According to the 2018 NTEN Digital Adoption Report, 41% of nonprofit staff telecommute, work from home, or do much of their work outside the office. And this trend is only growing. Remote teams may seem really exciting due to lower overhead, the promised increased productivity, and the flexibility for employees to work where they are most comfortable, but they also have their challenges. The potential for miscommunication is at the top of the list, followed closely by the lack of a close, trusting environment that is typically born from folks regularly meeting face-to-face. Despite these challenges, people can work great as a remote team, but only if you build the right culture to support remote workers to effectively collaborate and accomplish their goals.
If your nonprofit doesn’t yet embrace remote work, there’s no time like the present to beef up the way your team and department communicate, report to one another, and stay accountable. Building up this culture at your organization will make sure you’re ready and able to accommodate a team of remote workers.
Already on the remote bandwagon? Creating a culture where everyone feels safe, knows what their roles are, and are able to work together effectively is the name of the game. After all, joining a new remote team or working with one for the first time can be enormously rewarding and exciting, but also a little daunting.
In order to successfully “team” remotely at your nonprofit, there are six things you need to do:
1. Build Trust & Respect Quickly
Having a code of conduct helps set the stage for a safe environment to work within; one where everyone comes to the table knowing what their role is, who they’re supported by, and that their teammates would never aim to humiliate or punish one another for mistakes. Remote teams that are able to jump into action the fastest are those that assume:
- The right people for the job are on the team and
- Each person is bringing something unique to the table that the team as a whole may need to succeed.
2. Participate in Constructive Conflict
Things aren’t always peachy keen all the time, especially when work is important and the stakes are high. There will be times when there is conflict or disagreement, which is an important part of this process and makes teams stronger in the end.
When conflict arises, the most successful teams focus their debate on the work in front of them, not on personal attacks or emotional responses. If they hold respect for one another, it’s easier to take a step back and see a perspective they may not have seen before. You must encourage the successful resolution to inevitable disagreements by having someone who can facilitate these difficult conversations and open people up to learning from conflict and, most importantly, moving forward with alignment and understanding.
3. Embrace Small Failures
We all have a natural desire to avoid failure, as it’s emotionally painful. We also know that most of our lessons come from failure, and sometimes mistakes are unavoidable. Teams who embrace small failures quickly readjust and keep going, enabling them to take necessary risks. They’re able to problem-solve and troubleshoot faster, rather than dwelling on failures and pointing fingers. Teams who turn against each other during rough patches quickly devolve, become unproductive, and further derail important initiatives.
4. Consistently Support One Another
Each member on your nonprofit team is incredibly important to your success and impact, and subject matter experts should consistently look for ways to make team members’ lives easier and communicate this to the members being affected. This might look like:
- Development/Fundraising staff who ensure that program staff are in the loop regarding what impact metrics are needed for funder reports, and helping to track those down;
- IT leaders who flag and solve technical challenges, giving weekly updates on how they’re addressing these;
- Board members who share ideas and point out challenges, but then get involved and follow-up to help implement solutions they also recommend; and
- Marketing staff who share response rates from a recent email campaign with fundraisers and board members so they know which messages resonate best with funders.
Team members who adjust their work based on the needs of others are able to keep their work moving, while empowering their teammates to do the best job possible along the way.
5. Successfully Distribute Leadership
Distributed leadership feels like a loaded word when you’re coming from a traditional top-to-bottom organizational hierarchy. Shared leadership requires trust and respect above all else, which ultimately translates to self-awareness and knowing when to speak up and say “I don’t know.” Individuals who complete their work on-time, to spec, and with consistent and reliable communication keep projects moving. Lapses in reliability are the gateway to teams falling apart. Once teammates feel that someone can no longer be trusted to deliver on their part of the work, the dynamic begins to unravel. Empower your team to be open and honest about these areas in team meetings or one-on-ones. You can start by being the example yourself.
6. Consider Team Success Vs. Individual Success
Pay attention to the language you’re using when interacting with the team as a whole, and strive to create an inclusive environment with “we” language instead of “I.” Ultimately, individuals simply cannot succeed unless the team does, too. Teams who focus more on giving credit rather than seeking it understand the exponential impact of the group as a whole.
Building the right culture on your remote team—one in which respect and trust form the foundation; leadership is distributed; conflict, failures, and mistakes are embraced as learning opportunities; and the focus is on team success—creates the conditions for a highly successful and rewarding experience for your team and cause.
Hey everyone! I’m the Co-Founder and CEO at Wethos, and I have made it my mission to empower strategic organizations committed to positive social impact. As an activist and former advertising creative, I’ve been featured in the New York Times, on NBC, and on stage at Politico for breaking the silence on a culture of sexism and sexual harassment in tech. I believe that now more than ever people must speak up for what is right. If you have any questions or are interested in hiring a specialized team for your next important initiative, I’d love to chat.