Setting Up A Successful Work from Home Environment for Your Nonprofit

Don’t worry, it’s not really Monday! Erik is busy running a conference this week, so he asked me to fill in one more day this week. So welcome to Tuesday with Marissa!

Working from home is more popular than ever. In a time when salaries might not be able to grow as fast as they used to, offering employees an opportunity to work remotely can be a welcomed perk. While your employee might not be in the office, it is important to ensure that she feels connected to her team. Today we’re going to look at some ways to set up a successful work from home environment.

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If your organization has the funds to set up a VPN system, I highly recommend it. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and allows users to log in from anywhere. Upon doing so they would have the same access to the servers and systems they would have if they were working in the office. They can be a bit costly to set up but this set up offers the most flexibility for you and your employee. The employee working from home would have no restrictions on access to the resources they need, allowing them to complete projects no matter where they were located.

VPNs are best set up on agency owned laptops that employees can take anywhere. I recommend upon setting it up that it is tested somewhere outside of your building to make sure everything is set up correctly. It would be the worst to plan your day working from home only to find out that your VPN doesn’t connect.

Cloud Computing
If VPN doesn’t work for your organization, there are plenty of other options to share files with people working remotely. Services such as Dropbox and Google Drive allows users to share documents, spreadsheets, presentations, ect, with anyone who has access to them. However, keep in mind that these files would live in the cloud on third party server. If something happened to that server you would loose your files. Keeping a copy of files shared in the cloud stored on your hard drive is highly recommended.

Chat Clients

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One of the challenges I find with working from home sometimes is feeling connected to the office. While working from a remote location can help some employees focus, they can miss out on communication that happens around the office. Using a chat client like Gchat or Skype can help fill that void. I had one job where I worked exclusively from and getting a “good morning” from other team members made a world of difference. I didn’t feel as isolated.

Furthermore, it is important for managers of people who work remotely to still manage their employees even if they aren’t in the building. Too often the relationship between manager and employee can fall victim to the “out of mind, out of site” mentality.  You can even go beyond chat conversations and have a video call from time to time to check in and see how everything is going or congratulate the employee on a job well done.

While working remotely is becoming more and more a norm these days, I hope these few tips help you and your agency think about the best environment to set up for your employees. Based on your set up, you might be able to work something out for work from home volunteers using cloud computing services and chat clients. What do you think? Do you work from home? What tool do you find to be the most successful in helping you be productive? Let us know in the comments!

How “The Cloud” Can Make Your Life Easier

Remember when computers were basically glorified word processors for many businesses? Documents were created, saved on floppy disk, and printed. That was the extent of it. Then email came along. If you were working on a project with someone, you could send it to them instantly. However, you and your colleague had to keep track of the ‘active’ copy in order to make changes.

Now, documents can live in ‘the cloud’, eliminating the panic that comes along with sending an email and asking yourself, “Did I attach it?”.

Let’s take a look at cloud computing and a few different applications that can make your life easier by utilizing the cloud.

What is the cloud?

Spoiler Alert: there really aren’t computers in the clouds storing your information. But ‘the cloud’ really does exist. When referring to ‘the cloud’ just think of it as a public server to which you have access. So, instead of saving files locally, you can save them on this public server and access them from any device with an internet connection.

The Pros of Cloud Computing

  • Using cloud apps cuts down on costs. One of the largest costs to a non-profit organization was purchasing a server. The cloud eliminates the need for this. Also, cloud applications work regardless of which operating system you’re using because most of them are accessed through web browsers. As a result, some IT costs are eliminated or reduced.
  • Files can be accessed from anywhere. This allows people to work remotely. Today, more and more companies are hiring employees to work from home or remote locations (aka telecommuters). Having files available in the cloud makes this human resources trend more possible.

The Cons of Cloud Computing

  • No local files. When you use the cloud to save your documents you are relying on a third-party to store your files. If something happens to their servers, you run the risk of loosing your files. Additionally, you will temporarily lose access to your files if your local internet service is interrupted.
  • Privacy can be an issue. Again, because files will be stored on a third-party server, they will have access to your files. Your agency will need to decide what type of files can be stored in the ‘cloud’ and which ones should remained locally. Unfortunately, having multiple storage areas might be confusing for employees or volunteers who need to access the files.

The Best Cloud Apps

Google Docs – Google has done a great job with it’s Google Docs product. Not only can you save files and allow multiple people to view them, but you can also create documents online using this application. Google makes it possible to create text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, drawing and tables. Documents can be shared with an email link  or downloaded by the user.

What sets Google Docs apart is that it allows for multiple users to work on a document at the same time. Everyone can see what changes each person is making in real-time. Also, Google Docs has a chat box associated with each document so people who are viewing the document can have a chat about any changes that need to be made.

Dropbox – Running a close second to Google Docs as my favorite cloud application is Dropbox because it is so simple. Dropbox simply gives you space on a server that allows you to share files with other people. You can upload whichever type of file you’d like to share, and others will be able to easily access it. A free account gives the user 2 gigabytes of storage, but if you get a friend to sign up for an account, Dropbox gives you more space.

What sets Dropbox apart is that you can add a “Dropbox folder” to your computer. This makes it possible to have documents stored locally and in the cloud at the same time. Dropbox also allows you to also share folders with other users. This works great for people working on the same project. While Dropbox does not allow for collaboration in the same way that Google Docs does, it’s simple approach makes using the cloud second nature.

Other Worthy Cloud Applications

  • Evernote – a note taking application that can capture photos and handwritten notes and make them searchable.
  • Basecamp – a project management and collaboration application
  • Backpack – an easy way to create a wiki or internal website for sharing information with your team
  • Carbonite – automated computer backup

Many of you might already be fans of the cloud. If so, let us know how you use cloud applications in your day-to-day non-profit work life. It would be great to hear how you might be using ‘the cloud’ to collaborate on grantwriting. Or are you using ‘the cloud’ to make your annual campaign prospect assignment process feel seamless? Please use the comment box below and share your best practices!