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Posted October 22, 2018

Building Leader-Employee Connections with Geographically Dispersed Teams

By Linda Sanders, RN, BSN, MBA

With a market shift in healthcare delivery to outpatient and post-acute settings, more and more, leaders are dealing with a geographically dispersed or virtual workforce. At the same time, many healthcare organizations are leaning in to new models of care delivery by investing in virtual clinics and telehealth platforms.

As organizations focus on delivering care in non-traditional settings and increasing the use of technology, it is still critically important to create an excellent patient experience. To do this, an organization needs to transform how it develops leaders, and how leaders build employee engagement when managing people in remote or satellite locations.

Building a Connection

For home health, hospice and other types of multi-site facilities, building a shared commitment to excellence can be a challenge. And, employee geography does not change the fact that an accountable culture and alignment starts with top executives at the home office and cascades down and across to local leaders and the front line.

An organization’s responsibility to develop leadership competencies is not negated just because leaders and their team members are not face-to-face every day. Nor does the geography change the need for a laser focus on engaging employees in providing the best possible care to patients, residents and their families.

Below are some practical tips for how to connect with employees and build engagement, even when supervising dispersed teams or remote locations.

Take extra steps to keep check-ins meaningful. Rounding on employees should always be an intentional process that is done routinely and consistently. Checking in regularly with direct reports builds relationships and trust between leaders and employees, provides opportunity for leaders to harvest best practices or “wins” and allows leaders to proactively address issues that arise.

In any location, rounding on employees increases employee engagement and decreases turnover. For virtual supervisory situations or in organizations where physical separation can exacerbate disengagement, the connection that rounding offers becomes even more critical.

Prior to implementing rounding, explain to employees the purpose (or the why) for the interactions and what they can expect. This will alleviate concerns that the rounding is punitive or that you are connecting with them to deliver bad news. Some leaders even choose to give employees a copy of the rounding questions before the call or visit.

Schedule in advance and use technology. Virtual supervisors who are not on site every day with their teams must make scheduling meetings a priority and part of the rounding process. Since a leader is physically present less frequently, they can’t rely on chance to catch an individual during his or her shift. For example, for those working in home health, employees may not report to a central location with any sort of regularity. Leaders have to pay attention to the business and shift scheduling patterns for their entities. Connect with employees at times that make sense for them, even if that means making special accommodations to have calls with night shift employees in home health or hospice scenarios.

While meeting in person is generally preferred, technology can be a close second. I recommend trying to connect face-to-face at minimum twice a year. For connections in between those visits, use whatever technology is available. Video conferencing systems run the gamut in capabilities and price, with inexpensive options available. For some, using technology such as video chat will be uncomfortable at first. Leaders should role model the behavior by showing they are committed to connecting beyond just a phone call or email.

Make a commitment to employees to be fully engaged when connecting virtually. As a leader, never multi-task when connecting with employees via phone. And set clear expectations with employees for how they should handle virtual conversations. For example, when connecting on a rounding call, employees should understand the expectation is that they will not be driving or doing other job-related tasks.  And whenever possible, video conferencing should be the standard.

For home health and other post-acute organizations challenged with managing multiple locations and a geographically dispersed workforce, engaging employees poses unique challenges. But with a strong commitment to doing whatever it takes to connect with employees, leaders can still be effective and continue to build the high level of employee engagement that will ultimately drive better patient care.

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