By Lesley Clack, ScD, MS, and Brittani Harmon, DrPH, MHA

In this unprecedented time, healthcare organizations are tasked with maintaining normal organizational operations and delivering high-quality care and services, while also ensuring patient and employee safety. One method to ensure safety and the reduction of COVID-19 transmission has been the temporary shift to working and providing services in a remote virtual environment.

With remote operations continuing on an indefinite basis, organizations now need to think strategically about how best to operate in this new environment. Implementing change management strategies can help organizations re-examine and re-evaluate their operational processes and workflows to make more strategic decisions regarding the continuation of a remote workplace.

Change Management Strategies

It can be difficult for organizations to adapt to change, but change management strategies provide tools and methods that can help manage it.1 Five of the most common elements of change management are: planning, communication, training, transparency, and involvement. Each of these are useful throughout the organization in implementing change.

In responding to the demands of the remote workplace that developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations should consider change management in the following areas:

  • Organizational structure
  • Policies and procedures
  • Privacy and security
  • Employee training
  • Employee engagement and burnout reduction efforts
Organizational Structure

The planning strategy of change management can be used in the examination of each individual’s role and responsibilities and the organizational processes and workflows within the organization to support a sustained remote work environment. The review of work responsibilities for each employee can determine the aspects and tasks of each job within the organization that are feasible through a remote setting.

The planning strategy can also allow leadership to explore organizational processes and workflows, as well as patient and employee touchpoints to determine what operations can be fulfilled in a virtual environment. Through this exploration and planning, organizations can identify any potential gaps that can be addressed through the adjustment of current roles, the development of new roles, and the adoption of technology solutions that can be utilized to fulfill its operational obligations and continuity. For example, organizations can develop a special task force or ad hoc committee designed to address the pandemic and remote work–specific issues.

Policies and Procedures

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the majority of organizations did not have remote work policies. Organizations need policies for remote work that specifically define responsibilities and expectations, define responsiveness, and formalize and establish communication expectations.2 The change management strategies of communication, training, and transparency are essential as the chief operating, chief human resources, chief information, and chief compliance officers seek to ensure remote work is reflective of organizational policies, procedures, and practices. It is vital that this work continues to fulfill the organizational mission. In addition, it is vital that leaders strive to build trust between leadership and employees, set reasonable expectations for time management and performance expectations, and make sure that the technology infrastructure can support the remote activities.

Privacy and Security

Privacy and security of organizational systems and data are a critical component of the transition to a remote work environment for healthcare organizations. This component ensures that remote work activities, technology, and security along with organizational policies, procedures, and practices are aligned to ensure and maintain patient safety and a high quality of care. Privacy and security include the development of policies and procedures that address:

  1. The use of personal devices and networks and the issuance of organization-approved devices
  2. The use of firewalls and VPN access to organizational systems
  3. Access to protected health information and compliance with HIPAA
  4. The use of organizational approved and vetted platforms (Zoom vs. Skype for Business)
  5. That all selected platforms meet the organizational privacy and security standards and requirements
Employee Training

Employee training is a key change management strategy. Training ensures a competent workforce and fosters an environment of transparency within the organization. In the context of a remote workforce, employee training will ensure employees are properly and adequately trained on the use of technology, hardware, and software needed to perform their jobs remotely. Training also ensures employees are aware of data use and technology use policies. Providing training to employees remotely can be a challenge. Organizations should make sure that trainings are user friendly and easy to access, that they are able to be completed at an employee’s convenience, and that they provide an active and engaging learning experience.

Employee Engagement and Burnout Reduction Efforts

Employee engagement efforts and the identification of burnout and the implementation of strategies to reduce burnout is crucial to the long-term sustainability of a remote workforce. These efforts will enhance employee productivity and satisfaction, leading to better employee engagement. These efforts may include:

  1. Regular interactions and contact with employees working remotely
  2. Set meeting days/times with remote working employees
  3. Maintenance of regular working hours
  4. Implementation of work-life balance efforts (PTO, additional vacation time, adjusted work schedules)
  5. Work with employees to design and structure a workday schedule
Maintaining an Effective, Productive Remote Workforce

As leaders seek to ensure the continuity of organizational operations during remote work, the maintenance of organizational structure, policies and procedures, privacy and security, employee training, and employee engagement and burnout reduction efforts are essential. Although many employees have been working remotely for months, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the remote work is effective and productive. Organizations should review current remote work arrangements and ensure there are remote work policies and procedures in place to clearly communicate expectations.

Notes
  1. American Society for Quality. “What is Change Management?” https://asq.org/quality-resources/change-management.
  2. Forbes. “15 Key Tips for Companies Implementing Formal Remote Work Policies. Forbes Coaches Council Leadership.” April 16, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/04/16/15-key-tips-for-companies-implementing-formal-remote-work-policies/#4750b7ec40a8.

 

Lesley Clack (lesley.clack@uga.edu) is assistant professor at the University of Georgia. Brittani Harmon (blharmon@uga.edu) is clinical assistant professor at the University of Georgia.

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