Nonprofit Sector

Rethinking Office Space and Equity after a Year of Remote Work

May 26, 2021

This blog is part of an ongoing series written by members of NFF's Social Innovation and Equity Council exploring how equity shows up in their work.

From One NFF to One Community

I remember the day exactly – Monday, July 13, 2014. I was at a morning meeting in our architect’s midtown Manhattan office. With coffee, orange juice, and bagels, it was a pretty typical breakfast spread, except for one thing: an NFF mood board.

That morning, our architect was unveiling the options for our furniture, carpets, tile, paint, and fabrics for our new NYC office. These samples, together with sketches of the bright, open space, were finally ready for the NFF team to gawk at.
You may be wondering, “What nonprofit has a mood board?” Well, we needed one. At that time, we were in a hot, dusty, and cramped office with mismatched furniture, windows bricked in by the new hotel next door, and the occasional critter.

When I saw that mood board, I knew that our relocation would feel like a rebirth. We'd buy new, comfortable chairs, the conference room would have space for all of us, and the kitchen would sparkle with white quartz (picked right off of that mood board). We hoped to replicate this design across our other four offices in Boston, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Los Angeles – symbolizing that no matter where we worked, our staff were united. We referred to this unity as “One NFF.”
Fast forward to June 2021. Our beautiful offices have been closed for over a year. Tens of thousands of square feet of office space have sat vacant for months. Those comfortable chairs are now empty, our big conference room is vacant, and our beautiful kitchen remains untouched. In 2020 we had to figure out how to be One NFF without any offices at all.
Our 15 months (and counting!) of remote work have given us an opportunity to refocus on both how and where we work and how we deliver our services to more intentionally reach community organizations led by and serving people of color. Helping guide this work is NFF’s Social Innovation and Equity Council (SIEC), an eight-member team created to support NFF's efforts to advance racial equity and hold us accountable to specific equity goals. 

As a member of the SIEC and the head of NFF’s operations, I am helping make sure that our strategic shift encourages us not only to think about how we serve communities with financial advice and loans, but also to identify where we can make meaningful changes in how NFF operates.
When we reopen later this year (assuming vaccinations continue to increase and infections continue to decrease), we won't be thinking about fabrics and finishes. Instead, we’ll be considering how the space we occupy can help us deliver on our mission, achieve our organizational goals, and advance racial equity in the communities we serve. We probably aren’t going to work in our physical offices as frequently as we used to, but we can definitely be more intentional with the space we choose to work in.
So what does that look like for an organization – like many of us out there – with commercial landlords and long-term leases? How can our operations be efficient, equitable, and aligned with our missions?

At NFF, we are going to start with a few changes and continue to evolve over time. In Los Angeles and Philadelphia, we hope to find new office space where we can cohabitate with other nonprofits – securing the space we need to meet as a whole team every so often, but not every day. In Boston, we already have a nonprofit landlord and all nonprofit neighbors, but we are going to make an intentional effort to develop connections in our building's community. In New York and Oakland, we hope to open our large offices to organizations looking for a low-cost start-up location.

A year ago, we thought that One NFF meant that, no matter where they were, all of our staff would have access to an office space that empowered them to do their jobs well. That’s still true. But today, we’re starting to look beyond our own team. Now, One NFF means that we're thinking of our offices as yet another tool to support community-centered nonprofits. One NFF is evolving into One Community. 
I can’t wait to see how we change as an organization. I’m grateful that we have an equity task force guiding our organizational evolution, from the way we work with clients to the way we run our operations. I’m honored to serve as a member of that committee.

The way I see it, rethinking how we use our offices shows that we’re living our values across every aspect of our organization. That’s a meaningful change from how we worked before.