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The COVID-19 pandemic is changing our understanding of the workplace.

As nonprofit centers and their tenant organizations prepare to reopen for in-person operations, there will be many new health and safety protocols to implement. There may also be opportunities for workers to continue virtual work arrangements or flexible scheduling, reducing workspace density. These strategies have potential to vastly impact nonprofit center and tenant facilities, operations, workspaces, and cultures now and in the long-term.

This is a very complex situation to plan for but as advisors to organizations considering new workplace strategies, we suggest that the place to start is to proactively seek feedback from staff to better understand, from their point of view, what will be needed to support a workplace that is safe, healthy, comfortable, and productive.

Over the past year, nonprofit centers and tenant organizations providing non-essential goods and services in many states experienced an emergency closure followed by reduced occupancy limits and new health and safety measures for in-person operations. By necessity and choice, more staff engaged in remote working arrangements and for many, the primary workplace shifted to home.

At the same time, too many members of the workforce were and still are facing serious challenges involving health, mental health, food access, shelter, financial stability, childcare, elder care, educational access, and more. To try to address these challenges, more organizations allowed greater accommodation and flexibility with work scheduling, strategies that some workers may seek to continue in the future.

Now as occupancy limits are eased, nonprofit center and tenant leaders must be both proactive and responsible in considering whether and how to return more workers to in-person operations. They must also consider whether and how to continue remote or flexible work scheduling for staff who seek it. There is also a need to think about the long-term effects of these changes on organizational cultures to ensure that trusting and collaborative relationships and professional development pathways are maintained.

Underlying these decisions, leaders must determine how the needs for workspace and the associated budget allocations for in-person and remote operations have changed. Are there needs to adjust the size of a tenant’s workspace or shared workspace? Is it possible to design workspaces to be used differently by workers with flexible schedules? What investments in technology, equipment, or other supports will be needed for remote workers in the long term? How will these potential changes impact the budget?

As the first step in planning, we suggest sincerely engaging the workforce, asking for and actively listening to feedback about strategies to promote safety, health, comfort, and productivity for in-person and remote operations now and in the future.

The questions that follow are designed to help you frame these conversations with staff, contracted team members, volunteers, and others who comprise workforce of nonprofit centers and tenant organizations.

Assessing the current workspace and schedule:

  • Tell me about your current workspace.
  • If you are remote, who else is in your workspace? What else happens in the space while you are working?
  • Do you feel that you have the resources and support that you need to do your work safely and comfortably in your workspace? If not, what do you need?
  • What is your current work schedule? What is your preferred work schedule?
  • What is working well? What is not working well?
  • How can our organization help to support you and your current workspace?

Returning to existing workspace:
If our organization were to return to primarily working from our workspace…

  • What concerns would you have?
  • What health and safety strategies would you want to see in place for our office? For the building?
  • What days and hours would you prefer to work from the office?
  • What communication and feedback strategies would you want our organization to engage in?

Beginning to explore the future for workspace:
It is impossible to know exactly what the future holds but thinking about the next few years…

  • Where would you want to work most of the time? (home, organization’s offices, other)
  • What would you need to do your job effectively from that location?
    • Office, workstation, shared space, or workspace
    • Equipment, technology
    • Supplies
    • Memberships, subscriptions, services
    • Training, professional development
    • Other
  • Where would you prefer to hold meetings
    • With coworkers?
    • With clients?
    • With other organizations and partners?
    • With other members of the community or the public?
  • What would you need to conduct these types of meetings?
    • Small, medium, or large group meeting space
    • Equipment, technology
    • Supplies
    • Memberships, subscriptions, services
    • Training, professional development
    • Other

Discussing these questions with your workforce will help you better understand how current workspaces can be improved, identify wants and needs for future workspaces, and get feedback about specific concerns and strategies for returning to the workplace. These discussions will identify common situations, concerns, and preferences that you can use to develop solutions across your organization or the nonprofit center as a whole.

Once you collect this input, it will be important to summarize and share what you learned and outline the strategies that will be possible. If you cannot implement all of the suggestions because of budget, workspace design, or other reasons, be sure to explain why. This is an important opportunity to strengthen trust, communication, and relationships during the transition back to in-person operations.

Returning to in-person operations and providing ongoing support for remote workers will be part of a much broader learning process about the future of workspace. Engaging staff now, as integral voices in the decision-making process, will provide a foundation for organizational success and team wellbeing.

An adapted version of this article was published by the Mass Nonprofit News

About Our Blogger:

Jackie Cefola, principal of Jackie Cefola Consulting and Andrea Shapiro, principal of Andrea Shapiro Consulting

Jackie Cefola, principal of Jackie Cefola Consulting, consults for NCN and works with nonprofit leaders who are starting up new programs, often related to shared space and services. Andrea Shapiro, principal of Andrea Shapiro Consulting, is a trusted advisor to nonprofit and government leaders who are managing change and transition within their organizations.

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