While the US Bureau of Labor cites that a quarter of citizens work from home at least part of the time, the critical nature and unique factors in providing EHR and Help Desk services to hospital systems has made remote support a less common approach. That is, until our national efforts to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus have made it a necessity.
Many IT leaders working for healthcare organizations find themselves managing remote teams for the first time. The need to secure Protected Health Information (PII), medical record integration, and connect with facilities or team members in remote areas with less than ideal connectivity options adds to the challenges. Here, our team shares insights and tips from years of experience providing and managing help desk and EHR support services remotely.
Setting Up for Success
Expectations regarding work hours, key projects, and availability are more nuanced in remote work. It is best to establish clear “rules of engagement” from the beginning. Defining the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication will go a long way toward setting some structure and predictability for your team. For example, what the go-to tool is for quick questions versus more detailed meetings? When do you expect your team to call your cell versus sending an email or IM? What is the expected response time for email or instant messages? Do you prefer your team to use video conferencing as much as possible to maintain face-to-face communications?
Strong guidance is needed regarding protecting patient data and protecting that data in a mobile environment. For example, our organization recommends that personnel dealing with patient information remove or mute smart devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home device, etc. to prevent them from waking and recording spoken words that could potentially compromise the patient’s information. In addition, many support desk issues or delays can be attributed to misalignment in escalation and handoff processes. Solid expectations and strong communication should help you set expectations around:
- Using tools properly in respect to patient information
- Reinforcing handoff and escalation processes
- Respecting everyone’s time
- Understanding everyone’s roles and tasks
- Setting schedules
- Tracking employee performance and work progress
- Building cohesion within the team
Establishing a remote work policy is a solid step into setting up for success. If your organization hasn’t established such a policy, download our hospital remote work policy template as a starting point.
Combatting the Differences Between Remote and On-Site Management
Misconceptions abound regarding remote workers being less productive. Most of these have been debunked by research that demonstrates remote workers actually put in more hours and are more productive than in-office employees. However, your teams will feel the differences as they shift into what is possibly a new normal.
Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction | Structured Check Ins
If you are accustomed to regularly interfacing with your employees on day to day tasks, you will want to avoid your team feeling like they have less managerial support and communication. Schedule regular check-ins with your team and more frequently than you normally would. This could take the form of one-on-one calls, team calls, or a combination of both depending on your team’s needs. The benefit is that this establishes a predictable rhythm for your team, and a time and place for your team to voice concerns and questions.
Lack of Access to Information | New Technology Options
Getting the information you need from your co-workers can feel like a barrier to productivity when you can’t walk to the next office or cubicle. And a barrage of emails can amplify frustration in this area. Consider utilizing instant messaging tools for quick questions and collaboration and video conferencing for more involved conversations. If your organization hasn’t put any of these tools into place, there are inexpensive options that will enable mobile communication quickly. Be sure to examine the security of these common tools (Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.) and ensure they align with your policies. If needed, provide guidance regarding patient information that should not be shared via messaging tools.
Lack of Social Interaction | Building Interaction into your Routine
In this race to prepare for COVID-19 and sudden shift to remote work, it is important for managers to intentionally build social interaction into work routines. The last thing a manager wants is for physical distance to come across as emotional distance or disengagement. Allow a few minutes of team calls for informal conversation and checking in. Schedule virtual lunches where you can “hang out” on video conferencing and chat over your meals. There is no shortage of creativity we’ve seen in our communities while social distancing.
Distractions at Home | Setting Expectations with Empathy
Setting up a workspace that is free from distractions is a normal expectation for remote workers. But we all acknowledge that these times are not normal. Due to social distancing, many families are unable to send their children to school or daycare. While managers must set clear expectations – keeping expectations focused on the key initiatives and not sweating the small stuff will go a long way.
Supporting IT and clinical applications for health systems is a team effort, as well as the fight against COVID-19. We all have a role to play. The good news is that managing support services remotely is achievable and can be executed in such a way that guards against disruption for your organization in almost any situation.