We are living in a time like no other. The uncertainty that we face because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis has created a new norm for us personally and professionally. Many people have never had the experience of working remotely. Seeing colleagues in the hallways or breakroom and experiencing the energy of an office environment is invigorating and allows for constant communication with colleagues. The transition from office to remote may not be easy for some. There are things that can be done, however, to assist in this adjustment and continue to be both productive and energized. In some ways, if properly planned, remote work can allow for greater productivity.
For more than seven years, I managed individuals who worked remotely and were extremely effective in their roles. The following advice is built on that experience and best practices from colleagues and friends in the industry.
Begin with on-boarding. We scheduled a day or two for remote advancement officers to meet key members of the organization. See my colleague Michael Vann’s article, On-boarding in a Virtual Environment, for more detail on effective on-boarding in a virtual environment.
Stay connected. I would have advancement officers travel back to our home base at least once each quarter. In a virtual environment, this may not be possible, so I recommend that remote officers participate in full-team meetings at least monthly. Another important part of their on-site time was meetings with key leaders outside of advancement. In a virtual environment, remote employees should have monthly interactions with senior administrative leaders as well as senior programmatic leaders such as deans, chief curators, chief medical officers, and so on. This keeps them aware of and connected to the front lines of the organization’s work. One benefit of virtual work is that engagement with non-remote colleagues and leaders need not be jammed into one or two days each month; these meetings can be spread across the month, further reducing potential for feelings of isolation.
Maintain productivity. Your standard dashboards will show some elements of the productivity of remote officers, but the quality of that productivity will only be understood in weekly interaction between remote employees and their supervisors. Some interaction can be handled by email and phone, but supervisors should plan for at least one weekly video call. The right combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics will also be an asset to the remote employee. Like in any other position, clear agreement on three to five key deliverables can help remote employees focus their efforts and be more efficient in their work.
Create a virtual watercooler. When they are not on site, regular conference and/or video calls will provide advancement officers the chance to stay both physically and emotionally connected to their respective organizations. Staying emotionally connected to colleagues is something that is often not emphasized enough. Remote employees are often overlooked, for example, when personal and professional news circulates through an office. Regular check-in meetings with supervisors and other colleagues help to fill this gap and keep remote employees connected to the organization while also building loyalty. Set aside time in these discussions for “watercooler” news in addition to updates on business.
Visit remote staff on their own turf. Managers should also take the time to visit with advancement officers at their location. Once a year, I spent a full day with those who reported to me. Often these days included visits with donors and prospective donors where I could provide added value in gift and stewardship discussions. In a virtual environment, allow time for remote team members to share their physical environments with colleagues—whether that be information on new event venues or restaurants that might be of interest to team members traveling to the region, or introductions to new pets in the household.
Create infrastructure. Managers should also pay attention to the logistics of working remotely and ensure that simple, yet critically important daily needs are met. For example, remote employees rely on having technology that works; tech support professionals in the organization should be available to ensure any disruptions are minimized, and full training is provided. Making sure that remote employees have access to other campus resources is also critical to their success. Having a support staff member on site who is assigned to remote officers can, for example, remove frustrations associated with trying to handle reimbursement of travel expenses and scheduling appointments from a distance.
While this crisis has forced many of us to think about remote working environments for employees for the first time, I would suggest that it gives advancement leaders an opportunity to consider the benefits of long-term remote work, beyond COVID-19. Many highly qualified advancement professionals are tied to specific geographical locations or even to working from their homes for a wide variety of personal reasons, ranging from family obligations to physical limitations. Building remote opportunities into your planning expands the pool of talent available to your team.