You’re at home again. Working. From. Home. Again.

While there’s nothing that this article can do to break the monotony of your four walls or make your kids leave you alone long enough to take a deep breath, we can set those of you completely new to working remotely on a good path.  

Your organization likely falls into one of two categories; you’re a small team without a dedicated office for your work, so this work from home thing is relatively familiar, or; you’re an organization with central office space – perhaps unused to working remotely. 

If you’re one of the first type, you’re likely able to keep busy and productive as a team right now. But if working from home is new for your team you may feel a bit disoriented as you try to figure out how to keep connected, organized and efficient. 

Distributed teams need some essential pieces of technology to keep projects moving forward. Whether that project is an emergency response program, a donation campaign, a program development session, or an AGM, there is no technical reason why your team cannot work as effectively from home as from the office. There are a million other, more legitimate reasons (family and community care, anxiety etc) that will interfere with effectiveness right now! Technology need not become one of those reasons. 

This advice presumes that you have a good and stable internet connection. If you don’t ask your organization if they can provide a top-up for an increase in your data-plan or wifi package. Also, check with your provider. TELUS, for example, is waving home internet overage charges for customers without unlimited data plans until April 30.

Let’s tackle the biggest infrastructure problem that you may face. A local server. If your team is struggling with syncing and connecting to a server to stay connected, this is NOT the time to start a full migration to cloud-based tools. 

But it’s definitely a good time to dip your toe in. 

GSuite is an easy, free, first step

Now is the time to create a free Gmail account and try a few things with Google Docs (which come with a Gmail account). The Gsuite learning centre is a great place to devote half a morning to learn how collaborative tools in Gsuite work. 

If you’re used to working on desktop tools, two differences will stand out. You don’t need to save your work, and you need to set sharing permissions. After all, you won’t be saving the document to your computer anymore. Instead of documents being stored on your desktop they’ll be automatically stored in Google Drive. Now you’ll be clicking that Share button instead of the save button!

Once you understand how to share the document, you’ll be ready to use a google doc for your team to contribute to meeting notes when you next meet. 

Which brings us to virtual meetings. 

Virtual meetings – stay connected!

It can be lonely not seeing your colleagues when you’re used to sharing a space with them.  Seeing everyone’s faces once a day can make you feel more connected, accountable and accompanied during your remote work hiatus. There are a number of tools you can use. Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts are all perfectly good tools to use to get multiple people on a video call at the same time. All three allow you to share your screen so that you can show people exactly what is on your screen. 

Keep internal communications out of your inbox

When you’re working from home, you’ll have to change how you communicate with your team. When you can’t speak to them in person, you might default to sending an email or text message. Email isn’t ideal because you’ll end up clogging up your team’s inbox with internal conversations. Text message isn’t great either because it’s ephemeral and relies on people’s personal devices. 

Instead, this is a great time to try a chat application. GChat (Google) and Teams (Microsoft) are great for those of you already using GSuite or Office 365. If that’s not you, then Slack is your best option. It allows you to set up different channels for different topics and only invite relevant people to that channel. You can send files, or better yet, links to documents in Slack. 

Store files in the cloud – not on your desktop

If you’re used to accessing a local server or asking your colleagues to send you files from their desktop when you need them, then now is the time to try using a centralized, cloud-based file storage tool. Google Drive, OneDrive, Box and Dropbox are all highly functional and secure places to store documents that your whole team needs to use. Remember sharing permissions from the paragraph above about Google Docs? The same principle applies here. You can establish sharing permission on folders so that the right people have access. 

If you’re concerned about privacy, security and using cloud storage, ensure that you consult your board for the kinds of information that should only be kept offline. But to be clear, nonprofits in most jurisdictions are permitted to use cloud-storage even when servers are located outside of Canada. 

So your files are online, you’re using collaborative documents, you can meet virtually, and communicate via chat, but how do you know people are working? 

Project management tools

This is where project management tools come in. Remember that shared google doc? You can also create a shared google spreadsheet. There are great templates and guides that you can use with Google sheet to create a lightweight project management tool to keep everyone moving toward a common goal. If you’re ready to look at something more robust, Freedcamp and Trello are both great, easy to use tools for your team to stay on the same page. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is to not try to boil the ocean. It’s far too much to expect that your whole team will go from working offline to being digitally productive wizards. Choose one tool to review every morning and test it with one or two people. If it works well, then roll it out for more people. When people become comfortable with that tool after a week or so, then bring in another tool. You know best how quickly your team will be able to adopt new tools and ways of working so adjust accordingly. 

If you’d like to compare some best in class tools across a range of categories, complexity and princes, we’ve compiled a list of tools that we like. Feel free to explore this list and if you have some you’d like to add let me know!

With more than nine years of experience in development, staff and stakeholder management, strategic thinking, partnerships, board governance, program development and digital operations, Aine McGlynn is a diversely talented self-starter committed to finding creative solutions in unexpected places. She holds a doctorate from the University of Toronto with a focus on global activisms and gender formations and has published widely. Aine is the Chief Operating Officer of The Good Partnership – supporting nonprofits to build the digital infrastructure and processes to fundraise and operate more effectively.