Weathering COVID-19’s Disruptions for Your Nonprofit Team

So, Now What? Reflections from TSNE.

The consulting team at TSNE recognizes that we are all living through a challenging time, and that operational, financial, and emotional disruptions paired with uncertainty about what will happen next is creating complexity for us all. Our goal in sharing this and future resources is to use our team’s expertise and experience to help make the way forward a little clearer for nonprofits.

So, Now What?

Collaboration and partnership with your team and direct reports as we adjust (and re-adjust!) to a new normal

Many of us spent the last two weeks scrambling to figure out how to operate, if at all, in the face of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic. For some of us, that meant closing our offices and sending staff to work from home. For others, it meant finding ways to continue to deliver essential services while protecting staff and clients. Still others had to make the difficult choice to suspend operations altogether, and furlough or lay off staff. We empathize with you all — these are all hard decisions to have to make.

Today, we’d like to share some reflections and resources for nonprofits in the first two groups — for those of you who have staff working from home, or who have staff who are still out in the world delivering key services. These recommendations are based on our experiences and on our own values as consultants — including a commitment to partnership and collaboration and efforts to promote equity. 

1. Reach out, connect with, and support your team and direct reports.

Mutually respectful, trusting relationships between staff and supervisors, as well as among peers, is almost always the key to finding a healthy way through challenges. That is only truer now, as together we face the personal and professional disruption caused by COVID-19. With many of us working remotely, how can we build and maintain these relationships?

  • Stay in regular contact. Even if you don’t have anything to report or work to collaborate on, check in with one another regularly.
  • If you aren’t already in the habit, use video conferencing technology as much as possible. Actually seeing one another while you converse helps people connect more deeply.
  • Look to coworkers who have experience working remotely. This may be an opportunity to build or strengthen connections between people who work in the office and those who regularly work remotely.
  • Don’t limit contact to business. Check in regularly on a personal level.

2. Recognize how this experience will impact people, and understand that it will impact different people in different ways at different times. Think equity rather than equality.

Now more than ever it is critical to recognize that we are all unique beings. How people respond to change, stress and uncertainty varies tremendously. There isn’t a “right” way to approach this situation. Make room for one another to respond in their own ways, recognize that where any of us is today emotionally isn’t necessarily where we’ll be tomorrow, or even later in the day. Remember that our personal histories and cultural context impact our approaches to challenges as well.

  • Different people handle change differently. This experience can look different for everyone. Some people adapt readily, others are anxious. And this feeling is fluid! It's okay to feel differently from day to day.
  • Understand that people will also approach work differently. This is a time to lead with empathy. Set realistic expectations, convey patience and understanding, and be flexible.

3. Considerations for managing ongoing change.

For many of us, uncertainty is hard. Knowing what is coming is what allows us to plan and feel secure — so moments like this can feel like we’ve had the rug pulled out from underneath us. Leaders have an important role to play in helping your teams and direct reports navigate this. Here are some things to consider.

  • Validate people’s feelings. It can be tempting to encourage folks to “look on the bright side”, but in moments like these, it is important to validate folks’ experiences by listening deeply and acknowledging what they are going through.
  • Resist the urge to create false certainty.  Be honest with your team that you don’t have all the answers now — while it can be hard to hear, they will respect you for it.
  • Create certainty where you can. Commit to sending out a daily email update, establish a regular 15-minute check-in call, and if you don’t have the answers, be clear about what you will do when you do have them.

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