The social distancing response to COVID-19 is moving portions of the workforce away from the office or facility setting and into remote, or work-from-home (WFH), environments. For healthcare organizations, team members now working from home may include clinicians offering telehealth services, case managers, administrative, financial, IT eams, and others contributing away from the frontlines of care.
Though an adjustment, with the right practices, remote-first environments can be as or more productive than traditional office-based settings. Research has shown a productivity and team member satisfaction benefit of remote-first work, including a performance increase of 22 percent when one company offered an organizationwide work-from-home (WFH) option.
While functioning successfully in a remote-first environment is imperative for many organizations under COVID-19 mitigation and prevention efforts, those that thrive in WFH arrangements may see lasting benefits, even when teams return to the office setting. Organizations that effectively support team members during the pandemic will build trust, loyalty, and engagement. Leadership can use this challenging time to demonstrate they care not just about team members’ work but about them as humans, boosting engagement and confidence. Organizations may also learn they can be more flexible and remote-friendly than they thought while maintaining standards and reaching goals.
As organizations move portions or all of their workforces to a remote-first environment, three groups drive a successful transition: team members, managers, and organizational leadership. Following best practices for each contributor will ensure a smooth transition to productive remote operations and critical social support during a difficult time, as well as foster lasting cultural changes that will strengthen individual teams and organizations as a whole.
Team members are central to their organizations’ success in remote-first arrangements. By taking care of their professional responsibilities as well as themselves, individuals ensure a sustainable high level of performance as operations shift from office to home settings.
By following these best practices for ensuring productivity at work, team members can maintain the engagement they need to perform at the best of their abilities from remote locations:
Transitioning to a remote-first environment can take its toll on mental health and wellness. Without the physical separation of leaving home for the office, some people find it harder to disengage from work and take care of themselves. And, without sharing office space, team members also lose the social support of daily in-person interactions.
Remote-first team members need to make time for self-care, including sleep, exercise, healthy eating, and other personal outlets. Establishing a standard ritual for starting and ending the workday can enable a clear transition from work to home, where a commute would otherwise separate professional from personal experiences. Some ideas for transitioning between work and home life include the following:
Team members can also adopt healthy habits throughout the workday that support well-being. For example, where possible, go for a walk between or while listening to meetings; find intentional intervals to move around. In small teams, schedule short, frequent meetings throughout the week to connect around work and socially. Hold team lunches or walks during which the team can eat, walk, or enjoy another social activity in their own homes while on an audio/video call.
Platforms like Slack or other informal communication channels can help team members feel socially supported and involved by engaging with one another beyond their normal scope of both work and social topics, as this expands opportunities for learning and connection. A peer-to-peer recognition platform (e.g., Bonusly or Motivosity) can also help build relationships by enabling users to acknowledge coworkers within and beyond their immediate teams. Team members can also use established employee networks, such as affinity groups, to connect with others with shared interests.
Team managers have a crucial role in enabling a thriving remote-first environment. They can set a precedent for video meetings by using their camera whenever possible and monitoring meeting participation to ensure all individuals have an opportunity to contribute, then following up after meetings with members who have additional feedback. Managers can also engage participants by addressing them by name and maintaining body language during calls that communicates an attitude of listening and engagement.
In addition to team calls, managers can support the remote-first environment by scheduling video 1:1s at least weekly to check in on both work and social well-being (even if 1:1s were less -frequent in the in-person setting). Managers can use the first few minutes of the 1:1 to catch up socially and personally with each team member and the bulk of the time better understand elements of each member’s work, which may be less visible in a remote environment. 1:1s are also an opportunity to praise direct reports’ work and share personalized constructive feedback. Managers should also remember to proactively share direct reports’ successes up the management chain, as they may be less visible in the remote environment. While weekly 1:1s may not always be possible, creating as many opportunities as possible to interact with teams will promote engagement and ensure each member’s success in the remote environment.
By establishing policies and best practices for remote-first environments, leadership builds the framework for individual team members as well as organizational success in a remote-first setting. Leaders can reduce confusion and streamline communication by establishing guidelines around which technology tools to use in different contexts (e.g., instant messenger, video, and companywide communication) and, where possible, unite around a single platform.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, team members are balancing remote work with other home and personal responsibilities, including caring for loved ones and home-schooling children. Leadership can help by providing flexible work schedules.
As the situation allows, and remote work scenarios become more permanent, organizational leaders may consider providing additional benefits, such as a home office reimbursement or home internet stipend to enable teams to work more productively from home.
In addition to remote-first productivity, organizational leadership can establish social support networks and resources for their workforce, which are crucial amid the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. Social support benefits, such as an Employee Assistance Program or a meditation app subscription (e.g., Calm or Headspace), can help team members cope with anxiety. Also, organization-sponsored networking opportunities, such as affinity groups that allow team members to gather and connect, can help remote workers feel less isolated. Forming a remote experience team can also help leadership keep a pulse on team member experiences, best practices, and concerns.
As long as COVID-19 quarantines are in effect across the U.S., remote work will become increasingly standard, and, given team member satisfaction and productively in WFH arrangements, remote policies may stick as the new normal. For non-clinical roles and others that don’t require full-time onsite presence, health systems may want to consider remote work environments to broaden talent pools and keep their teams engaged. Accepting remote work as a major shift in standard processes, not as a blip in workplace culture, will help organizations put the time and attention into remote-first best practices and capitalize on the benefits of remote work.
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