Thinking of making the transition from a physical workplace to a virtual office? An association executive shares her experience and top tips for a successful move.
By Emily Bratcher
One of the first things that Sharon Kneebone, CAE, had to do when she came on board as the executive director of the National Society for Histotechnology in May 2015 was make budget cuts. NSH “had a credit line of over $700,000 secured against their investments, and there wasn’t really enough money in their operating accounts,” she said.
When it became clear that cutting marketing and volunteer travel funding weren’t going to be enough to solve the problem, Kneebone started thinking about moving NSH from a physical office to a remote one, especially since the society’s lease was due to end in July 2017.
Creating two versions of NSH’s budget—one reflective of remaining in the brick-and-mortar office and the other reflective of a remote office—helped drive home the benefits of moving to an all-virtual office to both the board and staff.
Here are a few tips Kneebone found helpful in the process:
Socialize the idea. “Not everyone is gung-ho about, ‘Oh, I want to work from home,’” Kneebone said. “Some people really like the idea of separation, and they want to be able to go to an office every day.” Plus, NSH is a relatively young group, having been around for 44 years, and it worked its way from someone’s kitchen into an established office, so there was an emotional element of thinking about letting that office go. That’s why Kneebone socialized the idea of going remote with her staff in one-on-one conversations well before any decision had been made.
Acknowledge the importance of face-to-face time. “You can start to feel isolated if you’re not purposeful about using the webcam and video chats with your colleagues and … about maintaining your network and scheduling—at least once a month—some type of professional outing,” Kneebone said, so that’s something she encourages her staff to do. NSH also budgets face-to-face time four times a year, which include team lunches and an end-of-year celebration. In December, the staff did a cooking class together, and one of the things they chatted about were the challenges of living and working in the same four walls—and the solutions they use for overcoming those.
Find good partners. Finding smart technology solutions—and a partner that you can rely on for technology support is imperative, Kneebone said. She also said an HR partner has been invaluable in managing not just payroll but also in making sure NSH is compliant with HR laws. In addition, Kneebone relied on that partner for help in updating the employee manual to reflect the new virtual setting, including the expectation that staff is available and responsive during established hours.
Use your network. Although Kneebone had worked remotely before, she’d never led an organization through the process from brick-and-mortar to fully virtual. “I did have a lot of conversations with other execs and asked a lot of questions,” Kneebone said, adding that she found her tech and HR partners through referrals from colleagues. She also got encouragement from colleagues right before NSH took the plunge, who told her, “Yes, you’re doing fine. Stay the course.”
Less than a year into the move, Kneebone is very pleased with the outcome so far. “We budgeted for a surplus of I think it was $70,000 for 2017, and we’re going to hit roughly $200,000,” she said. “It’s significant, and it’s not all directly related to the move, but that was an intentional part of it.”
When it comes to productivity, Kneebone said she can see that the work is getting done. “The feedback that I’ve gotten from members and other volunteer leaders is that we can’t even tell the difference,” she said. “If anything, I would caution execs or COOs considering this to monitor your staff to make sure they’re not spending too much time working.”
Emily Bratcher is a contributing editor at Associations Now. This article was originally published on AssociationsNow.com.