past decade of running a company remotely in the hopes that it can help you and your nonprofit’s team handle the transition to running your nonprofit virtually.

Working Remotely As A Team

Use Video Communication Aggressively

When you communicate with other team members virtually, it’s easy to default to sending emails or instant messages. Of course, there are times when that’s the best medium to use, but for any communication that requires dialogue or is more complex in nature, you should do it by voice. 

For instance, if you want to tell Sally that you finished the proposal, you don’t need to call her to let her know – just Slack her! BUT if you need to discuss some points in the proposal, ditch the back and forth of textual conversation. Hop on a call and you’ll save so much time.

To take it a step further, at ConnectAd, any time we meet by voice, we always use video. Why? Because extended periods of remote work can be isolating, and seeing another team member’s face is a good antidote. It helps you connect on a more human level, and since you can pick up on facial cues, body language, and tone, you’ll avoid more misunderstandings. That means more effective communication.

Schedule Regular Times To Meet As A Team

Another way to combat the cabin fever of remote work and foster a sense of team togetherness is to have regular times where everyone meets (by video, of course) and interacts with each other.

At ConnectAd, we always meet on Mondays as a way to share any company announcements and plan out the rest of the week. It sets the tone for the work week and gives everyone a nice opportunity to socialize by sharing what they did over the weekend. 

On Fridays, we finish up with a demo day where every member gets a few minutes to share. It could be a win to celebrate together, a struggle to commiserate together or give advice for, or a learning that the team can benefit from. A nice by-product is that it fosters knowledge sharing across your team, and it’s a positive way to end the work week.

Set Up A Channel For Fun

Running your nonprofit virtually, we’re sure you have a lot of pressing things on your mind, but when you’re removed from a shared working space, you lose the natural opportunity for banter. Don’t underestimate the power of laughter and fun! Especially when times are tough, fun helps you lift each other’s spirits and maintain a positive mental attitude.

At ConnectAd, we have a Slack “watercooler” channel that’s a fun hodgepodge of personal photos, memes, funny news stories, and weird (sometimes horrifying) Google searches. Make it your own!

Working Remotely With External Stakeholders

Use Screenshare To Show & Tell

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s the case, how about a video? 

Throughout the years, screen sharing has been a key tool in running effective meetings for external stakeholders like clients or partners. At ConnectAd, we most often use it to walk clients through live marketing campaigns or Analytics reports. If you need to collaborate in a session, then you can pair it with a real-time editing solution like Google Docs or Sheets.

In terms of tech you can use for screen share, we use Google Meet because it’s easy for others to join and it’s included in our GSuite subscription. It might already be available to you too. If not, other tools exist like Zoom or GoToMeeting and many conferencing solutions are offering free access during the Coronavirus crisis. We found this handy guide that summarizes your options.

Also, don’t forget to use video to help strengthen the human connection!

Provide Phone Call Options

While video conferencing solutions have come a long way, you’ll inevitably run into tech issues with others. It might be that their computer mic isn’t cooperating, or that they don’t own a mic at all. That’s why providing a dial-in by phone option is always a good idea (many platforms have this feature built-in). You can even ask the other person to join by computer for the visuals, and call in by phone for the audio.

If they connect both ways, just make sure they mute their computer speakers and mic. Otherwise, you might get audio feedback that’s about as pleasant as screeching nails on a chalkboard.

Screen Out Background Noise

On the topic of unpleasant sounds, background noise can really distract and detract from an effective meeting. Especially working from home, you might have pets, loved ones, or random household items causing a commotion.

A tech tool that we use is called Krisp. When you turn it on, it uses AI to filter out background noises and cleans up your communications. In response to COVID-19, Krisp has bulked up their free tier offer!

Working By Yourself Remotely

Use The Pomodoro Technique For Productivity

One of the biggest adjustments I had to make when I started working remotely was dealing with distractions. Normally in an office setting, everyone can see your screen so you’re probably on your best behaviour. When you’re working from home, you can do whatever you want, so it’s a lot easier to be distracted. Next thing you know, you’re watching a YouTube video of two guys building an underground waterfall pool with their bare hands without the faintest idea of how you got there.

Everyone is different, but the Pomodoro technique helped me stay productive and disciplined. In my version of it, I broke down my day’s tasks into 25 minute chunks of time called Pomodoros. I committed myself to completing one Pomodoro without distraction, and then gave myself a 5-minute break. Then it was on to the next Pomodoro. You can decide for yourself how to structure it, but you can read more about the technique here. It worked wonders for me.

Physically Separate Your Work Space From Your Home Space

When you’re working in an office, it’s easy to keep work and home separate because they’re literally different physical spaces. When you make the move to running things remotely, over time your work and home life begin to merge together. Eventually, it may feel like you can’t mentally separate the two, which can be exhausting.

If you can, try to designate a separate room or at least a spot at home that’s for work only. That way, it’s possible for you to “leave” work by providing a clear distinction between one and the other.

For bonus points, change into “work” clothing when it’s time to work, and save the pajamas for “home”.

Mentally Separate Work Time From Home Time

Similar to the problem of physical spaces blending into each other, it can also be hard to distinguish when you get “off work” because you no longer commute. Give yourself a hard cut-off time. This will help you shift from the grind of work mode to relaxing in home mode. Setting a clear boundary will be good for your mental well-being. It will also help roommates and loved ones understand when not to disturb you.

Best of luck in your journey to the world of remote working! Above all, stay safe in these difficult times. If you have any of your own tips on running a nonprofit virtually, leave a comment below.

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