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Staff Working Remotely

© 2019 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
Ministry Business Services, Inc. President
Reprinted from The Church Network's inSIGHT Magazine

An increasing number of church and ministry staff members are working remotely. Whether at home, a coffee shop, or a community center, facilitating their needs is becoming an important part of leadership policy setting. What are the pros and cons? And what tools help?

Why is this a growing trend?
With the advent of the laptop computer, mobility became possible for those team members who had them. As laptops grew even smaller (now referred to as notebooks and tablets) and more affordable, even more staff have them. In fact, so many have notebooks and tablets that it’s hard to not allow at least some remote work.

It turns out there are some great benefits to remote work! Here is a partial list:

  • Most staff like working at home or wherever they happen to be. I have read studies that show that those who work from home are generally happier, less stressed, and are even willing to work for less pay because of the value of the benefit.
  • The U.K. Office of National Statistics found in a 2018 study that 30% of staff working remotely felt they were more productive.
  • Being allowed to work remotely demonstrates a perceived higher level of trust in the employee, and that helps too!
  • Some churches are building new sites that have no office space!
    • One example is Community of Grace Lutheran Church in Peoria, AZ where their new site only has office space for a receptionist and a small meeting room for when staff want to have an on-site meeting.
    • Another example is The Father’s House in Vacaville, CA where their new church site has no office space, but they instead leased offices a few blocks away.

The church benefits a couple of important ways:

  1. It saves the money that building offices consumes, and instead lets that money be spent on maximizing program space, and
  2. As staff needs change over time— and they always do!— the size and layout of the office space can more easily change without having to turn closets and classrooms into offices.

Working remotely is not for everyone, nor is it for every role.
My firm’s model has always been for distributed staff around the country, with each team member working from his or her home. This helps keep our overhead low, which helps us serve The Church with lower fees.

The first question I’m often asked about staff working from home is how I know I’m getting full-time work done when the staff person is not on-site? My answer is always: “How would you know you’re getting full-time work done when they’re on-site in an office or cubicle? By the output.” It’s the same if they’re working off-site. One of the functions of leadership is setting goals and standards that can be used in determining if work output is at an acceptable level for all levels of staff.

Not everyone is disciplined enough to work from home or in their favorite coffee shop. We’ve also found that some don’t like working remotely because they need hallway conversations to experience real job satisfaction. And, of course, some roles need to stay on-site (like the accounting functions of contribution and deposit entry, and custodial).

Seacoast Community Church in Mount Pleasant, SC is a multisite church with lots of staff working remotely. Glenn Wood, Seacoast’s Pastor of Administration, said, “Working remotely looks different for each organization. You have to find what works for you in balancing the ‘freedom’ to work remotely with the need to mentor staff and connect on a regular basis. This can be especially true when employees are new and may not fully understand the culture of the organization and what is expected of them.”

Some team members and some roles need to have on-site hours and duties. But few staff need to be on-site their entire workweek.

What tools help?
Mandating standardized productivity and communication tools is essential to manage and coordinate those who work remotely. For instance, you may require that all staff use Microsoft Office Suite solutions for their productivity tools. Doing ensures that staff across all locations can share files and collaborate at a high level. Similarly, identifying secure email and instant messenger solutions is essential.

Wood adds, “Some studies have shown that staff can view working remotely as paid time off. This has led to a disconnect between staff members and their bosses. You may need to consider establishing some guidelines on how accessible staff should be when working remotely. According to a Cision Study in 2018 – ‘Initiating an always-reachable policy is an easy way to make sure deadlines are met and employees are moving the needle on important tasks.'”

A secure instant messenger (IM) solution can help in that regard. Most of our clients use one that is fully secure, which means that even sensitive issues can be discussed without concern. The server solution is called OpenFire, and we secure it with what is called an SSL certificate that encrypts it end-to-end. Regardless of where a team member is working, the IM solution shows their status (busy, available, etc) and makes them instantly reachable for quick questions and discussions. It facilitates ‘team’ for remote users.

Team meetings are a must
To keep communications and efforts well-coordinated, schedule regularly meetings. We have a couple of standing meetings every Monday morning. We do it by phone, and sometimes by video call. We also have an annual retreat where we spend a few days together doing team building and talking through issues.

Staff working remotely has many benefits– for the team members and for the organization. But, as Wood says, “ensuring staff have a good work/life balance is key in any employment relationship.”


Staff Working Remotely Sidebar
© 2019 by Jonathan E. Smith, all rights reserved
Director of Technology at Faith Ministries in Lafayette, IN
Reprinted from The Church Network's inSIGHT Magazine

 

Many things have made working remotely a possibility, and technology is one key aspect. The technology we use to work remotely includes both hardware and software. Employees are no longer tied to specific applications or hardware that can only be found in a formal, controlled office setting.

Convergence, or the combining of technologies has also made remote workers as efficient as traditional office workers. Software suites are cloud based and combine many traditional software functions allowing all employees the same services, regardless of location. Services like Microsoft Office 365 or Google’s G-Suite.

Converging hardware has also made it easier to work remotely. The remote worker and road warrior can now do more with less hardware. My backpack has gotten significantly lighter as I can make phone calls, access all software services, find my way, and even take pictures with 2 devices now, a phone and tablet. Gone are the days of specific devices for specific functions.

While technology has enabled and empowered the remote worker, there are still many traditional concerns to consider. Environment, communication, comraderies, and accountability are all part of working remotely and can often be solved through technological applications. Working remotely is as much an individual preference as a technological capability. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

(Full disclosure: This was written on an airplane while working remotely.)


Jonathan Smith is an author, conference speaker, and the Director of Technology at Faith Ministries in Lafayette, IN. You can reach Jonathan at jsmith@faithlafayette.org and follow him on Twitter @JonathanESmith.

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