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How to Effectively Manage A Remote Workforce

Working from home
Written by shailesh@civihr.org - 18 Sep 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

Gone are the days when working from home was a novelty. In the age of the internet, most organisations have recognised the benefits of remote working arrangements.

Gone are the days when working from home was a novelty. In the age of the internet, most organisations have recognised the benefits of remote working arrangements. Work from home can increase productivity, lower office expenses, and even enhance employee retention, among other things. However, this does not mean that remote working is always welcome. There are everyday challenges that make many organisations stay away from having a remote working team. In this article, we will look at some of these difficulties and discuss ways in which non-profits can overcome them.

There are three basic challenges in effectively managing remote work. The best way to ensure smoothly-running remote work is to think about them while initiating a remote work arrangement. But how? Let's dive into how non-profits can address these challenges while adopting remote work as a part of their culture.
 

Measuring Work Done

The first question that really worries a manager is: how do I know my work is getting done if I do not see someone in the office? It is not an outrageous concern. After all, how does a manager know if all the emails that were to be sent out to volunteers were indeed sent? Did the meeting between Tom and Alice conclude on the recruitment roadmap?

Answers to these questions are easy to get when the work is quantifiable i.e. measured against some number that is verifiable. If the task was to send emails to volunteers, a response such as "115 emails were sent and can be seen in the Sent Items folder" is irrefutable. The manager has no further worries. One has to take more caution in subjective matters though. While "Tom and Alice's meeting proposed a recruitment roadmap which is presented in this document" may sound like a task completed, it is actually the quality and completeness of the proposed roadmap that will determine whether the task was completed in spirit.

Objective, traceable, independent work items are best suited for remote work. If you can clearly describe a job as "Producing X amount of something", it can be effectively managed remotely. For other jobs, pure working from home may not be the best arrangement.

 

Collaborating With Remote Workers

The above-mentioned meeting between Tom and Alice is a bad candidate for remote work because of another reason - collaboration. IBM and Yahoo, one time advocates of remote work, have begun rolling back their policies because not all type of collaboration is done well over the internet. It may seem counter-intuitive that electronic communication is instantaneous, and yet lacking in collaboration. The answer here lies in the ‘power of presence’. The subtleties of human presence - the body language, the voice tone, the eye contact, the sense of seriousness and even humour - all help in creating an ‘experience’, as opposed to just ‘information’. If a team needs a debate or a brainstorm (i.e. an experience), personal meetings are the best. If a team needs a status report or a presentation demo (i.e. information), video conferencing can work well.

What does this mean to your remote work policy? Basically, judge for yourself what kind of collaboration your tasks need and whether remote team members can contribute well to them. Also think about splitting your task into two segments - one to be done remotely by individuals, and other to be done collaboratively in person. An example of the same can be designing a website - your team can come together and discuss, debate, and agree on a design, which can then be developed remotely by the technical team. The process can be done iteratively until the project is over.

 

Lack Of Feeling Of Cohesiveness And Trust

Maintaining healthy relations among remote workforces is a challenging task. An obvious answer is to keep everyone engaged and interacting with one another. This can be done via different technology platforms. Encourage team members to chat in Slack channels, ask for team meetings to take place over video-conferencing and not mere phone calls, or have Friday Fun online meetings for everyone to share some fun facts about them that week. The idea is to make everyone see everyone else as a 'person' and not just 'an email ID' or a 'phone number'.

We must note that such meetings are not an instantaneous catalyst in building people-to-people connections. At the onset, the meetings may seem burdensome, with people not knowing what to expect or how to contribute. With time, however, a certain culture will evolve, and one must ensure consistent efforts for the culture to sustain. In fact, such lack of consistency is often considered one of the reasons for IBM's failure to optimise its remote workforce.

 

The last tip to make all of the above work together is to offer remote work only to those individuals who are suitable for it. If someone lacks self-motivation, or needs someone else to handhold, or just loses focus every now and then, that person will not produce quality work, even if all of the above, and other similar best practices, are in place. So, go only with the right personality type!

Have you tried remote work practices in your organisation? What have been your experiences? We would love to hear from you!

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This post is the next in the series of addressing specific challenges non-profits face, and builds on top of the earlier post on managing volunteers.

How to Address Top 3 Volunteer Management Challenges

Volunteers for non-profits
Written by shailesh@civihr.org - 11 Sep 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

As non-profits, we all will agree that volunteer management is both a necessity and a challenge. It is difficult to recruit volunteers, assign them tasks appropriate to their skills and interests, and even track their attendance and work.

As non-profits, we all will agree that volunteer management is both a necessity and a challenge. It is difficult to recruit volunteers, assign them tasks appropriate to their skills and interests, and even track their attendance and work. And all this under the perpetual constraints of time and resources! Well, we all agree on this, but when did we take a step back to see what challenges our volunteers face when working with us? Read on to know why this is important and how to address this often-ignored aspect of volunteer management.

 

Understanding Volunteers’ Outlook

To get to the bottom of the challenges, let's look at things from the perspective of volunteers. Volunteers, as the name suggests, are well-meaning individuals ready to contribute in a non-profit’s efforts. There is often no financial compensation or any other reward. Their time commitment is not comparable to that of full-time employees, and is spread over a wider time frame. This means that volunteers develop a particular outlook towards their work with you, and herein lie the challenges!

