Ep 136: Who’s Afraid to Return to the Office? (with Ellen LaPointe and Nick Turner)

by Joan Garry

As more and more of us are fully vaccinated, many are getting back into the physical work space. But what do we do when people are afraid to come to work?


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As more and more of us are fully vaccinated, many are getting back into the physical work space. But what do we do when people are afraid to come to work? This is a question a lot of Executive Directors are struggling with.

Sure, prior to the pandemic we all knew our staff had kids and dogs and spouses, maybe even a messy kitchen. But we learned so much about each over the last year working from home. Maybe we didn’t realize the depth of an underlying condition or that a mother-in-law was that much of a challenge. Maybe we suffered or witnessed losses.

We learned about and accepted each other’s vulnerabilities. Now we need to sustain that care as we think long term about our organizations. We must navigate this return to work in a way that will build stronger organizations to foster higher retention, and stay on the path of ‘built to last.’

Today, two of my favorite nonprofit leaders joined me to talk about where they are now as it relates to staff returning to the office. Ellen LaPointe, CEO of Fenway Health and Nick Turner, President at Vera Institute of Justice offer their insights.

About Ellen:

Ellen LaPointe is the Chief Executive Officer of Fenway Health in Boston.

Ellen has held numerous leadership roles in the nonprofit and public health sectors, working in social justice, research, LGBTQIA+/HIV activism and advocacy, health policy, law, and equity over the last three decades.

Prior to joining Fenway, she was President and Chief Executive Officer of Northern California Grantmakers in San Francisco, a nonprofit that brings together Bay Area philanthropy to advance the common good. During her tenure over five years, the organization strengthened its leading role within a member-based philanthropic community that gives over $3.5 billion annually. Ellen is also credited with transforming the culture of the organization, including the establishment of a robust equity framework to inform organizational priorities and practices.

Previously, Ellen served as Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at HopeLab, an operating foundation that focuses on technology-based approaches to promoting positive health behavior, and she was Executive Director of Project Inform.

She began her career as Coordinator of the Brown University AIDS Program, where she was involved in some of the earliest efforts to ensure access to promising experimental AIDS treatments and life-saving care. Ellen moved to San Francisco to become Director of Clinical Research at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and later practiced law at a large firm, where she represented pro bono clients in cases involving marriage equality, wrongful eviction, end-of-life liberty, and other matters.

A native of Maine, Ellen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University and her Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. She currently serves on the boards of the Lambda Literary Foundation and One Justice.

About Nick

Nicholas Turner joined Vera as its fifth president and director in August, 2013. Under his leadership, Vera is pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s growing minority communities. To that end, Vera is working across the country to reduce jail populations in major cities, shrink the number of people held in solitary confinement, and develop systems to ensure that police are held accountable for building public trust. Vera is also using new tools and leveraging its half-century of experience working on the frontlines of justice to shape public debate at a time when interest in justice is at a new height.

Earlier in his legal career, Nick was an associate in the litigation department of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York from 1997 to 1998. He was a judicial clerk for the Honorable Jack. B. Weinstein, Senior United States District Judge in Brooklyn from 1996 to 1997. Before attending Yale Law School, he worked with court-involved, homeless, and troubled young people at Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a Washington, DC youth services organization, from 1989 to 1993.

Nick is author of several op-eds, including “A Home After Prison” (the New York Times), “What We Learned from German Prisons” (with Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the New York Times), “The Steep Cost of America’s High Incarceration Rate” (with Robert Rubin, co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. Treasury secretary, the Wall Street Journal) and “Treating Prisoners with Dignity Can Reduce Crime” (with John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, National Journal’s The Next America). He has also published a number of articles on criminal justice, including Politics, Public Service, and Professionalism: Conflicting Themes in the Invention and Evaluation of Community Prosecution (with Chris Stone, 1999) and “The Cost of Avoiding Injustice by Guideline Circumventions,” in Federal Sentencing Reporter (with the Honorable Jack B. Weinstein, 1997).

In this Podcast:

  • How work got done remotely
  • Challenges of orgs with part of the staff remote and others in office
  • Navigating trauma
  • Challenges of managing remotely
  • Fueling your staff’s passion
  • Understanding your role as a leader to reignite your people
  • The power of culture and trust and its role in creating a safe space (literally)
  • How long will we be wearing masks?
  • How does virtual work affect interpersonal relationships?
  • How do you achieve mentorship, touch and engagement remotely?
  • Can we continue to use zooms for everything?