This article is based on a more extended piece originally published at: www.se4nonprofits.com/blog/reopening-done-smart.
COVID-19 hit us like an unexpected storm with acute impacts we could not have imagined. Most businesses and non-profit organizations aggressively shifted their traditional, office-based models to remote work. Now, many organizations have begun to rapidly move toward reopening workplaces.
A thoughtful reflection on key strategies will help with the return to a “new-normal.”
Strategies for Reopening
Create a Reopening Working Group/Task Force
Many organizations had assembled some form of a COVID task force to work with senior management that helped with rapid problem-solving deployment. Sunsetting your rapid deployment COVID task force and replacing it with a designated “Reopening Working Group” will be a smart move to help assist with reopening issues to ensure re-alignment to meet the programs, goods and services, and stakeholders’ and constituents’ needs for the future. Name a working group leader and keep the size of the working group on the small side. Add working group members from multiple sources (senior management, staff, board of directors, and outside the organization such as TBAs [trusted business advisors] and others) that will fill in knowledge gaps and be able to problem solve as a group. Plan to meet frequently and develop recommendations that will be elevated to the chief staff executive (CSE), senior management, and the board for future planning consideration and adoption.
Assess Your Workplace Health
Plan to get as much regular feedback as possible from your employees, leadership, volunteers, and people you serve. Use regular surveys, informal feedback assessments, and other communications, especially with staff, to gauge their comfort level on returning to the workplace.
Consider a “Phased” plan approach that will allow your organization to ease back into in-person working. Phase I covers current mostly remote working with Phase II and III stepping back in stages toward new normal. The phase approach gives staff the confidence there is a structure to shifting back toward more traditional workplace environment and gives you the opportunity to survey and receive feedback from staff as you move through the phases.
Determine In-Office Necessity
Ask questions: Who really needs to be back in the office? Will circumstances be different in the future? Should everyone return as abruptly as they may have left.
According to a May 2021 Gartner survey of over 4,000 remote, hybrid, and onsite employees:
- 67% agree that their expectations for working flexibly have increased since the beginning of the pandemic
- 55% agree that flexible work arrangements will impact whether they will stay at their organization
- Less than half agree that working remotely has been destigmatized in their organization and their feedback regarding long-term work arrangements is being taken seriously.
Consider Financial Impacts
Take a close look at your organization’s financial health and how have you weathered the storm so far. Looking back to the start of the pandemic, is your organization in a stronger or weaker financial position? Have you burned through a lot of capital reserves (retained earnings) for companies or operating reserves for nonprofits?
Dive into and closely look at core operational expenses, burn-rates, and infrastructure costs. These expenses and how they are structured will most likely be different in the future.
Get Boards and Staff Aligned
This is a necessity. Some companies are working through a disconnect between CSEs and/or boards who want everyone back in the office, and staffs who have demonstrated that remote work is effective. Your board, CSE, and employees must be on the same page strategically. If they are not, lean on the Reopening Workgroup or external advisors and sort it out. Consider adding a recovery period strategic plan. This is very different than a regular long-term strategic plan. The focus is on a set “bridging period” and recovery period. It is not intended to replace a formal strategic plan.
Certainly, the post-pandemic situation will remain fluid for some time to come. Virus variants, unvaccinated populations, booster shots, and shifting business models are just a few of the topics which will require continued foresight, flexibility, and nimbleness. Staying proactive and keeping your organization’s options open to accommodate your employees’ needs, feelings, and their different comfort levels will set the course for a long-term path of reopening done smart.
Note: This post was co-authored by Roy McGrath, IOM, CAE, MBA and Mike Gellman, CPA, CGMA. Mike is an independent fiscal and financial strategist for nonprofit organizations and a co-founding principal partner of Fiscal Strategies 4 Nonprofits, LLC (FS4N) and co-founder of Sustainability Education 4 Nonprofits (SE4N).