While it's not yet known how nonprofits will need to operate in a post-pandemic environment, returning to the way things were before the crisis is unlikely, requiring nonprofit teams to be especially resilient.
Building resilient teams—which are creative and flexible and engage diverse voices—is even more challenging when many of us are operating remotely, as it’s all too easy to ‘disappear’ in the virtual space and feel cut off from each other.
The following suggestions will help nonprofits operate now and prove valuable going forward.
to do – with the new emerging reality in mind
Come to agreement on what goals, projects, and tasks are absolutely essential and what can be put on hold or let go of completely. Base your choices on an honest strategic analysis of the top concerns of those you serve and your unique strengths as a team and organization. Consider how you can best respond to different potential scenarios (e.g., the pandemic ends soon; it continues for another year).
As you prioritize, look for opportunities to pivot from the work of the past and adapt to meet new challenges, while staying true to your strengths. Your clients likely have new needs, and there may be new partners to work with.
Recognize that you may need to redefine productivity. It may not be possible to accomplish the same work on the same schedule as you did before the pandemic, especially given additional family care responsibilities and other personal needs many people have. Discuss and agree to clear, reasonable, timelines and success criteria for each initiative.
To be most creative and responsive, it’s essential to have diverse voices at the table. Make it a point to engage with and learn from a spectrum of community members and coalition partners.
Clarify how the team will work together
Facilitate the team to share and agree to expectations for working together, including how and when you will hold meetings and what kinds of communication you’ll use (e.g., video, chat, email, phone calls). Agree on meeting protocol, for example, whether everyone needs to be on camera. Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up group norms.
Connect with each other frequently. Try brief “catch-ups”: share top priorities on Monday morning and review the week’s progress on Friday. Use a collaborative online workspace (e.g., Drive, Slack, MS Teams, etc.) to share information that doesn’t need a lot of discussion. Save meeting time together to identify and work through top priority issues and hear how people are coping personally.
Pay careful attention to inclusion during meetings, noticing who is visible and participating actively, and who is not being heard from or not having their suggestions taken seriously. All too often it’s members of historically marginalized groups whose voices and contributions are not fully appreciated.
Emphasize health and wellness
It’s easy to put off self-care given all that we’re facing. But to stay engaged long-term, you need to take care of yourself right now.
Encourage each other to set and keep reasonable schedules so that each person can meet their personal and family needs. It’s not sustainable to just keep working all day and all night – which can be tempting for those sitting in front of computers for hours at home. Support taking breaks, rather than always scheduling things back-to-back-to-back. Zoom fatigue is real!
Check in with each other regularly, allowing for real feelings to be shared. Make the stress everyone is feeling part of the team’s ongoing conversations. Hiding and denying it won’t make it go away – rather this will increase the tension. Without open and honest communication, you don’t have a team. Here are examples of check-in questions.
Be sure to prioritize the safety needs of those who must work on-site and, as much as possible, provide technology support and upgrades for team members working remotely.
Finally, even as you find what works, coping with change and uncertainty will require ongoing adjustments, improvements, and new experiments.