By the Joining Vision and Action Team

JVA is very comfortable with the use of technology for communication, and we frequently communicate within our team and with clients and their stakeholders via technology. Most of our staff also works from home some or most of the time. Wondering why we’re talking about this? Read our blog about how nonprofits can prepare for the new coronavirus.

Tools and approaches

The following are some of the tools JVA’s team members have used. We would be happy to help your organization determine which might be most useful to you and help you to deploy them.

  • Google: Although not as specialized as some of the tools listed below, Google Docs and Sheets are somewhat familiar to most people. Using them creatively might minimize the time it takes to get everyone up to speed. Additional tools from Google include Google Slides, Forms, Hangouts Meet, Hangouts Chat and Google Voice.
  • Zoom is for video communications and is simple to use for meetings. It also has a chat feature, and chat discussion can be downloaded in a .txt file. This is a good way to collect written responses, as for an online focus group.
  • Doodle allows one to schedule meetings by conducting an online poll to determine availability. It offers a free version as well as a paid version with additional features, and you can integrate other platforms and plug-ins (e.g., Google Calendar and Slack).
  • Poll Everywhere is a great tool for engaging audiences online by asking questions, collecting feedback and seeing/reporting feedback instantly, says Silvia Solis, JVA’s bilingual qualitative evaluation associate.
  • Lucidchart provides “diagramming, data visualization and collaboration.” Our team notes that it’s good for collaborative flow-chart creation and can be added to one’s Google Drive.
  • Diagrams.net (formerly Draw.io) is “open source, online, desktop and container deployable diagramming software.” The team notes it has a good pricing structure around collaboration and also is good for collaborative flow-chart creation. It too can be added to your Google Drive.
  • Padlet.com offers “boards, documents, and webpages that are easy to read and fun to contribute to.” JVA has used it to create a virtual sticky screen, with participants adding and replying to posted notes.
  • Asana: We use Asana for team collaboration, assigning and tracking project components and progression.
  • Slack uses channels (“organized spaces for everything related to a project, topic or team”). It markets itself as a replacement for email and touts its usefulness in organizing conversations.
  • Bit.ai is a new document collaboration app that is getting some buzz. “It’s like Google Drive on steroids,” JVA quantitative evaluation associate Aaron Schonhoff says.
  • FeedMap, by SmartMunk is a tool to get feedback on visual templates, such as new product concepts, packaging, advertisements, websites and brochures.“It gives the opportunity to point out things and give a smile or a frown and any other feedback,” explains Nora Welch, JVA’s director of strategic planning and communications.

You can also find information on additional tools in articles such as the following:

Tips on technology use

Additionally, JVA team members shared the following advice on working with technology:

  • Test it ahead of time. It’s helpful to use the technology you’re using ahead of time so that you can:
    • focus on facilitating or participating in the process (vs. getting bogged down on the “how do I do this?”)
    • be a resource for others
  • Have a backup plan. Provided you’ve tested your system and figure out your bugs, it can also be helpful to have a backup option, since technology can be finicky. (Think: What is the alternative? Who needs to be involved?)
  • Have a designated facilitator. For groups of any size (but especially larger groups, or if you’re unsure how many will show), it’s helpful to have someone designated to lead the meeting, and to make it clear who that is.
  • Be clear about whether the meeting is audio-only or video. As a remote employee, nothing’s worse than thinking you are having an audio call and then it finding out it’s a video call.
  • Speak up. It’s important for participants to remember to speak clearly, fairly loudly and directly at the device that’s supposed to be picking up sound.
  • Invest in good technology. If people are going to engage in remote work activities over the long term, invest in tools to facilitate the process (e.g., a microphone or some sort of sound port to better hear people in a conference room for those over the phone/video, video conferencing devices, etc.).

Working from home

Finally, the following steps can help you be productive when working from home:

  • Define a space in your home that is dedicated for work so you can think clearly without distractions. If schools close and your children are at home, teach them that when the door is closed, that means they cannot come in and that they need to keep the noise level down.
  • Set up breaks every couple of hours to tackle little things, such as laundry, making some food, helping children with something, and updating family members on what you need from them to get your work done and when you’ll be available next.
  • Have patience, because this will be new to you and your children. Children are likely to view it as a break from school and won’t understand that they can’t have access to you like they normally would during a day when everyone is at home.
  • Because this is new and stress levels from living with a pandemic are high, this might not be the best time to try to learn to use an unfamiliar tool. You might want to start with the tools you know and are comfortable with. Much of the time, a good, old-fashioned phone call, email or text is perfectly adequate to communicate with co-workers and customers.