Remote Work

Roundtable: How three nonprofits are building collaborative, remote workplaces

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The Asana for Nonprofit program provides eligible nonprofits with a 50% discount on Asana Premium or Asana Business.

Recently, a large portion of the world has transitioned from working in an office to working remotely. It’s been a tough transition for many teams, but especially for nonprofits as many are working on the frontlines of the crisis or have seen their financial and volunteer resources disappear nearly overnight. Now, in the midst of so much change, it’s more important than ever for these teams to stay connected and collaborate effectively.

In order to understand how nonprofits in particular have adapted to remote work, we reached out to three Asana customers to hear their stories. 

Here’s what these nonprofit CEOs shared.

What’s been the most challenging aspect of transitioning to remote work?

Amy Sample Ward, CEO NTEN

As an organization that has had a distributed team for most of our 20 years, the biggest initial challenge to working remotely has been balancing work with all the new demands of home life. The team is also taking care of their children, managing when to get groceries, and trying to ensure they aren’t working too much. 

The pandemic has also meant that our team will miss out on the two most significant times we get together in-person—hosting our annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, which we canceled, and our all staff planning meetings. Missing these two opportunities for the team to be together is especially hard when folks are isolated entirely. We have a daily meeting for everyone, as well as virtual lunches and happy hours. But nothing compares to the fun and energy of working collectively in-person. 

Rebecca Masisak, CEO TechSoup

Because we are a global nonprofit network with a distributed workforce, we already had a significant portion of our activities digitally enabled. However, the move to remote work for some of our customer support and accounting staff, used to working in smaller, local teams, took a few days to accomplish. This included ensuring every employee had the tools needed to successfully accomplish his or her role, from laptops to a secure internet connection.

Our teams worked diligently within just a few days of closing our office spaces to mobilize everyone at TechSoup to continue to serve the nonprofit community without many hiccups. We also do a lot of work that we typically do at the local community level with in-person gatherings, but that had to move to digital events or be postponed. We’ve been creatively approaching more training online and doing some workshops virtually.  

Danny Mendoza, Founder & CEO Together We Rise

The first challenge we had was switching our organization’s phone system to be virtual. We ended up switching to Google Voice numbers to allow us to get real-time calls.

A few other challenging components were deliveries and donations that were being sent to our office without people being there. We ended up keeping a few staff part-time in the office and utilized Asana to notify staff members when their shipments arrived.

Most of our staff did not have a work from home friendly environment and felt stuck in their homes. We ended up offering our staff to take extra monitors and chairs to help create a workspace at home until we had a more clear understanding of when this would all end. We also added in mandatory happy hours and FaceTime sessions twice a week with their teams to help the staff not feel isolated.

What has been surprisingly easy or natural as you’ve shifted to working from home?

Rebecca Masisak, CEO TechSoup

Our staff members re-enforced my faith with their dedication to help nonprofits do the important work in their own communities. It was easy to shift our business-as-usual resources for NGOs to also provide additional crisis-oriented information and resources including webinars, courses, and tips to continue operating through the pandemic.

Danny Mendoza, Founder & CEO Together We Rise

At Together We Rise, we have used Asana for workload management and weekly tasks so, when we transitioned into work from home, the only thing that changed primarily was that in person meetings went virtual.

What technology has made the transition easier or do you rely on now?

Amy Sample Ward, CEO NTEN

We actually haven’t made any technology changes. The tools we relied on before the pandemic are the same ones we use every day now. We have very minimal email internally as our messages, both general, shared, and one-on-one, are all in Slack. We use Asana for project management. Not just big formal projects—it’s where all workflows are tracked and managed by teams and individuals, from submitting your timesheet to yearly planning. And with the integration between Slack and Asana, teams get updates and can reply to projects within Slack without having to deal with lots of email notifications. 

Those two systems are essential for us every day of the year and, right now, they are helping us ensure that tasks don’t fall through the cracks as staff need to spend time shifting focus or working at different hours from each other. 

Rebecca Masisak, CEO TechSoup

Since we can’t have conversations around the “water cooler” anymore, we need to share information and communicate about the projects we are working on in a more transparent way. All the collaboration tools, including Asana, are needed so that we can be as efficient as possible. Efficiency for nonprofits has always been a must—and now more than ever—due to the nature of their mission.

What advice do you have for other nonprofits looking to improve how they collaborate remotely with their team and outside partners?

Amy Sample Ward, CEO NTEN

Be people-first in your decisions. Are your staff on a lot of video calls with partners, supporters, and program participants already? If some of your staff have tons of meetings, give them a break and have your meetings with videos off. This gives folks more space to pay attention without having to manage the mental load of all the visuals. On the other hand, do you have staff who are not on that many calls? If so, encourage these folks to use video as a team so they can see each other.

There’s no one right answer to anything right now, so stay people-first and check in with each other about what tools, approaches, and needs are the priority at that moment. And recognize that, in a people-first approach, the reality of what tools, procedures, and needs are appropriate may change. 

Rebecca Masisak, CEO TechSoup

After the initial push into remote working tools, we are finding the next needs are combatting screen fatigue and security issues. Creating policies that address both these issues is going to be key moving forward. Also, mobilizing experts for keeping data secure makes everyone feel safer and more confident in using remote tools. 

It’s also important to understand that staff may have multiple priorities during this time, including family, education, and self-care. Open communication and redundancies that may have seemed tiresome prior to COVID-19 now serve a greater purpose by ensuring everyone is heard and understood.

Danny Mendoza, Founder & CEO Together We Rise

Now, more than ever, it is important to track and manage your team’s work without having to micromanage. Finding a way to do so that is helpful and understanding will provide a sense of reassurance to your team. Everyone, for the most part, is concerned about the uncertainty of the economy, their health, and their job, so your leadership will ultimately decide the outcome for your organization.

More resources for nonprofits

Asana can help your team connect and collaborate while working remotely. Try it for free, or visit Asana for Nonprofits to apply for the Asana Nonprofit Discount. 

The Asana for Nonprofit program provides eligible nonprofits with a 50% discount on Asana Premium or Asana Business.

Special thanks to Amy Sample Ward (CEO NTEN), Rebecca Masisak (CEO TechSoup), and Danny Mendoza (CEO Together We Rise)

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