As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the communities where we live and serve, organizations are encouraging their staff to work remotely if possible. While a planned transition to a remote workforce would typically be staged over time, one may need to be implemented quickly in this scenario. Because the current situation with COVID-19 is changing so rapidly, the resources we're providing below (most of which are free) are options that can be implemented relatively quickly, with little to no external IT support needed to do so and with a focus on remote communications and information sharing solutions.
Of course, there are many types of nonprofits that are not able to implement work-from-home policies due to the nature of their work, including museums, shelters, and health care providers. But if you are part of an organization that is able to continue to operate if your staff are all working remotely from home, we hope that what follows is of use to you and your nonprofit.
Communications Solutions for Staff Working Remotely
Most organizations are now working with email that is hosted in the cloud, including Office 365, Gmail, or email hosted by your Internet service provider. If you are using either Office 365 Nonprofit or G Suite for Nonprofits, you are really well set up to work remotely already. Both solutions have great communication and collaboration features that you may just need to activate.
Office 365 Users
Teams is included with all Office 365 Business and Enterprise licenses and can be used to
- Collaborate on documents
- Share files
- Chat with team members or specific groups
- Host meetings
- Create channels to house specific workgroups — which can include document storage, chat functionality, and shared notes
If you want to know more about Teams and how to set it up and use it, TechSoup Courses has two trainings on how to use Microsoft Teams at our Digital Skills Center:
Microsoft also recently published a blog post on using Teams during these challenging times.
G Suite for Nonprofits Users
If you're already using the Nonprofit G Suite Basic, Google has just announced that it is making Google Hangouts Meet's premium functionality available for free until July 1. This includes the ability to host virtual meetings for up to 250 people and live-streaming for up to 100,000 viewers for free.
Options for Nonusers of Office 365 or G Suite That Are Quick and Easy to Set Up
Zoom is a video and audio conferencing platform that enables both simple online meetings and group messaging. Staff can participate in Zoom meetings from both mobile devices and laptop or desktop computers. Here's a blog post on some helpful tips and tricks for getting the most out of Zoom for your organization.
Workplace from Meta is another great option that's free to nonprofits. It's sort of like an internal Facebook just for you and your employees and volunteers, but it's on a separate application from your personal Facebook accounts. Workplace is designed to help teams communicate, share, and make decisions together in a secure and private space online that's independent of whatever other platforms you use for email and document storage. Here's a recent blog post from the folks at Workplace that highlights how this tool can be used to stay connected during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Slack is a popular communications tool that helps keep your organization connected via direct and group messages along with "channels" that can be used to centralize discussions on specific topics. A free version of its Standard Plan is available to organizations with fewer than 250 employees.
TeamViewer is another option for organizations with distributed staff. It can be used by your IT staff to remotely manage devices (whether laptops or IoT devices) or by your staff to collaborate among themselves using the video conferencing and online collaboration features. Setup support resources can be found directly through TeamViewer.
We're aware that not everyone has Internet access at home, and for staff that need to work remotely where they don't have an easy Internet connection, Mobile Beacon* offers wireless hotspots that can connect up to 10 Wi-Fi-enabled computers or other devices to the Internet through Mobile Beacon's 4G LTE mobile broadband network. And because they can be shared or used by different staff anywhere, anytime, they offer great flexibility for staff on the move.
Document Management and Collaboration for Remote Work
Working with remote staff is also about being able to easily share and co-edit documents in real time, which can be critical to getting projects done or grant proposals out the door. Again, if you already have Office 365 or Google for Nonprofits, those solutions have document storage and collaboration tools built in, and you'll just need to activate them.
Office 365 Users
Office 365 comes with many options for cloud document storage and sharing. You can also leverage OneDrive, which is essentially an online folder system for file storage. This could be helpful if you are trying to ensure that you have access to the documents and files you will need if you work remotely. TechSoup Courses has an introductory overview of OneDrive that is free to nonprofits. This is one of the quickest ways to get documents into the cloud so that you can access them from anywhere.
To collaborate on files and documents, you can use Microsoft Teams (as stated above) or Microsoft SharePoint sites. SharePoint requires a bit more setup, but it can be useful, particularly if you are trying to share documents with external stakeholders. TechSoup's implementation services can scope a SharePoint setup project for you.
G Suite for Nonprofits Users
For G Suite users or for those not using G Suite, the free Google for Nonprofits offer includes Google Drive Basic, a business version of Google Drive that allows you to set sharing and access permissions. This can be used by any organization, even if you're using Office 365, and is a fast way to create a document repository in the cloud.
Box is another great option for small organizations (needing 10 or fewer licenses) looking to move documents quickly into the cloud. Box is relatively easy to get set up, but if you need help, there are two options for you:
- Box Coaching Corps is available to assist small organizations that need help setting up Box [Note: no longer available].
- TechSoup Services' Help Desk can also help with a very basic setup for Box.
Access and Permissions
For any online document storage and collaboration solution, you should take a moment to think about the access and permissions you want on different folders, particularly if you are dealing with sensitive data about donors or constituents that requires compliance.
Two More Quick Points on Working Remotely
- If your staff can't work remotely because they're using desktops rather than laptops, the TechSoup Refurbished Hardware program is a great source of low-cost, high-quality laptops that come preloaded with Windows 10 and the Microsoft Office Suite (but not Office 365). And, as mentioned above, we have Mobile Beacon hotspots to connect to the Internet from anywhere. TechSoup also has several headset* options available to nonprofits.
- You should review your organization's remote work policy to ensure that the guidance for technology use is up-to-date and relevant to this situation.
We hope you all are staying safe and monitoring the guidance and advice from the CDC and other health officials in your communities.
At TechSoup, our mission is to help you carry out your mission. We are committed to doing just that throughout this current public health emergency and beyond.
*Offer subject to availability.
On March 12, TechSoup hosted a virtual workshop on managing the impact of COVID-19 on nonprofits. Here is the recording of that workshop.
- See ICTworks' advice on organizing a virtual conference.
- Understand the Videoconferencing Tools Available to Your Nonprofit.
- Begin Thinking Outside the Inbox about communication and collaboration tools.
- Get some Key Tips for Working Remotely for Your Nonprofit.