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October 26, 2021
 
Building Inclusive Nonprofit Teams in the Hybrid Workplace
By Bob Greene

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

Many of the practices that nonprofits adopted to foster resilient teams during the coronavirus pandemic still apply, but as they implement or extend hybrid work arrangements those organizations will face new challenges.

One of the greatest drawbacks of working remotely in the emerging ”new normal” is how easy it is for individuals to become ‘lost in space’ and disconnected from each other. Because it is much easier to interact with someone in the same physical space, the potential for those who work remotely to be excluded in a hybrid scenario is greater than when everyone is remote.

Furthermore, having some team members working in-person while others are remote can aggravate in-group and out-group patterns that may already exist. For example, people are essentially hard-wired to focus most attention on those near us (proximity bias) and with those we feel more similar to (affinity bias). Therefore individuals working together in-person may interact much more, build stronger relationships, and have greater influence on a team then colleagues working remotely.

Constant attention to inclusion is essential to ensure that those who work remotely, either by choice or necessity, are fully engaged in the team’s work. With these concerns in mind, here are a few suggestions for leaders and all team members:

Check-in and connect frequently

It's essential for team leaders to regularly check-in with each direct report – it’s all too easy to focus on those physically close to the leader and connect less with those who are remote. Brief, but more frequent, check-ins are better than letting time pass and issues build up. When checking-in, confirm top work priorities and review progress. Check on all team members’ well-being. Do they have everything they need? Do they have questions?

Opportunities for all team members to connect are vital. As a group create a schedule for all-team meetings where everyone needs to be available at the same time, whether they are in-person or remote.

Some teams have had success with quick daily go-rounds to touch base, identify any priorities everyone should know about, and check-in at a human level on how folks are doing. Encourage team members to speak up and raise questions and concerns, rather than keep their stress and worries bottled-up. Be sure to clarify safety protocols for team members working on-site.

Assess priority results, not face-time

Leaders must make sure that reviewing performance focuses on priority results that have been discussed and clearly identified. Be careful to resist the temptation to equate someone physically in the office or logged-in to the network on a set schedule as necessarily being productive. Because scheduling flexibility is a quality of most remote and hybrid workplaces, everyone needs to be clear on what results and standards will be the basis for performance assessment – other than just ‘showing up.’

It’s essential for leaders to prioritize what work absolutely needs to be done and ensure that the workload is reasonable. Even during a crisis, when nonprofits want to do so much to help, excessive expectations leading to burnout don’t help anyone in the long run. Work assignments must take into account employees’ well-being and a realistic assessment of organizational resources.

Facilitate inclusive meetings

Most of what we’ve learned about virtual meetings applies to hybrid gatherings, but remote participants are much easier to miss. Intentional planning and facilitation that pays special attention to remote participants is called for. Start with a clear, timed agenda that’s shared before the meeting. Identify co-facilitators, where one person focuses on the technology, e.g., making sure everyone is set up, sharing visuals, and monitoring the chat. Remote participants can then chat directly with the tech co-facilitator if they have a question or trouble hearing.

When opening a discussion, make a point to call on those who are remote. Conversations just between those who are in-person exclude remote participants, so bring the side conversations to the center for everyone to engage in. You may even consider having everyone participate remotely (e.g., everyone uses Zoom or Teams), even those who are co-located, as this puts all participants on the same playing field.

After the meeting send a message to everyone summarizing all important decisions to ensure that everyone has the same understanding. And pay attention to out-of-meeting ‘water-cooler’ conversations. If they start to go deep, pause and consider who else should be part of the conversation before going any further.

In sum, for leaders and teams, the successful movement toward hybrid work requires flexibility, creativity, and constant attention to inclusion – qualities that continue to be crucial in general for meeting the challenge of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

Bob Greene, principal of Bob Greene Coaching, helps foster collaboration, creativity, and effectiveness through individual coaching and team development. Contact him at Bob@BGCoach.net.

September 2021

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