How to Effectively Manage a Remote Nonprofit Team

4 min
women on video conference call
Robert Carnes

Much of organizational leadership is how you interface with people directly. So as remote work only continues to become more commonplace, business leaders have to adapt the way they manage their teams accordingly.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was already increasing by up to 400% in the global workforce since 2010. Nearly all workers (99%) view part-time remote work as a desirable part of their job. The pandemic only amplified the need and desire for flexible work options.

However, more than three-quarters of leaders (77%) have never managed a remote team before, and 40% of leaders have low confidence in their ability to manage a team remotely. Remote work isn’t new, but leaders are still learning to adapt their managerial skill sets.

As remote work continues, nonprofit leaders need to re-evaluate and reset some managerial habits and routines in order to guide their organizations into the future.

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Set Clear Expectations

The first step is to examine your nonprofit’s expectations when it comes to remote work. Revisit your employee manual and how it addresses working from home. Make updates to help guide current and future employees on what they can expect when working remotely.

More than a third of organizations (37%) lack a centralized way to manage remote processes. Establishing clear expectations upfront makes your job of leading the team easier.

  • Create basic etiquette for video meetings, like explaining when employees should turn on their web camera or mute their audio. 
  • Help employees set healthy boundaries around what hours of the day they should be working or checking email. 
  • Provide guidance around how your team schedules meetings, sends emails, or sets their hours (especially if you have team members in different time zones)
  • Recommend that employees use the delayed send feature in Gmail or Outlook so recipients aren’t getting emails in their off hours.

These guidelines should also address any technology or equipment needs of your employees. Ensure everyone has a computer and web camera they can use while at home. Ask your employees about their home WiFi to confirm they have the bandwidth to handle remote work.

Keep your team in the loop on these changes, use their questions and feedback to craft updates, and add them to your nonprofit’s internal documentation. Consider setting up a digital “suggestion jar” where employees can make requests or recommendations on what would help them be more productive.

Remember your team will follow the example of leadership—whether that means staying responsive and keeping healthy boundaries, or the opposite. Stick to your own guidelines to set an example for the rest of your organization to follow.

Establish Communication Channels

Setting clear expectations extends to your team’s communication channels. Most nonprofits use a combination of email, chat, project management tools, and video calls to handle remote connections.

There are nearly endless options for which tools to use and all have benefits. But without knowing the right tool to use for the right situation, the best technology in the world will only add more confusion rather than streamline your processes. 

Give every channel a purpose and clarify how team members should be using each one. Don’t be afraid to get granular with your details; for instance, you could set guidelines on how staff should appropriately tag specific channels in Slack so either all staff or just those online will receive a notification.

Video calls could be used when multiple people need to meet, with phone calls being preferred for two-person conversations. You might remind people that they should first ask the other person whether they’re available for a quick call before ringing them up.

Be consistent with how these channels are used and don’t be afraid to remind your team. This should help your team avoid missed messages and dropped balls. Focusing on clarity with your remote communication encourages connection across your organization.

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Allow for Flexibility

Working from home means different distractions depending on your colleagues’ home situations. However, 75% of employees say they’re actually less distracted when working from home.

Therefore, effectively managing a remote team requires flexibility. Flexibility with work-life balance is the primary reason why employees prefer remote work. Give your team the freedom they need to handle personal tasks. Understand where they’re coming from and have empathy.

However, set clear expectations to ensure everyone is getting their work done. For example, a team member may need to take a day off to watch a child home from school. They just need to let you know their plan and ensure their responsibilities are taken care of while they’re offline.

Almost a quarter of workers (23%) say they put in longer hours while working at home compared to the office. Nearly as many (22%) struggle with unplugging while working remotely. While this is great for productivity, make sure your team doesn’t burn out while you’re not watching. Check in with them to ensure they’re keeping healthy boundaries.

Don’t Neglect the Culture

One of the largest downsides to remote work is the hit to team culture. It’s more difficult to cultivate relationships and comradery without face-to-face interactions, but it’s certainly still possible. As the team’s leader, you just have to be more intentional about finding opportunities to connect.

Find ways to organically team-build and socialize from a distance. Ask your team what they’d be interested in doing and make them optional. Don’t force these interactions on the team or these won’t actually be fun.

The good news is that remote work is already shown to make employees happier and more satisfied with their work. But only 27% of leaders said that their organization had a strong remote culture. So capitalize on this positive energy and harness it into a more positive team.

Here are a few team-building ideas to get you started:

  • Do a virtual workout or yoga session together
  • Take an online pottery or painting class together
  • Invite your team to optionally join scheduled video calls 5 to 10 minutes early and spend that time chatting about casual, personal subjects before getting down to business
  • If you’re doing a virtual happy hour, have an activity or agenda ready to make it more engaging and interactive 
  • For a work-related development opportunity, consider attending a virtual conference together and share what you learned with one another

Consider regularly sharing tips on remote work and even mental health. That could mean posting articles or videos that offer relevant advice in a Slack channel. Offer up what you’re learning in your own remote work journey to build that connection with your team and make things easier on others.

Ultimately, the goal is to maintain trust throughout your remote team. When your team knows you care about their best interests, they’re more invested and engaged in the work they’re doing.

Know What This Means for the Future

Remote work isn’t going away, and how both the for-profit and nonprofit industries conduct business has permanently changed. While many are looking forward to returning to the office and seeing colleagues in person again, prepare to consider remote work as a part of your organization’s culture in some capacity.

Sixty-nine percent of nonprofits are planning to use remote work as a long-term solution. There’s even a nonprofit job board called NORE completely dedicated to remote work opportunities. The pandemic has taught us that we can manage these circumstances, and people will likely look for those benefits moving forward.

As remote work becomes a regular fixture in the workplace, use these tips to continue optimizing your nonprofit’s culture, team productivity, and employee retention.


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