By Sherri W. Morr
How one works remotely, what are the models?
What structures are used for information gathering, what practices are in place?
How is the job description (i.e. expectations) manifested through support and supervision?
I think the very first concept for potential at home workers is to know the scope of the position. Is it full time, part time or contract by designated hours? As in we need you to do 3 things in 80 hours per month and will pay you x amount of dollars-after receiving monthly invoices- to complete the monthly tasks of:
- Work with the board, support their work in whatever way necessary: schedule meetings, develop agenda, arrange location and snacks, follow up on attendance and provide necessary collaterals. Help them develop a specific annual area to focus on like music or the arts or literature, PE, or Social Service projects on climate change or affordable housing. Discuss new members with the board chair; make recommendations.
- Assist the board in planning their annual Sunday Dinner. Establish committee and cochairs, sponsors to alleviate the budget of expenses and the actual budget itself; develop the program, design invitation and supervise mailing with hand-written notes. Follow existing playbook on previous Sunday Dinners.
- Work independently from your own home office with equipment you own and have in place, ready, and assembled. Should there be a distinct increase in your electric/power invoices we can discuss how to compensate you. Our office will put together a box of supplies including stationary, staff manual (This will give the basics and expectations of requirements to work remotely), and any other items you may require and any other material you might need to work effectively. We can meet whenever it’s convenient for you. Whenever necessary feel free to send emails with questions; try to get the most recent annual report and read it.
The above description is not meant to be humorous. It is reality for new staff people who begin a job with a new organization working from home. One would assume this staff member has experience in working with boards and directing special events. One would hope this is not her/his first job out of a specialty graduate program.
Why hire for at home office staff:
Often at home workers are considered as hires because a staff person is needed to execute a program but there is no physical space available. This is not unusual; since 2008 when due to the recession many nonprofits no longer had the income to pay staff, many were let go. Sometimes the person and their job or program description were let go. Other times their job duties were sandwiched or divided between existing staff. Often the program was found to not be a priority of the agency mission and therefore the position was not rehired in spite of income loss or gain. Often organizations learn all to quickly after a layoff that the position or the program was just not a priority. That is not necessarily the way a CEO might expect to evaluate mission, program or positions but it does happen. In my own hiring experience, I did not consider if the person had skills, personality, and character to be able to work at home independently; unfortunate because that is, I believe the major concept for the staff worker to be successful and productive. This does not mean they were not qualified. They could have been very qualified but their work style, personality, or lack of organization may not have been clear enough to have the staff member operate at home successfully. Possibly they were too young & inexperienced, in spite of having good references and a resume that showed taking risks and being productive. Working every day at home alone demands independence and the motivation to get the job done without relying on others in adjoining offices to help them. Their largest and most important responsibility is to be able to decisive, make decisions and not have to check with others before moving forward.
What to look for in candidates for staff not in the office complex:
This area is extremely important in thinking about hiring remote workers. Especially important in the Jewish community because working for Jewish nonprofits is more than a job. Some consider it a calling, an unusual means in which to express their Judaism or connection to Jewish life. In terms of this it’s exactly why remote workers (where there are considerable numbers) can be sought after for these positions. This group of staff people will more than appreciate (and even expect) a connection to their Jewish agency. So, working alone often eliminates the opportunity for that connection. You are not riding the elevators with other Jewish community professionals; there is no conversation, most likely you are not attending Kabbalat Shabbats because it is too far to drive to and then you would hit serious traffic returning to your home. Generally, you would not see people informally in passing which contributes to not knowing much nor are able to learn something or pick up ideas for your job. In a sense it’s a bit of a contradiction: here you are working for an organization that often further or enhances Jewish life and yet you are expected to succeed solo. Yet another issue pertinent to the Jewish community is the unusual experience of having staff workers in the United States who work for Israel based organizations. These individuals have the perhaps the biggest challenges because Israel is pretty far away! Of course, in our world of social reality there are numerous ways to connect virtually: one could use videos, on line collaterals, zoom meeting, and much more. However, by not seeing, nor touching in real time the missions of these organizations is truly a void for success. An important discussion area is taking this type of job with little or no training about the agency unless there is a formal orientation period. And finally, if you are a fundraiser much of fundraising is accomplished through successful building of relationships. Therefore, this area has to explored as very important; how can it come to fruition unless special opportunities are to incorporated in the job expectations.
