Six Lessons Community Groups Can Learn from Remote Work Teams

illustration of group holding a meeting

What are some of the steps community groups and nonprofits can take to stay productive when you can't have physical meetings?

Remember, here at Drover we're offering help setting up your technology during the pandemic. If you need help, email or schedule a time to chat.

By this point, there’s a good chance that your clubs and community groups have already held their first video meeting. There’s also a chance you found it slightly frustrating and possibly a little less productive than usual. That’s perfectly natural. It’s been said before, but we’re all adjusting.

Distance isn’t a barrier these days, however, with Fortune 500 companies operating with largely remote teams even without a pandemic happening. There’s plenty of experience community groups, clubs, and nonprofits can learn from. That video call is just the tip of the iceberg. So what do remote workers know that can benefit the rest of us?

Lesson 1: Think Remote First

With regulations regarding lockdown varying so much across different cities and states, you’ll probably have some members who don’t want to (or simply can’t) join you in-person for some time. To keep them involved, make sure that even people who are in the same location are all on any video calls or use your group’s chat platform first, instead of talking to those nearby. You want to make sure those who join you remotely feel just as much part of the proceedings as everyone else.

Lesson 2: Trust & Empathy

It might seem like people are doing a pretty good job of empathy, but it should be front and center at a time like this. You have to trust that people will do what they need to without being constantly reminded of it, and make sure they know to take care of their own needs first. Keeping the lines of communication open is incredibly important to this.

Lesson 3: Set Up Separate Social Time

One thing that came up often was that remote teams take the time to check in with each other, whether it be taking a few minutes before a meeting or separate “Coffee Breaks” on a different day. Most of your meetings probably do something similar by default -- people stand around chatting before sitting down to business, or you have an informal meal or drinks as part of the meeting as a time to socialize. Incorporating something similar into your virtual meetings can help you stay on track when you need to be and also keep everyone feeling connected.

Lesson 4: Use Technology Wisely

Marissa Goldberg of Remote Work Prep warned not to, “Over-tool and sign up for everything.” It might be tempting to think you need all the latest gizmos, but be careful. When considering new technology, take the time to figure out the needs that particular tool will fill and how your members should use it. Thinking through it before you sign up and then sharing that info with members after you do will help ensure you have tech that fits your needs. And whenever you sign up for something new, have what’s called an onboarding session -- a chance to introduce the technology, answer any questions, and get everyone on the same page. (And remember, Drover is offering consultations for small organizations, helping you decide what tech is best for you, solve issues you’re having, or even running an onboarding session for you!)

Lesson 5: Transparency Matters

If you’re running such an organization, it’s easy to keep things in your brain instead of articulating to your members. When you can’t meet in person it’s important to fight that urge and be as transparent as possible. It can be harder for people to ask a question during a virtual meeting, or they might not feel like it’s not worth sending a separate email about a topic. Most importantly, without physical events your volunteers aren’t likely to get the same positive reinforcement for their involvement that they’re used to, so sharing your thinking is a great way to keep them feeling involved. Which leads to our fifth lesson…

Lesson 6: Over-Communicate

Without being physically in the same space as others, it’s easy for attention to wander. What’s said on a call might be forgotten as soon as you hang up. It’s important to make sure information doesn’t get lost. ‘If you think you’re communicating enough, you’re not.” Mix your communication methods, too. Send a wrap-up of a call right afterwards to participants. Follow up an email to a volunteer or officer with an email. We all have different ways of taking in information, and it’s more important than ever to make sure you keep everyone in the loop no matter how they prefer to communicate.

And finally, some extra tips for improving your virtual meetings:

  • Have an agenda and stick to it. You’ll lose peoples’ interest if you go off on too many tangents.
  • Invest in good tools, such as a new webcam or microphone. These will become increasingly important as you transition back to in-person events but still have some people who prefer to stay home.
  • If you’re managing the meeting, make sure you call on people. During a virtual meeting it’s easier for the shy participants to hang back and not get a chance to speak. This especially goes for any social time you have or introductions. Without being able to go in an actual circle, it’s easier for you to read through the list of participants and call on people.
  • Make sure you finish a meeting with the next steps everyone should take and the goals you all have going forward.
  • Don’t get too stressed about everyone being on video. It can be nice, but you want people paying attention to the meeting and not whether their hair looks OK or if their children are doing anything embarrassing in the background.