Shared Space and the Future of the Non-Profit Office

By Sean Jackson and Jacquelin Giacobbe

As New Jersey enters Phase II of our COVID-19 re-opening plan, non-profit leaders are beginning to plan for what their “new normal” will look like, both in the short-term COVID environment and beyond. What can the past three months tell us about the future of non-profit work?

In many ways, the COVID pandemic has showcased the resilience of non-profits. We prepared for remote work with a few days’ notice, adapting to use google docs, virtual meetings, and new online systems with relative ease. Even our self-proclaimed “tech illiterate” staff learned how to use video conferencing software and set up new processes for (frankly, outdated) paper requisitions, timesheets, and other systems. If you had asked non-profit leaders on February 1st how quickly we could jump into the 21st century, this would have been unimaginable for most.

For Most, the Hybrid Office is Here to Stay

For advocates of “untethering” yourself to an office from 9-5, the shift to remote work and flexibility has been a welcome change. Some organizations may look at the experiment of the past three months and decide that their office can stay remote permanently. We’ve seen that trend with internet companies, such as Square and Twitter. In addition, remote work has been correlated with increased productivity and improved job satisfaction.

However, for most non-profits, a fully remote office is impractical, if not impossible. We meet with service recipients in person, provide after school services to at-risk youth, offer case management and life skills, plant gardens together, provide emergency housing and more. Online services may work for some programs, but there are certain elements of human interaction that can’t be captured through a screen.  And much of the “magic” of collaboration between colleagues and departments happen informally – a chat in the breakroom, an impromptu meeting.

A hybrid office will be the solution for most non-profits.  We’ll want to balance short-term social distancing and safety needs and the benefits of working remotely with mission critical work and a culture of connectedness. For your office, that may mean some departments stay home permanently, a rotating schedule of employees in the office, or something in the middle. 

Continue reading →