Leading Teams Remotely During the Pandemic

FAQs on how nonprofit CEOS can lead happy, productive teams remotely during the coronavirus
The following Q&A’s are from THRIVE IMPACT’s weekly Crisis Conversation Series with nonprofit executives.

These discussions are a place for nonprofit executives to learn, ask questions, and share insights on what’s working for their nonprofits.

In our April 21st conversation, our co-founder Tucker Wannamaker answered these questions as our guest. Here’s a recording of the discussion, as well as the presentation slides.


Provide a communication technology stack that encourages connection and efficiency. There are myriad tools out there for virtual engagement. Find the ones you and your team like and use them to your advantage. If you’re not sure what to choose, try it out and see if it works for your organization. The way you’ll know centers on adoption: If they use it, it works.

You should also establish your team’s own “rules of virtual engagement”, which might include how often team members check in with each other, new protocols for engaged meetings free from at-home distractions, an established structure for daily check-ins, etc. Ask team members what they feel comfortable with and develop your rules as a collaboration.

Reach out to your staff personally on a regular basis. Ask how they’re doing! Make a concerted effort to connect with people who are not your direct reports as well. Their direct supervisor may also talk with them regularly, but your added communication will demonstrate your commitment and care for their well-being.

That can be as easy as a daily check-in on their emotional health, individually or as a team. Asking simple, open questions (e.g., “What did you do this weekend?”) can help identify people who may be struggling to handle quarantine. Deeper questions, such as how they’re coping personally, should be reserved for one-on-one meetings (unless you have a very close team or you establish very intentional and protective rules of conduct for the meeting). Being vulnerable yourself can open up the discussion, help build trust, and forge an authentic bond with their own emotional state.

You can also send handwritten notes to check in or thank your staff periodically. It’s a nice surprise to receive a letter in the mail, and the personal touch will build goodwill and mean so much more than an email.

Your mission determines what work is essential: In a crisis like this, only do the core activities that are necessary for your mission to move forward. You may need to find ways to shift your essential work as well (e.g., figure out how to provide your services remotely). Importantly, you need to say “no” sometimes and turn down anything that doesn’t fit your mission. The hard truth is that during this time you may be less efficient and you may not get all the work done.

Set clear expectations. Articulate to your staff what their roles are in this new environment, and let them know their work may need to be different now because of the pandemic. Be forthright with the team (and your board) about what you’re trying to accomplish and what role they play in that strategy.

Additionally, it may be helpful to ask your staff to come up with what they think are their most important tasks for the week. You can then review and adjust based on their current view of priorities. It can be much more efficient than you as the leader trying to determine everyone’s workplans all by yourself.

Flexibility during times of uncertainty. Regular communication, sharing as much as possible: good news, bad news, or no news. Giving people the room to adjust and find their own life balance; giving yourself the same opportunity personally. Starting or settling into a new routine – and knowing when to break it if needed. Patience. Self-reflection. Generosity. Vulnerability. Curiosity. EMPATHY.

Innovations from Nonprofit Executives

Our THRIVERS community of nonprofit leaders know that they’re stronger together. With mediated group discussions, they’ve shared insights on what’s working. Here are just a sample of the ideas they’ve generated:
  • Two's A Crowd

    Reach out to your members one-on-one rather than as a group. Less time of their will be wasted that way and you can get more done with each.
  • Video Killed The Email Star

    Since we can’t go outside, email has taken up even more of what your board sees everyday. That means they’ll pay less attention. Spice it up with a presentation with bullets, images, infographics — anything but a wall of text.
  • Whoever Writes The First Memo Wins

    Many nonprofits are dealing with unresponsive boards. If you’re not getting any response to “how does this plan look”, change to “here’s the plan, if I don’t hear something from you in 5 days I assume you approve.”
  • Your Board Won't Last Forever

    Considering both the fact that the pandemic is deadly, now’s the time to think deeply about board succession and succession procedures.

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