Remote Tools for the New Normal

Lynn and Molly have teamed up to share tips, tricks from working remotely over the past year. Check out their video discussion, and scroll down to learn more from their experience.

dsmHack board member Lynn Woody

Hi all, my name is Lynn Woody. I’m the current president for dsmHack and LOVE the creativity and connections that are made when technologists and nonprofits work together at our hackathons. We at dsmHack are anxiously awaiting the time when we can do that again. Until then, we want to share technical topics with our nonprofit friends. Our topic today – working remotely.

For my day job, I’m a scrum master (team coach) and help teams do their best work together. I’m employed by a technology company where we do know how to do tech and work in remote ways. The switch to working fully remote when the pandemic hit didn’t really phase our company’s efficiency, but it did hurt our connections.

Working fully remote for over a year- many things changed – starting with my clothes which are now mainly stretch pants and tee shirts! Video conference calls happen everyday (often all day long). I am loving the gas money and commute time saved, but missing walking up to a friend’s desk just to chit-chat. That informal connection while working fully remote is still critical and it can still happen, but I’ve learned you have to be more purposeful to get it.

Here are some things that I’ve done to foster connection:

  • I use my video camera and highly encourage others to do the same. Body language aids in understanding how things land with folks. Also seeing faces increases the opportunities to understand each other and often allows for more smiles and laughter. 
  • Bring humor into meetings. As an example, at the end of a meeting, especially a dry meeting, I ask someone to give me a number between 1-140 and another team member finds that page on his joke book and reads us a joke. We know it will be corny but that’s ok, it provides distraction and smiles (or groans). 
  • Schedule “tomfoolery” meetings which are important for both team building and creativity. These meetings allow our brains to rest for just a moment. Laughter is often an outcome which draws a team so much closer together.
  • I created a Microsoft Teams channel for “water cooler” conversations and send a random “question” for folks to contribute answers (an example: what is your spirit animal and why?).  
  • When having meetings I strive to use collaborative tools allowing everyone to update, not just one person driving and everyone else watching – which is so boring!

*See ideas and links at the bottom of this article.

Let me provide more context to some of these bullets above. 

About four months ago, well into working fully remote, I joined a new-to-me team. The team had to adjust to me and I had to adjust to them. I took things slowly, getting to know them better. Within the first few months, I noticed not everyone was sharing their videos in meetings. In one-on-one coffee times I scheduled, I encouraged team members to share their videos with the group and why that was important. The culture on the team changed as more faces were seen, deepening connections on the team. Then I moved my focus to increasing laughter (like the joke book I mentioned above). I scheduled some fun time where we would play an online game. We played all sorts of games like bingo, jeopardy, family feud, pictionary and more (see the list of ideas at the end of the blog). The games are always optional and some team members chose to just watch and not play, which is fine because they are still included. I have to tell you that one of the games hit just the right chord because the whole group was laughing hysterically. THAT is connection! Creating good memories builds connections, connections strengthen teams. 

Another focus I had was how to reduce boring meetings. We all have them and hate them. One way I’ve found to increase collaboration and engagement in meetings is to allow all members to work within the same online tool like Miro. There are many collaborative tools like this (whiteboard tools, tasking tools, etc). Tools like these in our new remote world create clearer and more creative outcomes. 

Connection, laughter, collaboration – are still needed so let’s not let this pandemic world short us of these critical items!


dsmHack board member Molly Hanson

Hi I’m Molly Hanson and I’m the Non-Profit Chair on the dsmHack Board. By day, I work as  Conservation and Community Outreach Specialist at RDG Planning & Design.  The best part of my job is how different every day is.  I’m constantly learning new things and challenging my own ideas through projects with some pretty amazing clients.  Outreach and engagement are two big parts of my job and the approaches we took to both changed dramatically in 2020.  As a new-ish member of the RDG team, I was also excited to find myself on the Holiday Party Planning Committee.  If you’ve never been to the RDG Holiday Open House, I have two words for you; cranberry margarita.  But I digress…

Like many of you, I’ve participated in more than my fair share of Zoom meetings at this point.  Virtual events and open houses have been made possible through new software and recorded webinars made information available to the public even during “off hours.”  Questions about accessibility have prompted discussions about WiFi  and device availability.  We’ve decreased our travel budget and increased our required training about online safety against phishing attacks and Zoom bombing.  Things look a little different but our commitment to creating meaning together remains.  Moving forward, I believe the future requires a hybrid approach. 

We’ve learned, now more than ever, that people are flexible, adaptable, resilient and creative.  We know that non-profit organizations have traditionally depended on big events to bring in big dollars.  Last year, we altered our spending habits, donated where and what we could and sought connection in whatever form we could find it.  Fundraising was no easy task.  Frankly, it never is.  My hope is that we can take the best of what we used to do, combined with the best of what we’ve learned during a global pandemic, and chart a course forward that helps organizations large and small thrive in a more efficient manner.

Now back to that Holiday Open House: A Case Study

Planning and prep had just as many logistics as an in-person event does, so let’s just say that up front.  Our planning committee tapped into our IT group and our in-house videographer to sift through ideas.  We kicked around handing out gift bags ahead of the event, but decided that the main advantage of going virtual was that clients from across the country could tune in to join us.  We even considered ‘Dumpster Fire’ for a theme but eventually settled on, ‘Expect the Unexpected.’  

The short story is that we played bingo.  The long story is that we wrote and story boarded a script, recruited members of the office to act, scheduled times for them to appear in person and masked up for several takes of their scene, collected prizes from local businesses around town, did a ‘dress rehearsal’ with the entire staff, designed graphics and screen backgrounds, assigned break-out room captains and played video bingo with clients, friends and family from around the country. 


If you’re thinking, great story but I’m a tiny non-profit so how do I scale all of this down to work for my organization, we’ve got you covered.  Remember, dsmHack is a non-profit organization too.

There are some great resources out there that have thought through access and affordability to virtual tools for your organizations.

Several tools also provide limited FREE options.  Miro, for example, offers your first three boards for free.  Google, Atlassian and Microsoft Office also have limited free options for collaboration software.  

Things have changed, but so have we.  Conversations about fundraising, equity and effective communication have changed the way we work.  It’s up to all of us to lift up the causes that are making our community better.  We’re dsmHack and we’re here to support your mission.  

Stay tuned for more to come!


We also promised you some fun links!

Drawing 

  • skribbl (up to 12 players) – site walks you through how to play
  • Drawasaurus (up to 16 players) – site walks you through how to play
  • Quick, Draw! – Google’s AI tries to guess what you are drawing.

Cards

Trivia / Word Games

Video Games

  • AmongUs 
  • Psych! (By Ellen DeGeneres – play on your phones while on a video call). This is a free game where you try to outsmart your friends by making up fake answers to real trivia questions in categories about animals, entertainment, and each other!  
  • Jackbox is a fun game. You have to purchase it and download a launcher but it is a fun party game. (approx $15 for a party set and you only have to buy this as the presenter)

Misc and team building