Rapid Response in the Time of Pandemic: Building Movements with Remote Teams

Define American
Mar 18 · 6 min read

By Ryan Eller, Executive Director & Alicia Wade, Director of Administration and People Services, Define American

As organizations of all shapes and sizes move online, in an effort to unite around our collective health and safety, we must also remain mindful of the communities we serve and uplift. Many of our organizations balance on-the-ground and digital organizing every day. Moving rapidly to a remote world — hopefully for a short time — does not have to be as daunting as it seems. Define American is an intentionally remote organization and has been since 2013. We have discovered the challenges and benefits of building national movements with distributed teams. As much of the workforce moves to remote working, many have reached out for advice on staying connected and focused while continuing to impact the national conversation in this new era.

For some of our friends, responding to this pandemic means working remotely for the first time; for others, it means refining policies and procedures to ensure they maintain the greatest impact. And in some cases, it might mean redefining what impact even means for our movements. In our respective fields, we have become accustomed to pivoting and adapting to ever-changing environments. Many of us are already adept at rapid response and, in that spirit, we would like to share some of our best practices for remote working teams.

Bring organizing home

  • Establish your “war room.” It does not have to be an entire room, of course, but establish a specific work-area that will help you personally create and foster healthy routines around your work. A dedicated space gives you the ability to focus and conduct meetings with your team and with stakeholders. Take breaks as you would in the office, and be sure to unplug at the end of the day.
  • Lights, camera, action! Get dressed, make sure you are camera ready and wear the same clothes you would wear to your workplace. Adjust the lighting in your workspace to ensure you are clearly visible when conducting video calls, and clear off all distracting items so they are out of sight. It is important that you minimize distractions and let your organizing skills take center stage when engaging with colleagues and stakeholders. You want them to remember your words, not your pajama pants because you were only prepared to be on camera from the waist up when you suddenly had to go grab a file behind you.
  • Secure and stable! Check your internet speed and wifi security settings to ensure that you have sufficient bandwidth and secure access to complete your daily tasks according to the needs of your organization and your various campaigns. Be sure that you have all the security, productivity tools and applications that you typically use at the office downloaded on your laptop, especially if it is not work issued. Ask your administration and/or operations team about best practices and acceptable use policies to ensure compliance. Always remember to stay compliant, even in times of crisis. The ability to securely share and receive information, as well as the ability to quickly take action, are the foundation of successfully executed rapid response moments.
  • Test your tech. Test your conferencing connections and ensure that you are able to quickly meet via video or audio conference call if needed. In today’s rapidly changing news cycle it is important that your technology is as ready if you are to spring into action. At Define American, we use Zoom and other video conferencing tools throughout the day. Try out the various features of your chat software so you know the best tool for any particular job (i.e., How many participants? Do you need to present or share screens? Do you need to screen record? Do people need to log in or set anything up beforehand?).

Build expectations for team success

  • Can you hear me now? Connect with your colleagues via communications tools and video chats. At Define American, we are currently using Flock for team chats, but other organizations use WhatsApp, Slack or other tools. Recreate watercooler chats with designated channels and standing video huddles with your team members. Don’t just dive into the work at the onset of meetings. Instead, ask your colleagues how they are. Share how you are adjusting to working remotely and share your own insights to increase bondedness on your team and lead to greater outcomes in your work. At Define American, we’re creating a chat just for life-hacks in this situation, creating times to connect over video for remote “happy hour,” quick games, etc.
  • Communicate effectively. As we become more digitally connected in our remote environments, it is important to understand the norms of the working style of your organization and of your individual colleagues. For team members that you communicate with most often, establish ground rules for platforms, topics and frequency of chats to ensure you are working in concert rather than discord.
  • Call time. Working from home presents its own set of time management challenges. Make it easier by setting designated “office hours” that fall within your organization’s core operating hours. It is important to honor your responsibilities within the organization, as well as your personal time. If you wouldn’t run back to the office at 8:00 pm when your boss emails you, don’t do it at home. And if you do, it’s time to establish new norms!
  • Commute from your couch! Resist the urge to immediately log into your email or team communication tools as soon as you wake up. Set your intention for the day on a personal level and give yourself an opportunity to have a “virtual commute” by fixing breakfast, listening to your favorite podcast, checking online news, watching the news, or having a cup of coffee. It is important to ease into your workday — as you would in an office setting — to avoid burnout.
  • Meet with purpose. Create a meeting schedule that complements your workflows and intended outcomes. Set designated days and times for standing meetings as well as ad hoc meetings with your colleagues. For example, reserve Monday afternoons for meetings with your colleagues to discuss upcoming deliverables and plan for upcoming projects. Designate time blocks on your calendar for colleagues to mimic dropping by your desk for quick chats throughout the week.

Care for yourself and for your colleagues

  • Fuel your fight! It can be very easy to become immersed in your work and forget to drink plenty of water. Keep a water bottle or cup by your workstation to ensure you are properly hydrating throughout the day. Stock your pantry with healthy snacks, and consider healthy food prep to avoid excessive takeout orders and junk food grazing throughout the day. We all have to remind ourselves and each other that self-care is so important in organizations, particularly those building a culture that is more inclusive and welcoming. Our families, our teams, as well as the communities we serve need us healthy and ready to work towards the outcomes in our missions.
  • Movements require moving. As your environment allows, exercise and remain active. YouTube and other video sharing platforms have amazing free exercise classes and at-home routine tutorials. Choose a routine that fits your fitness level and helps you nurture your mind and body — endorphins and innovation go hand-in-hand! Get creative and use common household items for resistance training or leverage while exercising. Always remember to be safe and listen to your body to ensure you do not injure yourself or knock over the flat screen you worked so hard for!

We recognize that news around the pandemic is an evolving situation that has caused uneasiness for many but, in the midst of it all, we have also seen tremendous examples of people coming together and caring for one another in unprecedented ways. It is these examples of community bondedness — supporting our neighbors, sharing supplies and information and combating xenophobia — that we at Define American will continue to lift up and share. We are also happy to share more of our best practices with you and the important insights that have helped us thrive as a team. You can commit your team to safety, inclusiveness and accessibility for everyone you serve and still do the real work of building movements, no matter where you go to work in the morning.

Define American has been a majority remote-working organization since 2013. Named one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” in 2019 and again in 2020, Define American is a leading narrative and culture change organization that uses media and the power of storytelling to transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity and citizenship in a changing America. Learn more and help change the narrative at DefineAmerican.com.

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Define American is a leading narrative and culture change organization. How do you define American?

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