Taking Care of Your Staff Team

August 14, 2020

We hear that many teams are struggling. How do we manage teams remotely and create space for accountability and compassion?


Since many employees work remotely now, managers must change how they supervise. We can’t easily see if an individual is working at a given time, and that can be uncomfortable for managers. It’s also harder to have frequent, casual communication and check-ins with team members. First, reflect on what you are experiencing. You may be struggling with feeling that you are losing control. Because in-person communication mechanisms are no longer available, you may feel out of the loop. You’ll need to manage your own concerns about losing control and needing new, different supervisory tools. Don’t blame others on your team for this. Ask for help, work proactively to build new communication avenues to get the information you need to lead.

The first step to effective supervision is communicating expectations clearly. Are you assigning tasks and projects in a clear way and allowing for conversation to clarify what needs to be done, how to approach it, and what the timeline is? Do you have a way to track progress or completion? This may be a good time to implement a project management system or start using Teams, Slack, or another method of enhancing remote communication.

Meeting Remotely

Your team will stay on task more effectively if they feel connected to your organization, your staff team, and your mission. Here are some questions to reflect on:

  • What strategies are you using to keep team members connected?
  • Do you have a regular rhythm of staff meetings and one-on-one supervisory check-ins?
  • Are your meetings organized and facilitated in a way that includes all voices?
  • What norms are in place for online meetings—does everyone typically participate and show their video? If not, it might be time for a frank discussion and adjustment of group norms so that folks are more fully present for key meetings.

Take time for yourself and others to build your skills in virtual facilitation. Remote meetings are here to stay.

Equip your staff

At first, we approached work from home as a temporary, emergency measure. Now, it is clear that our offices will not be open as they were for a long time. Makeshift home offices may need an upgrade such as a good headset for virtual meetings or an ergonomic desk chair. Individuals’ needs will vary. Managers need to figure out how to get employees the equipment they need to be productive at home. Some organizations are offering a one-time or monthly stipends to offset the cost of home office setup, cell phone, and internet costs. One or more of your staff may be candidates to return to the office earlier than others to have the space and focus needed to do their work. It may be possible to have some staff return safely if social distancing and good cleaning protocols are in place.

Fostering a sense of team

Teamwork makes the dream work! Your staff isn’t here for the high salaries and luxurious perks. Consider these ideas:

  • Allow time for sharing and check-ins. These happen naturally in the lunchroom, but you may find it harder to allow for social connection during a staff meeting. Make time! We are all people, and we need to feel that others care about our well-being especially in a time like this.
  • Mix up your meeting activities. Include some fun elements to help people relax and engage. Our staff has played bingo and trivia online, played Pictionary using the Zoom whiteboard, introduced our pets, and held virtual happy hours. While these are not strictly work-related, relationship building pays off as team members feel a sense of camaraderie and commitment to each other.
  • Show appreciation and celebrate accomplishments. Another pitfall of remote work is that we are not together and therefore it is harder to notice the work that gets done. Build a culture of celebrating small victories. After we had been working remotely for a few months, we had several grants come in. I let staff know, but I didn’t get any reaction. As the main fundraiser, I finally got frustrated and admitted I felt unappreciated. I asked for folks to celebrate with me when we had good news about funding. It was delightful that in the following weeks when I sent an email to staff about funding coming in, they responded quickly with “way to go!”, funny gifs and clapping hands emojis. It might be cheesy, but I love it!

Kindness makes a difference

Supervision at this time is difficult. The truth is, it is harder to measure productivity and also harder to know what a reasonable expectation is in the face of this crisis. Most of us are having good days and bad days and it can truly be more difficult to work efficiently at home due to distractions, lack of childcare, a less optimal workspace, and differing equipment. Nonprofit supervisors experience a tension between feeling compassion for employees and a holding high expectations in the interest of achieving the organization’s mission. This is especially true when the mission is serving people who are hard-hit by the crisis. Be kind to yourself and others. Trust that your co-workers are doing the best they can, and if there are challenges, talk to your employees and find out how you can support them to make their best contribution. You can encourage staff to be forthright about their challenges when you model being vulnerable yourself (this will also help you get the support you need!). Here is a pep talk from Brene Brown.

Related to kindness is self-care. Encouraging self-care is important. Although it may feel strange to take time off when we can’t travel or engage in usual vacation activities, it is still important for staff members to take time away from work. Remind staff to do so, and model this yourself.

Provide resources to help staff members cope

Does your organization have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? If so, now would be a great time to remind all staff that this resource is available to help them manage stress or address personal problems confidentially. If you don’t have an EAP, you might consider adding one. Wellspring Family Services is one Washington-based nonprofit provider.

If you are managing a team, the following resources may give you new insights. Some of them might also be useful to read and discuss together to develop a common understanding of what is happening and how team members can support each other.

  • The State of Washington has launched WA Listens, “a new program that provides nonclinical support to people experiencing elevated stress due to COVID-19” via a telephone hotline.
  • The Department of Health has published a COVID-19 Behavioral Health Group Impact Reference Guide with information on the predicted health impacts on different groups of workers and community members along with suggested tools and strategies that employers and service provides can use to mitigate the impact. In addition, it presents this version of a classic graphic depicting the change process. Bottom line: Now is the time to increase social connections and develop social skills. Giving people a sense of purpose and focusing on hope are also important strategies to navigate our current situation.
Reactions and Behavioral Symptoms in Disasters Graphic from COVID-19 Behavioral Health Group Impact Reference Guide

Think long-term

Invest time and energy in making some changes so that your team can work well together. Get everyone involved to build new routines that feel supportive. Let folks know that more change is coming. Your ability to be flexible and nimble will make all the difference. Your team’s commitment to navigating this together and with care and concern for each other will make you resilient and carry you though.

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