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Jun 10, 2021
Posted Under: COVID President's letter

Returning to the workplace is the conversation we are all having both formally and informally with our friends, our peers, and our attorneys. Protocols, policies, and expectations abound, and in it all is a great amount of hesitation and uncertainty about what it looks like to do the right thing for the people on our team and the communities where we live. To be sure, we are not “just going back to work” ever again. Our collective conscience has shifted and individuals feel different about the workplace. So pretending that it will all just “be normal” or “as it was” is likely an unhelpful place to start when it comes to meeting your whole team where they are.

The recent decision by the CDC, which is largely based on trusting that everyone will do the right thing, has only made for more distrust and confusion about how employees feel and employers respond in their decision to return to the workplace. As a result, we see everything from no rules to mandates and requirements, to abandoning all pandemic safety protocol. Adding to the hesitation and confusion is the layer of political ideology, rather than science, that seems woven into many decisions. This is leaving too many who distrust these decisions and question what lies ahead for each of us and our teams.

As nonprofit employers and stewards of missions focused on ensuring the greater good for our communities, the pressure is high for us to strike the right balance in our approach to reopening physical work spaces. Our organizational cultures must be in the forefront as we navigate the murky waters of our policies and the law. This means, of course, there is no one right answer for how you will determine the rules of your workplace related to vaccine requirements and disclosure, masking, sanitation, and potential virus exposure.

What we do know is that appropriate decisions for your organization rely on careful consideration of three components – culture, law, and policy. Starting with culture means you are more likely to set the right tone and process with your team, which in-turn will build trust and acceptance for the harder decisions that lie ahead.

Recently, Foraker was quoted a Chronicle of Philanthropy article, “Nonprofits Struggle with the Move from Remote Work to Safely Returning Employees to the Office.” This interview was an hour after our latest COVID Rapid Response webinar, Navigating In-Person Workplaces and Events, with Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, staff physician, Alaska Division of Public Health, and Dr. Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist, where nearly 100 nonprofit leaders asked compelling questions about reopening. We recorded that webinar, and it is posted along with many other resources on our COVID relief page. You’ll find:

Additionally, the National Council of Nonprofits published a list of articles with insights and tips on reopening to consider:

All these articles and resources offer each of us a place for reflection as we draft our own response and subsequent policy and protocols. What these articles can’t know is how to center your organizational culture in your decisions. To that end, I offer a few initial questions for your consideration:

  • How will you engage your employees in the process of determining your practice? (surveys, staff meetings, one-on-one meetings, etc.)
  • How will you reflect your core values in your internal and external communication about your choices?
  • How is mission best served in returning to the office environment, or not, or is a hybrid an option that best serves your employees, your volunteers, and the community you serve?
  • How will you live your practices in a way that can be adapted as new information becomes available and that reflects the experiences of your team?

These questions are just the beginning of what it will mean to center culture in your decisions to return to a physical work environment or not. Know that we are ready to help you navigate choices as you keep your team safe, the community safe, and our missions moving forward.

Finally, I want to share with you a quote that Operations Board member Jim Beck, senior program officer at the Mat-Su Health Foundation, recently sent to me. It’s from The Compassionate Manager: A Trauma-Sensitive Approach to Managing in the Era of COVID-19: “Return to our places of work is not the goal. It is a means towards a more important end: one of personal, team and organizational healing and renewal.

Thank you, Jim, for sharing this. And thank you to all the dedicated nonprofit professionals in Alaska who have been guided by their missions while doing the very hard work of keeping their organizations running.