3 Considerations: How We Operate Effectively as a Virtual Organization

By Christina Jackson Scott, She Should Run Chief of Staff
March 16, 2020
Topics: Operations

It’s the start of another 'normal' workweek for us here at She Should Run. I’m calling it 'normal' only in the sense that, unlike most, we have not had to shut our doors in the name of containment, or had to scramble to create and implement work-from-home policies to do our part in social distancing. For years She Should Run has operated as a fully remote organization, with the majority of our employees logging on to get things done each day from their home offices in different states nationwide. In this regard, we started today business as usual.

But I’ll be honest, I’m feeling the weight of my leadership position right now in a very different way than I have before.

As many of you undoubtedly did, I began today with my regular Monday-energy cocktail of optimism for the week’s possibilities mixed with the anxious energy of a fast pace toward meeting expansion and big impact goals with limited capacity and resources. All compounded exponentially by the social and economic uncertainties we’re currently facing. Directives from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are changing hourly and every employer is having to adapt and shift plans in real-time, the best way we know how.

So I’m grateful that figuring out how to remain effective while working remotely is one less challenge that She Should Run has to face right now.

Partners in the space who know us as a remote organization have reached out to us during this time for guidance, and now I’m sharing with you. Here are three remote work environment considerations that we’ve learned along the way, and are leaning even more into during this time of crisis.

Cost

No matter if you’re a not-for-profit or a for-profit, expenses are a driving factor in any business decision. As your organization grows (or if it’s just starting out, with limited capital as was the initial motivator for She Should Run), operating with a remote work policy can drastically reduce an organization’s overhead costs. The math is simple: no physical office to maintain and change means no rent, furniture, utilities, supplies, or other expenses that come with being in a physical space.

Your employees will also likely save money by eliminating their commute, saving on food costs (they’re less likely to eat out for lunches and snack breaks), and having to buy and maintain less ‘work’ clothes.

For many right now, we’ve also restricted employee travel until further notice. This has required that we move quickly to re-design our planned in-person activities into virtual experiences, but it will also save us from those flight, hotel, and food costs that we can now redirect into implementing our work more creatively.

Connection

This is critical.

Even in a stable environment, with high employee satisfaction, remote employees struggle with feeling disconnected from an overall organizational culture. There aren’t any organic opportunities for hallway conversation, spontaneous group lunch plans, or popping into someone’s office to ask a quick question or bond over the weird thing someone just said in that team meeting.

You can’t ignore this additional layer of management. Nurturing remote employee engagement and satisfaction requires that you be intentional (and creative) in creating these opportunities to build community virtually.

For example, we’ve implemented a company policy to use Slack, an instant messaging platform to communicate quick one-offs (versus email), and have what we call a “Random” channel where we can have non-work related chat conversations whenever we need a mental break. On any given day, you’ll find a meme of someone’s pet in a Halloween costume or shared photos from a family weekend. We also require full-team meetings to take place over video conferencing so we can see each other’s faces with full attention while collaborating, versus just a voice over the phone. We’ve kicked-off a monthly virtual brown bag, where we get together with our own lunches for an hour and fellowship over a fun topic.

More recently we’ve made time for short video team huddles throughout the week to touch bases on how we’re all being impacted (and distracted) right now. Always remind yourself that there is a person on the other side of that work product that shows up in your inbox, and take the time to reach out to remote employees for no reason but to say ‘hello’ and experience some human connection.

Communication

Which leads us to communication. There’s (almost) never too much communication in a remote organization. Internally, effective communication provides visibility and accountability for work plans, and ensures there is alignment among business functions. It’s easy enough for silos to form in a physical workspace, and it’s that much easier for them to form in a virtual workspace.

Use different communications platforms for different purposes (e.g. Slack for quick connection, email for formal approvals, and shared documents for collaborative planning). This requires creating some guidelines and norming, but once everyone gets the hang of managing each platform, it becomes second nature.

Also, respect each other’s communication styles. Some people prefer a phone call to an email explanation for status updates. Some prefer a text message to an instant message. Learn your team members’ preferences and communicate accordingly.

And know that when there are real disruptions to our physical, emotional, and financial well-being, effective communication should look different. While some are coping by frequently sharing funny cat gifs in the “Random” Slack channel trying to lighten the mood, others may need to put up a status update of “Uninterrupted Work Time” just to better focus through these days.

 

Cost, connection, and communication are just a few factors to consider as many of us are being forced into virtual work environments. While many of us are feeling an array of emotions during this time, stress from navigating a new working style doesn’t have to be part of the equation. Working in this new way, even if only temporarily, requires extra thought and planning upfront, but is 100% achievable and will ultimately strengthen all of our ability to remain effective and healthy.

In order to continue running successfully as a remote organization in this time of uncertainty, She Should Run needs your support. If you can, please contribute towards helping to keep our virtual doors open and the fight for equal representation alive. 

Image source: VectorStock

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