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May 12, 2021
What to Do When Your People Return to the Workplace
By Nancy Settle-Murphy

Nancy Settle-Murphy
Nancy Settle-Murphy

Returning to the office will look different to different nonprofits, and creating a level playing field for everyone—people working onsite and for those continuing to work remotely—will require careful planning.

The following should help.

  • Be explicit about who gets to work where, when and why. Make sure your remote work policy is well-thought-out, clearly-communicated and perceived as fair. If only some people are required to come in while others are allowed to work from home, explain the rationale.

  • Think “remote first” when creating norms for your hybrid-remote team. Even if just a minority of employees will work remotely, consider first how best to integrate remote workers into the flow of the rest of the team as you schedule meetings and agree on other communication protocols.

  • Consider locating leaders and executives outside of the main office. Having leaders work remotely helps reinforce the notion that the head office is no longer the epicenter of power or decision making, prevents senior leadership from conducting their work in ways that give preference to people working in close proximity, and helps leaders to better understand what tools, technologies, and training need to be prioritized to support remote-first workflows.

  • Agree on a consistent set of apps, tools and processes to create, access and share digital assets easily and quickly across the organization. This way, no one will have to delay their work as they scramble to find a needed document or verify it’s the latest version, something that can be a special burden for remote workers.

  • Rethink performance management methods and measurements. Consider giving more weight to the quality of output, versus the number of hours team members put in each week. Agree on expectations team leaders and members have of each other, and establish how best to report on progress and how frequently. Clarifying decision-making protocols is particularly important.

  • Agree on a window of time when everyone on the team will be accessible at the same time. For example, it might be that everyone must be available for a certain four-hour window for team meetings, customer calls, rapidly responding to emails or chats, or whenever when real-time collaboration is essential.

  • Establish team agreements about the use of multiple communication channels and level of responsiveness needed. Explicit team norms will be crucial here. For example, team members should agree the best uses of text, IM, their team portal, email, phone or video meetings as a rule.

  • Step up use of asynchronous communications for conversations and idea exchanges. This lets people start or join the conversation, post or answer questions, or ask for or offer help at any time, from anywhere.

  • Include remote employees in impromptu meetings. Those serendipitous conversations are vital for hatching new ideas, building relationships, and generating energy. For example, people can post or record relevant “aha’s” for those who could not be present, or send a text or chat to see if a remote team member can hop in for a few minutes.

  • Maintain virtual social gatherings. Invite those who work onsite to gather in one location or from their own workspace, with those joining remotely using video.

  • Maintain the habit of checking in frequently, regardless of location. Whether people have moved back to the office or remain working from home, don’t suddenly cut back on checking in, which can be a lifeline for many.

  • Provide equivalent perks for those outside the office. Consider the benefits that office workers enjoy, such as an onsite health club, occasional free meals, pizza, or birthday parties, coffee mugs, and other SWAG, and then think about how you might be able to provide the equivalent for remote employees.

  • Be a curator and connector for your team. Remote workers in particular may have a tough time finding the right information or the best people to connect with. Be proactive about suggesting resources or making connections on their behalf. Think about creating “mentor pairs” where team members with complementary skill sets and knowledge can learn from each other.

Nancy Settle-Murphy, president of Guided Insights, helps nonprofits design and run more productive meetings, whether face-to-face, virtual, or both. Email to

April 2021

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