Ask the right questions:
Tell me how you organize your week or your daily activities? Do you operate with a plan of action by day? By month? Quarterly?
When you enter your work area in the morning do you know what you are going to do first?
How do you communicate the mission of your organization when you personally have not seen it, or the clients or even met other staff?
Do you have arranged specific times of the day to make phone calls? How do you determine when to make phone calls? Return calls? Do you organize calls by area of priority? As a fundraiser I always consider money/donation related calls as first. I organize return calls by subject area, unless the person and I have been playing phone tag for two or three days. This is a good time to mention that when you work at home rarely do you have an assistant or someone to answer your phones. In a large office setting you may have a person to whom you can give a list of names from whom you are awaiting call backs, and ask to be interrupted, no matter what you are doing. Working solo there is no assistant.
There are many successful models of professionals who work out of home offices, or singular rented space/remote worker facilities, coffee shops/cafes, museum spaces (indoor and out) and of course libraries. *(Before the Pandemic). At each possible location (except my home office) I have run into others working remotely. I did not know them but I could tell by the number of items they were schlepping-file folders, laptops, phones, chargers, notebooks, and many spread sheets with color coded highlighted lines. Imagine one person with all that equipment spread out on a nice table for four. They were definitely carrying an office with them. I have been in cafes or restaurants where customers are told they cannot sit longer than an hour and one-half. They are nursing a coffee for a long time, disallowing others to garner a chair, a table, a space. Totally understandable. Unfair to the business owner as well.
If you are looking to build relationships, make friends and garner expertise from colleagues, and truly lean the business of working in the Jewish world, working at home is not an advantage.
I am not the easiest person to supervise. I work fast, have a lot of good ideas, like to skip lunch, but do not expect my staff to mirror me. I seem to know what to do and do it. I start my day with as described above…anything connected to donations comes first. It’s not a debatable discussion item. I enjoy being part of a team who share responsibility for the greater goal. I am a good supervisor, meaning I help them to be productive. Phoenix always did well, and somehow Las Vegas then survived because Phoenix made up the Las Vegas numbers. Some system, right? The Las Vegas person only worked part time so of course they are raising less money. Tell that to the suits. Tell that to the staff member when he keeps asking when he would get an office. I speak to each staff member weekly at an arranged time. Having not always been a manager I am extremely sensitive to being very busy and having to reschedule. That person I know relies on our conversation. He/she come with a list, sometimes sent before. I try to keep all scheduled meetings. These people are lone soldiers…they all have a particular reason to want to be out there in the trenches alone. No one to answer their phones, take a message, or check on supplies or provide all sorts of tasks. They are one-person operations. They have to do it all and by themselves.
In other settings when I was the lone soldier, I could call the national office and ask for support but in most cases that person had no time because in fact one lone man was supposed to enhance all our marketing and communications needs in 7 different communities. It was almost laughable; he was /is such a nice man. He could not follow up with Kinko’s in San Diego, nor could he find a picture frame for the SF donor who prefers everything in orange. He could submit great budgets for special events, but then when the event was fabulous but raised no money, he could also throw me under the bus. Hey not all things were fair. The important aspect to note is remote workers are one-person-bands. They must do it all because if not, there is no one else to do it. This should be part of the job description, written in detail so there are no surprises. But be very sure of this: remote workers must be able to handle the surprises when they come. Because they will.
Sherri has spent the last several decades working & consulting in and out of the Jewish community as an expert in nonprofit management. She completed an MA & an Honorary Doctorate at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. She is on the Jewish Women’s Theatre Advisory Council, the board of Yesh Tikva, and a member of the Steering Committee of Chai Village LA.