4 strategies to manage remote healthcare workers

As more healthcare organizations adopt "work-from-home" policies, hospital leaders must learn how to manage remote employees. Although there are challenges to managing a virtual workforce, hospitals that have success with it find their employees are more motivated, productive--and more likely to stay, says a leading healthcare executive recruiter.

As more individuals ask to telecommute or have flexible hours, healthcare organizations that allow staff to work remotely will find it can help with recruitment and improve the satisfaction of long-time employees, Adriane Willig, a principal at executive search firm's Witt/Kieffer's healthcare practice, told FierceHealthcare during an exclusive interview.

Although the healthcare industry traditionally had employees work within the four walls of a hospital, Willig says remote workforces are now more common, especially as organizations merge and open multiple sites. She has seen an increase in flexible, telecommute schedules for healthcare staff that offer support to operations, such as IT, business development, marketing, medical records and transcription services.

But in order for managers to effectively oversee a remote team, they need to start with staff who are self-starters, self-directed and have the discipline to ignore the distractions of a home office. Then healthcare leaders must nurture the relationship,  setting up clear expectations and providing staff with the necessary resources and tools to do the job, she says.

Here are her four additional pieces of advice for success:

Give remote employees an opportunity to shine:  Don't take the easy way out by giving a project to a staff member just because he or she works in-house. Give the remote staff opportunities for advancement and professional growth. "Involve them and give them visibility within the organization," she says. 

Spend time orientating them to the organization and the hospital's culture:  Willig says telecommuters often feel disconnected from the rest of the healthcare team, so it's up to managers to help them stay engaged and motivated. One of the best ways to do that for new employees is to make sure they spend time in the office or hospital before they leave for their virtual worlds. "There is nothing that can make up for that personal connection and in-person visit. Spend time with them there and invest in them," Willig says.

Don't always discuss business: "Try to make a personnel connection," whenever you talk to the employee by phone, Skype or instant messenger, she says. "Don't just talk about work. Just as you talk with your staff in the office by the coffee machine and talk about their weekends and things going on in their lives, make sure you do the same with those you manage remotely."

Trust your staff: If leaders give workers the ability to work from home, they have to trust the employees will get the work done, she says.