What will post-pandemic nonprofit workplaces look like? The short answer is that no one knows yet.
We do know that, when the nation went into lockdown in March 2020, most employers had to react swiftly in deciding whether to continue operating on-site as an essential entity or have everyone work remotely. Sometimes, the decisions were made via government restrictions. With those restrictions now being lifted in many places, and seven out of ten office workers still working remotely, many nonprofits have a fresh opportunity to make an informed decision, outside of reactive survival instincts, whether to adopt an all-employees on-site model, an everybody-remote model, or a hybrid approach.
If someone asked you one year ago whether you felt you were more productive in an office setting or working from home, what would you have answered? Is that answer different now? Many nonprofit leaders, such as Lisa Maruyama of the Hawai`i Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations, are finding that different members of their teams have different answers. To balance these changing preferences, many organizations are considering a more hybrid working arrangement, where employees spend some time in the office and some time working from home.
Key to defining the new normal for nonprofit workplaces will be change management, cybersecurity, and culture. And those are the foci of the articles in this month’s Nonprofit Knowledge Monthly.
But first, all of this presupposes that we reach and stay in a post-pandemic era. That’s why we hosted a national webinar last month on “How every nonprofit can help the communities we serve get vaccinated.” A White House official and renowned medical expert presented information, as did three nonprofit leaders proactively eliminating barriers – language, reading, technological, transportation – that had been preventing the people they serve from getting vaccinated. Watch the webinar recording for inspiring insights on how we all can help transform the hope of a “post-pandemic” world into reality.
Changes to the workplace
Nonprofit workplaces have seen a lot of change over the last year. Some changes were physical, such as installing six-foot markers and plexiglass barriers for physical distancing. Another change initially thought to be temporary - working remotely - continued longer than anticipated and may become the norm moving forward, as organizations now realize the possible benefits of not being constrained to one physical location. Meanwhile, many employees have adjusted to working from home, appreciating the time and freedom of no longer spending hours commuting to and from the office. Many others, however, are eager for the face-to-face interaction in an office breakroom rather than on a Zoom screen.
Will your organization return to operating entirely in-person, will it remain remote, or will you employ a hybrid approach? One major aspect of the question of all in-person vs. all remote vs. hybrid is the cost of physical space your nonprofit occupies. A hybrid workforce may mean that a nonprofit can downsize its office space and save significant costs. But maintaining some flexibility may be desirable because, while your current staff may prefer to work from home, future staff members may prefer to be in-office.
Questions abound. Can nonprofits require employees to be vaccinated before returning on-site? If vaccines can be required, should they be? What about volunteers? There is a lot to consider. That’s why we hosted another national webinar last month featuring presentations by experts in law, volunteerism, and messaging: “What nonprofits need to know as staff and volunteers return from remote work to in-person operations.”
The articles below share more insights and tips to consider.
Protecting your nonprofit’s data in a hybrid workplace
Flexibility has been the theme of the last year. Many organizations relaxed policies and practices to accommodate rapidly shifting circumstances. Now, it's time to evaluate the changes made last year and formalize adjustments to old policies and procedures or institute new ones to establish expectations for the future. A core area of concern must be cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity is more important than ever (something Colonial Pipeline and many people waiting in long lines for gas earlier this month will attest to) – and remote work introduces new security challenges.
Rather than being on your office network, likely protected by a firewall, employees are using their home internet connection. Employees may be using their own personal computers, where their personal browsing habits might not be as cautious as they would be at the office, increasing potential risks. Updating policies and, potentially, investing in additional security software and laptops may be necessary to keep your organization’s data secure.
Culture as the cornerstone
When making strategic decisions about the future of your nonprofit’s workplace, financial costs of real estate and technology (and related costs of increased exposure to data theft and corruption) certainly are key factors. But finances are not the only important cost factors. Another major cost is the potential loss of your organization’s culture that supports your team. As management guru Peter Drucker famously observed, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” so focus attention on what working remotely versus on-site will mean for your nonprofit's culture.
The new normal for nonprofit workplaces can’t look solely at employee or employer preferences at this moment in time; multiple factors must be considered. Among those are the new realities many people are facing. Foremost among those is recognition that we must establish a new normal, with equity being at the center, because the pandemic exposed that the old normal was inequitable and harmful to too many people.
If your organization wants to embrace a remote or hybrid working style, it will need to ensure all employees have equal access to the tools necessary to work effectively. For example, child care was a challenge for many before the pandemic hit, and it has only gotten worse as thousands of child care centers closed permanently, leaving too many people without options, threatening not only individual families but also our nation's economy. The scale of this nationwide shortage is too massive for any one person or nonprofit to solve. Government must play a role, and every employer can call out for this support.
Another essential component of a successful remote or hybrid working culture is protecting your team’s work/life balance. When working remotely, it’s easy for the beginning and end of the workday to get blurred. In addition to promoting your team taking breaks and disconnecting at the end of the day, it’s also important to provide some unstructured ways for your team to interact. Zoom staff meetings are too agenda-focused to foster the connections that are so important to our work. One idea is to create a room on Wonder that can act as a virtual watercooler for staff to converse informally during the day.
The articles below share additional insights on how your nonprofit can support a remote or hybrid team.
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