In this blog, first published by Digital Leaders on 16th March 2020, Zoe Amar, Charity Marketing and Digital Communications Expert and Freelance Consultant, discusses how organisations and business can help staff adjust to remote working. 

Just a few weeks ago most small talk in Britain was about the weather. “Are you working from home yet?” has replaced that. Coronavirus has made going into the office feel like the exception rather than the rule. It’s a sign of the unsettling times we live in that this most humdrum of activities, the daily commute, feels strange. 

Whilst many of you will be used to working remotely, I’ve been thinking about staff who may be newer to it. People are understandably anxious at the moment, and if they’re also adjusting to new ways of working and potentially self-isolating that is a lot to ask of them. Hardest of all is that no-one knows how long this will last. 

I ran a quick poll on Twitter last week and 53% of the charities I heard from are ready to work remotely and just under a third were getting ready, which is positive. Having the right tech in place is however just one aspect of successful remote working. If we are to take staff with us through this change then we need to understand where they are at with digital skills, attitudes and behaviours – something that is top of mind for me as part of The Charity Digital Skills Report survey we are currently running. 

How can we help staff adjust to new ways of operating? I asked non-profit leaders to share their views. I think these ideas will be useful in any sector. 

  • Find ways to help staff feel connected. Getting the right tech in place is key (CAST have shared excellent advice on this) but going from working in an office to working alone can be a shock. Edward Walden, Digital Transformation Officer at Power to Change, advocates setting up remote office spaces via video conferencing where colleagues can work side by side, similar to having neighbouring desks in an office. Walden warns, ‘Some people struggle a bit with understanding that it isn’t a meeting – that the space does not need to be filled with communication – that instead, it’s a window to the team or a work buddy that is there if you need it.’ Partnering colleagues in your team up for a regular slot each day will help them stay close. 
  • Create a virtual office culture. Think about why people like where you work. Is it the friendly banter? Or the way people take an interest in how you are? Look at where you can use digital to reinforce your organisation’s beliefs and behaviours. 

Emily Casson, Digital Marketing Manager at Cats Protection shared how she does this. 

  • Help staff look after their mental health and wellbeing. Charity staff are incredibly committed to and passionate about their work, which makes us liable to burnout. Encouraging staff to take care of their wellbeing will be vital to helping them thrive.

Vishnee Sauntoo, Head of Communications at Age International advises her team to, ‘Create a good space at home, a table and comfortable chair – you are going to be there all day but also remember to take breaks every hour and get up.’ 

Russell Findlay, CEO of Speakers Trust asks staff to set boundaries. 

The Mental Health Foundation has produced a guide on coronavirus which you might want to share with your team. It’s inspired me to ask my team what they’re going to do to look after themselves, and where I can help. 

  • Create structure. Losing the routine of office life can be disorientating but leaders can help teams find a shared rhythm. Dominic Atkinson, CEO of Stay Nimble, organises setting ceremonies.  He says, “The start of the week is ‘3 things’ each of us is aiming to achieve for the week. End of the week is individual “highlight of the week”. We do this via video (Slack or Zoom).’ This gives staff a sense of community and progress. Frequent and clear communication will help reassure colleaguesand set expectations for remote working. 

Jane Ide, CEO of Navca, told me how she does this. 

Digital platforms can be useful for giving staff consistent information . Rachel Miller, Director at All Things IC says, “I advise creating advice and guidance as a credible source of truth your people can refer to e.g. a section of your intranet that focuses on remote working, which gives them the latest information and invites discussion and questions.’  

  • Celebrate success. This may feel odd at a time like this, but recognising wins, however small, will help staff feel motivated, which in turn will improve productivity. Heather Black, CEO of Supermumsrecommends, ‘creating an online community using tools such as Chatter, Quip or Slack can be used to communicate achievements, share problems and plan actions to keep dialogue open.’ We’ve started having weekly virtual stand ups on Slack at the organisation I run, and it unites people around shared goals and challenges. 

We’re in tough times but moving staff over to remote working may be an opportunity to help colleagues do things differently. We can all learn from each other about how to embrace change. 

Share your views on the digital leadership issues affecting charities in The Charity Digital Skills Report. All responses must be received by midnight 3 April.  

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