Should Your Nonprofit Adopt Remote Work Permanently?

If your not-for-profit's staffers can work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, they probably are. But what about when the crisis ends?

As workers have become accustomed to remote work, many now prefer it. In fact, several recent surveys have found that approximately half of U.S. employees would rather work from home. This is particularly true of parents with younger children. Many employers also like remote work. They're finding that employees are as productive — if not more productive — now. And if staffers remain at home after the pandemic ends, your organization may be able to break its office lease or sell its facility and save a bundle on operational costs.

Before you take that step, however, consider what the costs and risks may be.

Potential Disadvantages

One possible downside to permanent remote work is the loss of personal interaction. Some leaders of organizations that have successfully transitioned to remote working acknowledge that "something's missing" when the office is closed. Losing personal interaction can have a negative impact on organizational culture, support for new hires and the emotional health of staffers. Employees miss the chance to share — whether it's celebrating successes, collaborating with peers or talking over difficulties — that's part and parcel of daily living. You may not want to lose that entirely.

As you know, there's much more to running a nonprofit than holding virtual meetings, sending emails and taking advantage of other technological tools. An office or other physical premise not only brings people together, but it may be integral to your mission and your brand. You may need your physical premises to serve constituents and your location in a certain part of town or a particular building may play a role in the continuing support of donors and volunteers.

So before you decide to end a lease or sell an office, ask whether your current work-from-home setup meets the needs of everyone. This includes staffers, managers, clients, charitable partners and other stakeholders who regularly use your facilities. If not, are there things you can do to make remote working viable?

Relationships between managers and their reports are particularly critical. Do staffers feel valued when they don't have daily face-to-face contact with leadership? Are you able to communicate expectations, direct staffers' work and evaluate accomplishments remotely? If the answer to one or more of these questions is "no," you may need to return your workforce to the office as soon as public health conditions warrant it.

3 Other Options

Smiling man sitting at the dinner table working on a laptop

Even if you decide that permanent work-from-home isn't feasible, there are alternatives to restoring your pre-pandemic operations. Consider these three:  

1. Share your workspace. Thanks to the explosion of the gig economy, sharing workspace has gained momentum in recent years. It's becoming even more popular as organizations look for ways to cut expenses or downsize their workforces. Sharing part of an office or other facility with other groups usually saves money on rent, utilities and potentially on equipment and supplies.

Usually, shared spaces can be arranged to accommodate all or most of your nonprofit's needs and wants. But some nonprofits use a shared workspace as a supplement to another facility — for example, where they operate community programs and serve clients. You might want to maintain any space that has been optimized for your nonprofit's use (such as a health clinic) and then share the costs of a separate collaborative office space to administer programs and meet with colleagues and donors. Staffers who don't have a permanent work desk can use the shared space and resources temporarily when they need them.

2. Move your location. The public health crises has, at least for now, changed the commercial real estate market. According to real estate management company, Cushman & Wakefield, the office vacancy rate probably will reach 18% by 2022. High vacancy rates give nonprofits looking for space considerable leverage.

If space-sharing doesn't suit your organization, you might want to downsize to a smaller or less-expensive office. This option may be particularly attractive to nonprofits pursuing a hybrid model where all staffers work at home part time and all in the office part time or where some work remotely full time and some work in the office full time.

3. Renegotiate your lease. Even if you're inclined to stay put, you don't have to accept the status quo. Your landlord may be more willing to renegotiate an existing lease and give you a better deal than you might think. Consider extending the lease term as a negotiating point.

New Normal

Many employers originally thought of work-from-home as a temporary solution to extraordinary challenges. Now, however, both nonprofits and businesses are accepting flexible work models as part of the New Normal. To ensure you're making the best decisions for your nonprofit's finances, mission and people, contact us.

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