 

Challenge 1: Feeling of Being Undervalued

Volunteers are loosely connected to your work and need to be told what to do. Owing to their low time commitment, you find it challenging to offer them large, more involved pieces of work. This suggests that motivating factors such as decision making and leadership are well out of scope. Under such situations, volunteers often end up doing menial jobs.

To prevent this, an effective solution is to communicate in greater details. When new volunteers show interest, reach out to them immediately. Long response times may discourage them. When volunteers show up, explain the work to them in an organised fashion. A pre-written list of instructions or a small introduction video will both save your efforts, as well as get volunteers up to speed faster. Further, ask them for suggestions and genuinely deliberate over them to see if you can improve your practices in any way. And of course, thank and appreciate them for their work!

All of these will make the volunteers more involved, despite limited time engagement.

 

Challenge 2: Volunteer Burnout

An aspect closely related to the above challenge is volunteer burnout. It is often seen that the same volunteers that were enthusiastic in the beginning, end up looking dull over time. Opportunities for growth and variety in tasks are seldom possible. Couple that with regular sessions and you have exhausted volunteers, if they still choose to volunteer.

To keep things moving, it is important to space out volunteer sessions. Can you change a weekly engagement to a bi-weekly engagement, by getting more volunteers? Can you rotate volunteers across different work items, to keep them interested? Can you be flexible with your time requirements and schedule? Can you allow volunteers to work from home, for suitable tasks? Can you arrange for a volunteer-exchange program with your/another non-profit in a different city?

Really, you may not need more than one or two of such ideas to keep your volunteers interested and to prevent burnout.

 

Challenge 3: Lack of Team Working Spirit

Volunteers necessarily work on smaller tasks and thus lack much interaction with regular staff. This creates a feeling of isolation. While this is an intrinsic constraint with any volunteer arrangement, there are ways in which volunteers can be made part of a team - if not with the full-timers, but among themselves.

The idea is to generate a sense of community, and there is no one way of doing it. Create a monthly ideas-exchange forum in which volunteers can share their experience and inspire one another. The interaction doesn't have to be formal - they can share simple, everyday stories and create a human connection. If you have little time, you can at least get started by creating a volunteer-only group on Facebook or WhatsApp, and set the ball rolling.

Just let them share their ideas, attitudes, ethos... do it however you like! Connections among volunteers will go a long way in creating a strong community.

 

Now that you have some idea of volunteers’ concerns, re-look into your current programmes and see how you can improve them. And of course, keep reading our blog to see more pragmatic ideas on improving your non-profits operations. Until next time, happy volunteer-managing!

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This post is the next in the series of addressing specific challenges non-profits face and builds on top of the earlier post on recruiting the right talent.

 

How to Acquire the Right Talent

Acquire Talent Interview
Written by shailesh@civihr.org - 03 Sep 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

Non-profits have always faced the challenge of acquiring top talent. Most professionals look at the non-profit sector as a temporary arrangement. This, along with financial constraints, makes hiring a critical task.

Non-profits have always faced the challenge of acquiring top talent. Most professionals look at the non-profit sector as a temporary arrangement. This, along with financial constraints, makes hiring a critical task.

Specifically, what are a few aspects that non-profits are most concerned about? The 2018 Nonprofit Talent Management Priorities Survey provides some valuable insights. The survey was taken by a diverse range of non-profits and throws light on top talent management concerns and priorities for the sector in 2018. As revealed in the survey, the number one priority for the sector is strengthening capacity around hiring practices. Through our detailed research, we learned that the following three challenges are at the core of the talent crisis.

Seeking the Unicorn

Nonprofits often lack specialised work to fill a full-time employee's time throughout the week. Requirements such as "I need a website programmer, who can also provide some support in volunteer scheduling" are frequently posted. Finding such a match, let alone finding the perfect match, is inherently difficult.

Solution

A workable solution is to engage specialist part-timers to deal with specialised tasks. Not only will this ensure a higher quality of work, but it will also lead to a longer term solution. This approach may result in a bit of managerial overhead in the beginning, but once the process rolls out smoothly, it is easy to keep it going.

Hiring for Intention

The non-profit world is a magnet that attracts well-meaning individuals. Given various constraints that hamper hiring initiatives, non-profit HRs are likely to provide opportunities to individuals who are "in it to make a change". As noble as it sounds, this practice may not yield desired benefits if the individual hired lacks required job skills.

Solution

It is best to make any hiring based on required skills, judged with live assignments. If you want help with accounting, ask to make a profit-loss statement; if you need a social media expert, look for someone who has already run a blog. Yes, you may need to invest some time in choosing the right assignment or interview questions, but the benefits will go longer than the pain.

Relying Solely on Job Portals

Posting requirements on job portals is the best way to look for talent; isn't it? Not always. As stated above, many professionals take up non-profit jobs as a career detour, to eventually exit, as soon as a higher paying opportunity comes along. Unless your job portal is specially designed for non-profit jobs, it may not present a good return on your time and efforts.

Solution

Word of mouth, professional groups, personal network - all can lead to a good match. Be creative and proactive in looking for talent. It may even attract top professional talent looking for a rewarding opportunity to contribute to society. So keep looking for your next marketing ninja!

 

Sure, the above plan required a bit of planning. If you find yourself struggling with a particular aspect, always seek help from a professional recruiter, who may be able to guide you, or get the work done for you. Don't, however, compromise on the quality of talent hired, because a non-profit is as good as the people that run it.

Do try the above at work and let us know what you think. We would love to hear other ideas as well.

About CiviHR

CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere.

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CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere. 

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