On Our Minds

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Going Remote: JFF shares its learnings and best practices

by Jennifer Anderson

“Going Remote” is a series of articles highlighting talent professionals from the On-Ramps community, as they discuss the adjustments they have made to their talent practices—and the subsequent outcomes—since shifting to a remote workforce during the coronavirus pandemic. We are thrilled to facilitate this knowledge share in the hopes that it will help organizations across the social sector during these challenging times.

Jennifer Anderson is the vice president of people and culture at JFF, a nonprofit focused on the transformation of the American workforce and education systems to ensure access to economic advancement for all. 

During this time of uncertainty, JFF has been in a very fortunate position to continue hiring. We recognize how lucky that is, and that, in part, it’s a function of JFF’s focus: the future of work. People are at the center of our mission and how we achieve our mission. (It’s one of the main reasons we changed our HR function name to “people and culture.”) And we want to be a part of the recovery effort for the more than 30 million people who are currently out of work. In order to do that effectively, we are taking several measures in our own organization to ensure our team members have the flexibility they need at home to contribute their best work to our mission. 

Something we’re doing temporarily: 

Instituting a supplemental leave policy

JFF is a national organization of 150 employees with offices in Boston, Oakland, and DC, and many of our teammates already work remotely full time in other states. In response to the pandemic, our entire organization started working from home on Monday, March 16. That week, we implemented a new supplemental leave policy providing two weeks of additional leave to all of our employees at 100% of their rate of pay. This can be deployed by any employee for any reason related to the coronavirus pandemic—including treating an illness, focusing on childcare, or taking a mental health day. 

School closures were happening at the same time in many of the communities where we operate, so we knew that this would have an impact on our employees who are parents. We also knew this would impact employees with limited space in their living situations, as well as newer employees who had not yet accrued much vacation time. So, we chose to structure the policy so that it was inclusive of all team member’s situations. 

Initially, we instituted supplemental leave through the month of April. We've since extended it through the end of the calendar year, and it has been very rewarding to hear how appreciative our employees have been of this policy. Shortly after we implemented supplemental leave, the federal government came out with the Families First legislation. We are proud that JFF’s supplement leave exceeds the federal leave requirement that is a part of that legislation. 

Changes that we think will last: 

Increasing company-wide communication

Early on, we put together a pandemic planning team—a cross-functional group of 10 individuals from all three offices, helmed by our COO. Throughout the month of April, the team met twice a week to discuss the ongoing policy updates and timelines of shutdowns, school closures, and other changes. 

In determining how to share these updates with employees, our COO felt it was important to keep communication regular. He started writing bi-weekly emails, and I began writing specific people and culture emails. Our CEO also increased her communication to the organization by sharing weekly personal reflections and updates on the situation. As we wrote more, we also started opening our meetings with more intentional team check-ins. This was a standard practice for us before the pandemic, but it’s easy to lose sight of why we have check-ins in the first place. This crisis has certainly heightened the importance of keeping those interactions meaningful, and I think that’s something we’ll be sustaining once this subsides.

Cutting back on internal meetings

JFF has always encouraged capping internal meetings at 45 minutes, but not many people adhered to it in the past. Since going remote, however, we understand how much more important it becomes to be able to step away from your work space and take a break or move around. So, we’ve really leaned back into holding the 45-minute meeting norm, and there has been more employee incentive to follow it as well. 

In addition, we recently instituted Focus Fridays, which entail no internal meetings on Friday afternoons. Our team noticed that people were feeling really stretched with the constant stream of WebEx calls. We felt that cutting back on internal meetings on Friday afternoon, and making it a norm across the organization, would help create space at the end of the week. Although these are recent changes, I wouldn't be surprised if we continue the 45-minute meeting norm and something akin to Focus Fridays beyond the pandemic, after seeing how many employees have already expressed their gratitude. I think the appreciation for these norms isn’t necessarily tied to this specific moment in time, and I hope they persist after the pandemic is behind us. 

What we’re thinking about next:

Tackling the question of performance management

While I am proud of the many adjustments JFF has made so far, there are still many questions about what happens next that I don't have the answers to just yet—and that I am actively discussing with our executive team to try to be ahead of the curve. One of those questions pertains to performance management and how we will structure it, as we expect that this pandemic will continue to impact how we work in the coming months. Right now, I am having conversations with our COO about how we take into account our working parents. Given the uncertainty around the summer (for example, will summer camps even happen?), we want to be mindful of how increased child care obligations may impact performance and potential for advancement for staff members who have child care responsibilities—all while remaining committed as an organization to maintaining a learning- and growth-centered culture.

The Takeaway

Having “people” and “culture” in my job title, I feel a lot of accountability for JFF’s employees. I want to make very clear that the choices we’re making as an organization—what they are, whom they serve, and why they’re happening—are about strengthening our people and culture during these uncertain times. It all goes back to living the values of our mission. We can't do the incredible work we do in the field without taking care of our people inside our organization.