The Future of Work is now! An article by Nicholas Bloom, economist at Standard University shows that 42 percent of workers are now remote based due to the global pandemic, a trend that is likely to continue well after the crisis has passed. In many cases the primary barrier to implementing a remote-based arrangement is the inability of leaders to effectively manage such a program and not having (or recognizing) the necessary resources to ensure consistent performance.
The following discussion will provide organizational leaders with the necessary guidance to implement a successful remote-based program within their healthcare-based organization.
Leaders should consider which job functions are amenable to a remote arrangement. In general, a remote arrangement is appropriate for work that can be completed via computer or telephone and does not require use of onsite equipment. Within the healthcare sector such roles could include: medical billing and coding, triage nursing, tele-health nurses and physicians, recruitment and training staff, patient advocates, claims processors, as well as community affairs and marketing specialists.
Jobs not appropriate for flex work include:
- Those jobs that require the employee be present at all times; ER nurses and physicians; trauma nurses and physicians, admissions staff, etc.
- Jobs that require access to equipment that cannot be moved offsite
- Jobs that encompass access to highly sensitive information, such as patient intake and records management
Initial considerations for remote work
A remote arrangement will require leaders to evaluate employee performance by results, not by facility presence. Before implementing a remote program, leaders should consider the following policies to increases opportunities for success:
- Using technology to keep communication channels open with remote employees
- Reconsider how jobs are performed and restructure if possible; e.g. transition paper copy of data to an online database
- Develop performance goals and expectations with a focus on concrete and project-based goals that can be tracked online via spreadsheets, Google docs, or other project management tools. This serves dual purposes: 1) ensures consistent communication channels between supervisors and remote workers, and 2) ensures that remote workers don’t move forward in a wrong direction
Establishing a remote-friendly culture
As company leadership may be concerned about an “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” perspective, remote employees also have concerns regarding estrangement from company culture. To avoid this and maintain employee morale and productivity, managers need to include their remote workforce in all team and organization-wide meetings, recognition and reward ceremonies, as well as staff luncheons and retreats.
Below are some suggestions to help managers build a culture of inclusion:
- Build trust with remote staff by adopting an autonomy with accountability philosophy
- Assign remote staff challenging projects that will require collaboration within or outside the team
- Managers should sample a remote-based work style as this will provide valuable insights in learning the benefits and drawbacks of the remote program, which will help build effective management strategies in the future
- Respect the perspectives of remote staff in terms of resources and time required to complete assignments
- Enlist the assistance of remote-based employees when setting team goals and objectives
- Delegate tasks fairly between remote and onsite employees
- Remain flexible with program policies and procedures and adjust as appropriate. What might look good on paper is sometimes very different when actually implemented
Technology for remote arrangements
Before implementing a remote-based work arrangement, it’s important to first determine the technology needed so that remote employees can meet the same degree of success as if they were working onsite.
In order to effectively implement a remote-based workplace, one must evaluate the availability of their staff’s offsite technology:
- Desktop (or more frequently laptop) computer
- Internet connection with high-speed/ broadband capacity
- Email provider
- Telephone/mobile phone with consistent signal
- Scanner or fax machine
- File sharing platform
- Collaboration software (chat rooms, water coolers, virtual white boards, etc.)
All components of the technology tools you select — audio, video, data, and files — should be protected with the highest level of encryption and include password protection and encrypted file storage. Security is especially important for those flex workers that use Wireless Internet as there are significant vulnerabilities with these networks.
Such technology tools offer the following benefits:
- Establishes consistent communication channels between employer and employees via telephone, email, Intranet, online meetings, instant messaging, and web conferences
- Encourages informal communication among members of the team, especially when a virtual “water-cooler” discussion boards are put in place to allow colleagues to stay in touch and discuss off-work topics of interest
- Assures managers that remote employees are actively engaged with the team which helps to reduce the concern about alienation and “apart-ness”. Having presence detection systems permits both managers and flex workers to determine who is in attendance and possibly available for further discussion after the meeting via instant messaging
- Ensures, through proper data encryption, that confidential documents are stored on the application’s secure file sever rather than the flex worker’s personal computer
Cultivate a culture of excellence
In order to establish a productive remote arrangement, creating a formal monitoring system by managers is critical.
Set expectations for performance
Before implementing a remote program, managers should clearly articulate performance expectations with a focus on short term and concrete goals. Evaluate performance based on observable and verifiable results rather than specific behaviors since these will be hard to measure with remote staff workers. Observable results include projects completed, services provided, number of calls made, etc.
Monitoring performance includes evaluation and feedback. In a remote work arrangement, quantity, quality and timeliness of delivery are three measures that can be easily evaluated whether employees work offsite or in the office. Be sure to communicate performance expectations clearly with all employees and review on a consistent basis. Since remote employees are not onsite, managers should offer support and guidance via video calls, text messaging or instant messenger on a frequent basis.
In light of the pandemic, remote-based work is the best method for ensuring the health and safety of employees. While it’s likely that managers will come up against a few bumps in the road during early implementation, once they find solutions to the early barriers, the organization as a whole will begin to realize the many benefits that remote arrangements offer and continue to utilize this model well after the crisis has passed.
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