Blog

Planning for Your Organization’s Digital Future

Chris Wolz

CEO & President, Forum One

Ring ring! It’s your digital strategy calling, and it needs some help. If you’re at the helm of an organization, COVID-19 is forcing you to make quick changes to how your organization functions.  This is an opportunity to think about planning for your organization’s digital future.

Last week, I spoke with 20 CEOs of nonprofits and businesses, all of whom have shifted their teams to 100% remote work. None of these leaders had expected to make this shift in the past weeks – but were finding that they’d mostly made the shift, and smoothly.  Few of these leaders had ever made this drastic change, let alone expect to move so swiftly. (No restaurateurs or retailers in the group.) 

Remote work is just the beginning. Digital tools should help you be more nimble in the way you react to crises and unexpected challenges. Integrating more digital workflows into your everyday work will help make your organization more resilient and successful when another crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, occurs. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, about half of Forum One’s team of 125 would be working remotely on any given day, so our shift to 100% was smooth. Our work requires us to build digital solutions into our work processes in order to serve our clients well and provide the most relevant cutting-edge solution to our project teams. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to digital solutions. 

Keeping your teams working successfully

You need ways to define, track, and oversee the work of distributed teams. This likely includes your staff, but also contractors, partners, and clients. While we’re all getting very familiar with using Zoom or other video conferencing, there are lots of other tools out there that help you collaborate and stay connected. Organizations can make use of a suite of valuable tools to organize and guide teams, including:

  • Teamwork: A central place for plans, communication, collaboration 
  • Atlassian tools: Jira to plan, track, and manage agile projects and Confluence, which is a wiki for knowledge management
  • Google Drive: A simple way to collaborate in real-time and store all your documents 
  • OpenAir: For project/practice data and management
  • Slack: For instant team communication

You also need to develop new norms, standards, and etiquette to help guide and facilitate teams. You can use Google Drive or Confluence to document these changes, Slack to communicate quickly, and Zoom for quick check-ins on what is working and what needs to be fixed.

Managing individual staff from afar to be productive and engaged

Your staff may require guidance and mentoring while working remotely. This will likely include setting performance expectations, tracking progress, checking-in remotely, and taking the pulse of staff who are working remotely. A useful tool is the cloud-based BambooHR for goals and feedback, OpenAir for tracking individual productivity, Zoom and Google Docs for bi-weekly check-ins, and asking senior leadership at the executive level to do periodic individual Zoom check-ins with everyone in the company. 

Your annual conference is canceled… now what?

Many organizations are canceling or postponing major conferences because of Covid-19, which may be a hit to their revenue, membership relations, and overall impact. Organizations can rethink what the annual event provides, unpack it as a series of activities and experiences,  and explore what could be the digital equivalent – including reaching new audiences. This might include transforming thought leadership keynote sessions into intimate one-to-many events, creating digital small group discussions, and creating opportunities for serendipitous networking. These activities can be provided virtually using tools like Hopin, including, for example, opt-in “birds-of-a-feather” gatherings based on participant interest. 

Modernizing how you manage your data

For many organizations, a critical part of your mission is to provide insights, ideas, and data that help decision-makers — business leaders, policy-makers, community organizers, local elected officials — make smarter decisions. At the heart of those insights is data. And today’s circumstances are underscoring that we need data now more than ever. But many research institutions, think tanks, associations, academic centers, government agencies, and foundations have been slow to adopt modern digital approaches for managing, modeling, analyzing, visualizing, and distributing their data. Most nonprofits are still relying heavily on spreadsheets and on-premise databases, with ad-hoc data governance that leads to slow and inefficient outputs. This pandemic is a wake-up call for many that they simply don’t have the ability to quickly aggregate, store, model, analyze, and distribute the data that’s critical to efficiently produce their most impactful product: ideas that make the world smarter.

Redesigning your work 

You could use this digital interruption to rethink how your organization delivers your core value, your service, product, or solution. You’ll probably be providing that to your “customers” differently and more digitally in three years – so get started on that reinvention today. For example, Lever for Change reinvented its approach to philanthropy with Bold Solutions Network, collecting applications through a digital platform, vetting solutions online, and sharing those high-quality applications with other philanthropists and funders to review and consider. Creating more opportunities to access your work digitally means that you are more prepared for not only wider engagement with audiences, but for situations in which the majority of the world’s only option is to access your content through a digital platform. 

Building your organizational culture online

Organizational culture is one of the primary reasons that staff, clients, partners, and members choose to work with you. Your culture is the value that holds your organization together and can be expressed through your interactions internally and externally about what matters to you. Even if you already have a strong organizational culture, rethinking your digital needs as an organization is the first step in thinking through what tools you need to propagate shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and rules, both spoken and unspoken, that have been developed over time. Your people are at the core of your company’s culture and will help you understand and strategize how you can bring your organization’s culture online through your external and internal communications such as your blog, interactive stories about your work, events, and collaboration channels.

Written By

Chris Wolz

CEO & President, Forum One

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