The coronavirus disease (COVD-19) pandemic is changing how many industries, including healthcare, operate. Many businesses are sending their employees home to work remotely. Even healthcare professionals outside the front line of the pandemic are telecommuting to help stop the spread of the virus. While working from home sounds great in theory, many employees and employers have trouble making the switch from working on-site to working remotely. Fortunately, there are several ways to transition your staff to work remotely.
Coronavirus disease, now also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is a highly contagious disease that has caused widespread illness and loss of life in the United States and across the world. To protect their residents, many leaders have implemented Stay at Home orders, along with social distancing orders that require people remain at least 6 feet apart. While effective at stopping the spread of coronavirus, the Stay at Home and social distancing orders have caused the closure of many businesses. To keep their doors open, many businesses and organizations – including those in healthcare – now require their employees to work from home. To keep patients, doctors and nurses healthy, many healthcare organizations are turning to telehealth and telemedicine.
Telehealth and telemedicine, often used interchangeably, utilize technology that allows people to communicate and exchange information from remote locations. Telehealth is an umbrella term that covers the exchange of information, such as patient vital signs and records; the technology allows doctors and nurses to chart remotely, for example. Telemedicine focuses on videoconferencing and other technologies that allow patients and healthcare workers to see and hear each other in real time.
These technologies allow healthcare workers from a variety of departments to perform essential tasks from a remote location. Tasks can include medical research, patient assessment, medical procedure appointment scheduling, record keeping and triage health advising. Home-based positions can include telephone triage nurse, patient service managers, field care managers that complete assessments and coordinate care, clinical quality analysts that use analytical and statistical methods to improve efficiency in medical facilities, and appointment scheduling representatives.
Working from home requires personal motivation and ample self-discipline. The temptation to merge housework and paying work is all too strong – why not do the laundry while you type up the report, right?
Many find it easy to separate their professional duties with their home life, while others struggle. Employers can help their workers make the transition to the virtual workplace, and even help employees optimize their productivity while working remotely.
6 Tips for Helping Your Staff to the Virtual Workplace
1. Limit distractions
Distractions can reduce the quality of work, and even slow down productivity. Research shows that it takes nearly 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. Lead author of the study, Gloria Mark, said, “You have to completely shift your thinking, it takes you a while to get into it and it takes you a while to get back and remember where you were...We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”
2. Provide the right tools
Email is a great way to communicate in that nearly everyone has an email account and can use it. Email does have its limitations, though, such as restricted bandwidths, spam filters, and attachment formats that some users do not have the proper programs to open. Email also falls short in that it does not allow people to connect face to face and in real-time.
Fortunately, advances in technology now allow people to collaborate, share, and stay connected in new ways. Programs and apps like Zoom and FaceTime allow employees and employers talk in real time and even host video conferences as necessary. Dropbox and Google Drive are excellent platforms for exchanging files and documents.
3. Add a personal touch to meetings
Working remotely can be very lonely, even for the most introverted worker. Many workers struggle with the lack of social interaction, especially healthcare workers and others who usually work with the public. To ease loneliness, talk to your staff on a personal level during Zoom or FaceTime meetings. Ask staff members how they and their families are doing, share stories of your own experiences during the coronavirus outbreak, and make plans for resuming business as usual when the pandemic ends.
4. Help your staff create a reasonable schedule and stick to it
Maintaining a work schedule at a workplace is easy – employees know they should be working while they are at work. Maintaining a work schedule at home is much trickier, as family responsibilities, household tasks, and newfound freedom can distract workers from their work.
Help your employees create and maintain a productive routine by issuing daily communications, ideally at the same time as their shift would have normally started. Establish expected delivery dates of completed work, and hold workers to those delivery dates. Schedule regular meetings with your employees in which you use your phone or teleconferencing apps and programs.
5. Schedule weekly check-ins
Weekly check-ins can help employees stay productive and on task.
6. Hold team-building activities online
Even though your staff will not see each other in person every day, they still need to build and maintain strong working relationships with one other. The more your employees interact and get to know each other, the better they will work together and the more likely they would be to reach out to each other for help. Strong relationships between co-workers can also build a stronger organization.
Trying to build a team when all its members are separated and isolated in their own homes can be challenging. In times and places under strict Stay at Home orders, employers can use technology to foster a team spirit among their staff. They can create weekly questionnaires online or via email, for example, spotlight various employees, and even host virtual game sessions. Soliciting feedback can create a happy, focused, and engaged team. Proactively helping the entire team can help individual team members adjust to remote work.
Transitioning your team to the virtual workplace may not be easy, but it will be worthwhile. Employees are the most valuable asset of any industry or enterprise, but especially so in healthcare. Keeping your staff safe by telecommuting during this pandemic and other devastating events can help you continue your operation after the world returns to normal.