Lessons Learned from Transitioning to a Remote Workforce Overnight

More and more organizations are moving to remote work as social distancing becomes required, but that’s not always an option for health and human services organizations providing important services to our communities. Many programs are essential and require face-to-face services, while other programs can be augmented by tools like Telehealth, for which reimbursements are thankfully becoming more readily available. This creates an increasingly dynamic workforce environment as care delivery grows more diverse and complex, and employees are required to become more mobile and distributed. Similarly, leaders that have previously leaned on the benefits of face-to-face interaction must now learn to lead their workforce remotely.

Many leaders are wondering things like:

“How can I best support my staff during this uncertain time?”

“How can we stay connected and productive?”

 “What impact will this have on our company culture?"

At DATIS, we’ve been enabled as a virtual workforce for many years, yet we remain a close-knit culture with a majority of staff regularly working onsite at our headquarters. Upon initial news of COVID-19 concerns, we moved to a 100% remote workforce within 24 hours out of an abundance of caution for our staff and our communities. Despite being fully prepared for this type of transition, we had the same concerns.

We’ve learned a lot in just over a week’s worth of remote work and here are our three main takeaways::

1. There is no such thing as “over-communication”

In these unprecedented and uncertain times, we have to increase our communication cadences even if we don’t have new information or complete clarity. Technology tools like video chat have become essential, as they enable us to maintain connections and continue to use the same non-verbal cues we’re accustomed to in face-to-face interactions. Many will feel isolated during this period, but using video chat whenever possible can help us all continue to connect at the human level.

As managers, we also need to go above and beyond to check in with employees personally and make sure they know they have an outlet to share their concerns with you, even if there is nothing you can do to help right now. Patrick Lencioni said it best in a recent blog, “No one will look back at this time and say, ‘My manager was so annoying with all the encouraging emails checking in on me.’” The caveat here is to ensure your communication is helping, not hurting (see #2 below).

Here’s what we’re doing at DATIS:

  • Changing company-wide all hands meetings from 45 min each month to 20 min each week
  • Leveraging weekly check-ins in the form of short “appraisals” where employees rate their week on a scale of 1-5, check off tasks they accomplished, and set goals for the following week, to keep a continuous feedback loop between employees and managers
  • Having individual teams meet daily via video chat for a quick virtual huddle to start the day, and sharing weekly departmental updates to the whole company via email on Friday

2. Setting boundaries can help prevent burnout 

With a more distributed workforce, we find ourselves leaning on chats, emails, texts, and other digital forms of communication to connect with our peers and stay productive. However, the increased use of these various communication channels can easily create noise and distraction that inhibits productivity rather than enabling it. Providing guidelines for communication can help staff create boundaries to maintain reasonable availability within work hours. Then, making sure they know how and when to sign off and communicating that they are not required to respond to non-emergency messages after hours helps maintain a work-life balance.

Here's what we’re doing at DATIS:

  • Designating channels for various communication types (internal chat for quick questions vs. email for resources and documents) to maintain communication without overwhelming employees
  • Using simple guidelines like, “If you would normally go to someone’s desk and say this in person, just jump on a quick phone call or video chat instead of multiple messages or emails back and forth”
  • Leveraging our Company News page primarily for COVID-19 updates to reduce noise in email inboxes while still ensuring employees see the message upon login

3. Organizational culture requires a more intentional effort

Culture is one of the most valuable assets we have as a company, besides our employees themselves. As we know, it is truly the staff as whole, rather than a few leaders at the top, that create and own our culture. So, as we move to a remote workforce where staff interactions change dramatically, we are taking a really measured approach to make sure that we can keep living our core values as teams to maintain the culture we’ve built.

Here’s what we’re doing at DATIS:

  • Using digital “shout outs” enabling any member of our team to post recognition of another team member on a feed for all to see
  • Hosting virtual lunches and happy hours for team members to join in and interact with peers in a more social, albeit digital, setting
  • Augmenting informative communications with some fun elements, like encouraging staff to have their pets join them on a video chat, and starting an impromptu “throwback Thursday” (#tbt) chain where employees share pictures of themselves when they were younger

As you are leading your organizations through these uncharted waters, I’d welcome any feedback, strategies, stories, or challenges you are facing. It’s more important than ever for us to connect as an industry and share ideas. You can email community@datis.com to share your perspective, and I would be happy to compile and share resources on what we’re hearing from leaders serving our communities across the country..

 

-Brian

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