Five Tips for Facing Times of Crisis

Times of crisis challenge us as people. They also test the institutions and organizations we rely on.

Woman in athletic gear pushing large tire over in gym

Times of crisis not only challenge us as people — they test the health and operations of the institutions and organizations we rely on for information, advocacy, direct services, and other support.

In response to the global pandemic, companies, nonprofits, and foundations around the world have implemented remote working in an attempt to help “flatten the curve.” They have dramatically shifted almost every aspect of their operations with little-to-no time to adequately prepare staff or put in place the necessary supporting infrastructures and processes to ensure remote working can be done well.

While we don’t know how long this uncertainty will last or what its long-term impact will be, we do know that “flattening the curve” also extends the length of our uncertainty and time spent practicing “social distancing”. Organizations must invest time and energy right now into supporting their staff and ensuring the internal health of their operations. Changing exogenous factors require organizations to revisit their strategic, fundraising, and operational plans. Assuming that staff, service provision, and operations will function the same remotely as they do in-person is an insufficient and unwise response that does not appropriately wrestle with the real world challenges people from many backgrounds and circumstances are facing.

In our experience working with clients on strategic and crisis planning, stress management, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ), we know what works well in a crisis and how to tailor it to a client’s unique situation and needs.

Here are five things you can do now to prepare for the months to come:

Incorporate immediate scenario planning. 

This can be done as part of larger strategic planning, or as a refresh of your current plan. Smart leaders need to engage in scenario planning immediately so that you know what it will take to weather this crisis. This includes financial modeling that takes into account economic fallout, remote work policies, and technology investment to support remote work, adjusting your strategic plan to focus on what is most important to your organization, incorporating staff wellness with a DEIJ lens into your daily operations, and determining how to shift your programming to serve your constituents or engage your members from all backgrounds virtually. When switching to an entirely remote work environment, what does it mean to value transparency and communication? And do you need new protocols or processes to clarify that for staff? Now is the time to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Take the time to create contingency plans that range from the best to worst possible outcomes. And though times may seem dire, now is also an opportune time to create new ways of doing work. People are innovative and resilient; as we adapt to a new reality, it is worth considering what pieces of our old reality we want to continue and or replicate. Or, are there new, more efficient ways to do your work that should be considered? Do not be afraid to innovate.

Live your values. 

An organization’s values should be more than a list of nice words posted on a wall. They should be integrated into decision-making and put into action. Your values communicate to your staff and clients how you prioritize resources and what outcomes you attempt to maximize when making hard decisions. Do your behaviors match your values? Now is the time to think about marginalized populations who are facing unique challenges on top of the additional pressures we’re all experiencing in this new reality. Unfortunately, these communities may too often be the first to be deprioritized, excluded, and not treated equitably. Advocating for social justice issues can also slip through the cracks in these moments. Organizations will want to lean into – versus back away from – visibly-sustaining their commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

Make strategic investments.

We understand that organizations are facing unprecedented uncertainty, particularly as it relates to their bottom line. However, remote working, even under ideal conditions, requires infrastructure and tools to reduce staff frustration and improve efficiency. Invest in training and infrastructure that will help your staff from all backgrounds and circumstances match the right tool to the right purpose; for example, it might be time to invest in a paid, secure service for video conferencing rather than relying on free services which have experienced bandwidth and privacy issues. Similarly, if you have not made the transition to a shared document platform and document management tool like Google docs or Microsoft Teams, now is the time. We also recommend adopting other tools that make remote collaboration and team management easier, such as Slack or Asana.

Create opportunities for staff to continue to engage “in-person.”

The tools we rely on for remote working (i.e. emails, chats, and various other apps and platforms) can be great for efficiency but not always for comradery. They can lack tone and make interactions feel more perfunctory and transactional, rather than supportive, inclusive, or collegial. And given the pressure and stress staff are under, all of whom are experiencing the current climate in divergent ways, they are more likely to read something into these exchanges than what is meant. It is critical that organizations create opportunities to continue coming together “face-to-face” (safely, through video conferencing) to reinforce staff connections and social bonds. To this end, organizations should also restructure meetings to be convened by video; this may require adopting different platforms, facilitation styles, and/or approaches to setting agendas, than what you are used to, to ensure everyone is engaged and feels included.

Take care of yourself and your people.

In times of stress, it’s even more important to focus on caring for yourself and helping others do the same. That might seem counterintuitive — right now feels like a time to buckle down and work to save our organizations. But, if we double down on work without also doubling down on self-compassion and advocating for marginalized populations who need agency on a normal day, our organizations will ultimately suffer. Increases in stress hormones decrease immunity, making all of us more likely to get sick; decreases our executive function, making it harder to work and come up with creative ideas; and decreases our ability to sleep, which exacerbates our stress. Make space and time for gathering and reviewing feedback, bring humility to all situations, and welcome uncertainty. Now is the time to invest in a myriad of resources to help a broad range of staff cope with their stress and anxiety, so that they are able to better focus and be present in their work and in their lives.

It is our hope that when we emerge from this pandemic, our diverse community finds itself more resilient, empowered, better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead, and with new tools for engaging the members and constituents that make up the neighborhoods we live and work in virtually.