Working Remotely Challenges for Churches

Working Remotely Challenges for Churches

Apple’s director of machine learning (Artificial Intelligence), Ian Goodfellow, resigned from his role just four years after joining Apple and returned to Google. Why? In his email to his team he said the change is due in part to Apple’s requirement that staff return to the physical office at least three days per week beginning in May. According to a group of employees said via letter to Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO that many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple. This is a decision none of us take lightly, and a decision many would prefer not to have to make.

One of the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 is that many more staff work remotely than many of us ever previously had envisioned, and studies suggest the number will stay as high as 74%! Within the church the percentage is likely to stay high too. Working remotely presents challenges for leaders, managers, and staff—how to leader, legal and HR ramifications, and technological—and all are strategic.

Jonathan Smith, President of MBS Inc. said Just because working remotely is now commonplace does not mean it is as easy as logging into email from home… Viewing working remotely as a one-size-fits-all strategy would be a great mistake.

Some staff today are only willing to work from home! That’s quite a change from what most leaders and managers are used to! Whether it’s because of the convenience and gas savings of no commute, the ability to be home and available to children, or wanting to stay with the puppy they bought during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are not willing to return full-time to the office! Even in churches and ministries!

Tax & Legal Challenges

Some functions can only be done at the on-site office. But during the COVID pandemic we learned that a surprising amount of operational work for churches and ministries can be done in staff’s home/remote offices. Even accounting functions! Michael Martin, ECFA President, addresses how to maintain integrity even when staff works remotely in Working Remotely: A Framework for Success.

In the same book Frank and Ellaine Sommerville address the sensitive issue of exempt and non-exempt staff in their chapter The Remote Worker and the FLSA: Employers struggle with how to build systems that allow non-exempt employees— those bound by the 40-hour workweek and entitled to overtime— to work remotely and still meet all the regulatory standards. They also include downloadable policies and agreements that facilitate a solid relationship in church and ministry remote work environments that address such things as whether the church will reimburse internet connection fees, security of work materials, and whether working remotely can be viewed as a substitute for dependent care.

Managing and Working Well in a Remote Office

There’s more to meetings with remote workers than simply choosing a video meeting platform like Teams or Zoom. Patti Mallott shares, A lot has been written about staff meetings. Some dread them because they are often poorly run and viewed as a waste of time. Others see them as a tool to share ideas and collaborate, energizing, and empowering team members to accomplish goals … All staff meetings are not equal.

Glenn Wood and Darrell Roland share invaluable practical wisdom for managers and staff on how to be successful in working remotely. Both have been responsible for setting strategies in their churches that help further the mission through the church team. Here are a few gems from them:

  • In his chapter Re-Launching as a Remote Staff, Darrel says: Leading virtually is more difficult, more confounding, demands more of you as a leader, and takes more leadership maturity. Why? There are many reasons, a few of which are the loss of contextualism expressed through body language, facial expression, and tone of voice. This loss will inevitably lead to misunderstandings and confusion, leaving you and your team wondering what is happening to your relationships. Your team will miss having face-to-face interactions. There will be a loss of casual conversations that happen in the hallway or grabbing a cup of coffee or wherever your casual conversations take place. A lack of physical presence can diminish the very culture you have fought so hard to create. Without intentional effort, you will create an unintentional DNA that can lead to chaos. Darrell then shares five disciplines that can maintain and enrich your team culture in a remote-staff environment.
  • Glenn reminds us: Employees can waste time just as easily in the office as they do offsite. I have spoken with many employers and managers who feel their employees need to be in the office to be productive. Employers need to trust their employees to get their work done, and if that doesn’t happen, the employees need to be held accountable. He then shares ways to strategically keep staff accountable—even when remote.
  • In Glenn says in a chapter that helps staff set up their remote work office: Having a workplace that is conducive to being productive… is about creating an environment that allows you to focus on the task at hand, having the tools you need and the correct lighting, and also considers ergonomics.

Before the COVID pandemic, many in church and ministry management thought of staff working remotely as mostly theoretical. During the pandemic, most churches and ministries empowered staff to make the decisions necessary to keep the ministry moving forward. Some made good choices, and some didn’t. Good stewardship calls for wisdom in all situations. Our work paradigm has shifted. Leadership, management, and work practices need to adjust to improve remote work settings and systems, and to reduce risk where appropriate

Original content by the XPastor. This information is provided with the understanding that Payroll Partners is not rendering legal, human resources, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from a lawyer, HR consultant or other professional.

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