7 Ways to Improve Virtual Nonprofit Work Culture

With COVID-19 continuing to plague the state, and the timeline for everyone getting vaccinated still months away, it looks like we will be working from home for the foreseeable future. And I don’t know about you, but working virtually from a one bedroom apartment can sometimes be exhausting. Fortunately, my nonprofit has implemented seven practices for improving our team culture that could transfer to your nonprofit:

1. Limit Video Meetings: In the beginning of the switch to working from home, my nonprofit was doing several video meetings a week to compensate for not meeting in person. However, as the months wore on and everything became virtual—the legislative session, board meetings, committee meetings, stakeholder calls, team meetings, information sessions—we all became tired of video conferencing.

To curb our Zoom/Google Meets exhaustion, we started to limit the number of video meetings that we were having by asking ourselves if the information could be relayed in an email or phone call instead. And if the meeting must happen, we are more explicit about setting agendas, the time allotment, giving personal care breaks, and allowing people to call in instead.

2. Virtual Team Lunches: We all miss seeing and chatting with our colleagues about things that have nothing to do with work. To get some of that comradery back, we have done a few team lunches where we hop on Google Meets (I know I said limit video meetings, but this is fun!) and just chat for an hour about politics, books, music, movies, and life!

3. Encourage Work-Life Balance: With the shift to working virtually, everyone’s homes have now become their office and workspace. Couple that with the deterioration of a “normal” work day, and you have a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, our executive director and my manager are very explicit about encouraging work-life balance by encouraging us to take our PTO and setting norms around when to send and when not to send communications like emails and Slack messages. Calling this out and setting expectations around communication has helped all of us with being thoughtful about work-life balance.

4. Quick Question? Hop on the Phone!: Sometimes things can get lost in translation. You send a Slack message with a question and then three people reply, and before you know it you’re more confused than when you started. If you have a question that could be answered with a quick phone call, then do it. This cuts through miscommunications that can happen with text and saves your whole team from confusion!

5. Be Explicit About Giving Out Praise: Not being together in the office cuts down on opportunities to give out praise to a coworker for a job well done. My team has created a “shoutouts'' Slack Channel that we use to dole out praise to our coworkers for being their awesome selves and we are mindful about recognizing the accomplishments of our colleagues when we have team meetings. For me personally, I also like to send my team members personal notes to let them know that I appreciate them. In times when people can feel isolated, it’s important to let them know that you value them and the work they are doing.

6. Extend Grace: Even though this has been our new norm for a few months, this reality is anything but standard. Some of my colleagues have children who are doing distance learning, others have dogs, some live in houses, others live in apartments, and I personally have an adorable, and at times loud, cat. My point? Extend grace. If a colleague needs to go on mute to talk to their kids, let them. If a coworker needs to not be on video for that day because they aren’t feeling it or they are eating a meal, let them. Part of being a good team player right now is understanding people’s circumstances and meeting them where they’re at.

7. Use Survey Data For Continuous Improvement: I love my job, my team and the nonprofit I work for, but we aren’t perfect and we can always improve our team culture. I am so appreciative that our leadership does anonymous team surveys that ask us questions like, “At work, my opinions seem to count” and ““in the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise.” By keeping the survey anonymous it encourages us to be honest about how we are feeling, and then we debrief the results as a team which creates the opportunity for us to voice our concerns or areas for praise, as we feel comfortable. Then we come up with ways that we can improve as a team, and then hold each other accountable to doing it.

Through adopting and implementing these practices, my nonprofit has seen a positive shift in our workplace culture that has made working virtually through this pandemic a lot more productive and enjoyable. I hope you found some of these practices helpful and that you’re all safe! And don’t forget to #MaskUpMN!

Krista Kaput | @MinneKrista

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