Person working

The United States is seeing spikes in COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases since reopening. The CDC and other public health organizations remind us that even though some guidelines are lifted, we should still avoid shaking hands with others and touching our faces. Cancellations continue of some on-campus fall college classes, elective surgeries, sporting events, concerts, and industry conferences. Wherever we look, it’s evident that the COVID-19 pandemic persists in dramatically impacting daily life.

In an effort to slow the virus’s transmission rate, companies and health systems are increasingly adopting “work from home” culture for employees in corporate offices, patient visits, and clinics as much as possible.

Krames, which currently offers remote work flexibility to more than 75% of its staff, and other companies have been making this transition over the past few years. But nearly 60% of U.S. employees don’t work remotely in any capacity, and for some of them, this will be the very first time they do.

How can you best engage and communicate with your workers and patients? Consider these five remote employee and patient engagement ideas:

Create a “camera on” culture

Think about the collaboration challenges that going remote can bring—like trying to keep pace on fast-moving conference calls or breaking into conversations when you are not the loudest voice. These activities may be more difficult for some employees than others.

Try using video conferencing—with webcams on—for all meetings. It ensures that everyone has the same audio and video experience. It also allows the host to survey video feeds as they would in an in-person environment—to see who’s engaged, who may have questions, and who’s checked out. Daily face-to-face video interaction also helps build relationships over time across the organization; and I know from personal experience that it connects people in a way, encouraging them to put their best face forward (without sliding into a sweatpants slump)!

For patients, “camera on” culture is critical. Doctors can physically see how patients are doing and patients will feel a more personalized connection. It’s funny to think how telehealth used to seem so distant but now brings patients and doctors together. When patients see that their doctor's attention is all on them, it gives them more of a comforting feeling, like they're actually sitting in the room with them.

[Download our guide: Remote Work Best Practices]

Talk time zones and respect schedules

Always keep time zones in mind, especially if you have team members or patients across geographies. (I lead a team of more than 50 employees in 16 different states alone.) It’s unrealistic to require employees to work the same office hours or have patients drop everything for an appointment in the middle of the day given the reality of how coronavirus may be impacting commitments such as childcare and home care.

Encourage employees to work within their own time zones and be mindful with patients of cancellations and rescheduling. Avoid scheduling meetings before 9 a.m. (PT) and after 5 p.m. (ET), but also allow room for flexibility. For example, one of our Utah-based employees collaborates mainly with individuals on the East Coast, so she has chosen to work on Eastern time. Once you determine how each individual works, respect their working hours. Respecting that things can change for patients too is critical. Consider eliminating cancellation fees and make sure patients know who to call if they need to reschedule.

Use technology to build a sense of community

Working remotely does keep employees from gathering in a conference or break room to celebrate a birthday, or stopping by their coworkers’ workspaces to recognize significant milestones. But you can offset the void of cubical conversation while connecting employees by:

  • Purposefully leaving space at the start of calls or video chats for small talk, to fill the gap from the lack of hallway banter
  • Providing a central location where team members can share highlights from their weekends and their top priorities for the week (e.g., a Salesforce Chatter group)
  • Encouraging team competitions or fitness and other well-being challenges (e.g., a Million Steps Challenge)
  • Using Skype or another instant messaging service to spontaneously celebrate team wins, individual achievements, and birthdays and work anniversaries

Offer a high-touch onboarding program for new hires and alternative options for patients

Remote work isn’t for everyone. The lack of physical interaction can feel isolating to some. Take care of your newer associates, who may be less familiar with whom to go to for guidance, or how to find company policies and procedures. Assigning a mentor or hosting daily check-ins during the first few weeks can be helpful in answering the “over-the-cubical-wall” questions too.

For patients that absolutely need to come in, give them a reminder call before the appointment to let them know what safety procedures are in place and what they need to do so they know exactly what will happen when they arrive. Consider letting high-risk patients come for early appointments so they can avoid crowds.

Honor actual office hours and the weekends

Employees who work from home often keep their phone or laptop within reach, as technology has made it easy to check email in seconds. Patients can also check messages through online portals. However, just because you find it convenient to catch up on email later in the evening while watching TV doesn’t mean your coworkers or direct reports do.

Refrain from creating an “always on” working environment by clearly communicating expected response times for emails. Or simply delay sending emails until the next day.

Learn more patient engagement ideas

Learn more about how WebMD Health Services emphasizes employee well-being and partners with organizations to build an engaging culture.

See how Krames' solutions for Health Systems can bring patients and doctors together efficiently while enhancing the patient experience.

This article was originally posted on https://www.krames.com/coronavirus

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