The ongoing rise of remote work is leading hospital leaders to seek guidance on how to best manage this new, flexible workforce. Common questions range from how to engage hybrid workers to how at-home employees should handle sensitive documents. Now, a novel Cleveland Clinic program, Remote and Hybrid Work Champions, is seeking to address these challenges through education and transparent discussion.
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Led by a group of 25 leaders from across the enterprise, the program provides an opportunity for managers to share information and ideas while helping to guide the organization’s remote work processes, says Hanna Berman, director of the program.
“We’ve assembled a diverse group of managers – from cybersecurity specialists to human resources managers to administrative directors – in an effort to provide the extra support our remote caregivers, and their managers, need,” she says.
In June 2021, Cleveland Clinic rolled out a formal, long-term remote work strategy. Since them, more than 9,200 of the healthcare system’s 75,000 employees have taken remote or hybrid positions, most of which are administrative or non-clinical.
The organization’s initial coordination efforts were focused on educating high-level leaders and executive directors about remote-work strategies, explains Ashley Rader, director of Remote Workforce Solutions. Although some of the information trickled down to individual teams, organizers soon recognized the need to build a dedicated community around distance employees.
“This work model is relatively new to all of us, so it’s essential to keep these conversations going,” she says. “It’s clear that our remote employees are eager for an outlet that allows them to have meaningful discussions about the challenges and benefits of working from home, and we’re excited about being able to provide it.”
Managers and employees who had expressed interest in remote work solutions or sought out resources in the past were invited to be part of the new Champions group.
The program has allowed Cleveland Clinic to distribute information about remote work programs to the employees who need it most, she notes, while remaining sensitive to the views of on-site workers, who may not want frequent communication about how their co-workers are managing more flexible, at-home schedules.
The Champions group meets virtually once a month to share updates and ideas. While group members take what they learn back to their own teams, Rader and Berman incorporate the panel’s feedback into new resource documents and tip sheets, which are shared on Connect Today, Cleveland Clinic’s online employee platform. The platform is intended to be a hub where the organization’s employees and managers can find up-to-date information and advice, Rader explains.
Using asynchronous communication also helps avoid clogged email inboxes, she adds. “Rather than create even more information streams for caregivers to keep up with, we aim to work through existing communication channels,” says Rader.
As managers are settling into their new roles as remote team leaders, they’re increasingly seeking advice on topics like productivity and engagement, she explains.
“We’ve found that a large proportion of the questions we receive are asked repeatedly – so rather than address each query directly, it’s more efficient to direct employees to the resource document on our site,” she says. “It’s exciting to watch our caregivers become more comfortable with remote work and more engaged in the process. The evolution is a bit like moving up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: People have gotten their food and water, and now they’re starting to think more about the self-actualization required to have a meaningful work day.”
Berman says a key takeaway for managers is to cultivate and maintain strong connections with their remote employees. “If guardrails aren’t in place to ensure that departments and caregivers stay connected, people begin to feel isolated,” she says. “That solitude can lead to higher turnover rates as employees disconnect from their coworkers — and, ultimately, from the healthcare organization as a whole.”
In addition to its online platform and regularly scheduled meetings, Remote Work Champions recently restarted its monthly leadership series, a virtual program featuring Cleveland Clinic speakers who address remote work topics, including engagement and how hybrid employees can maximize the value of in-office days.
Rader says that organizations hoping to emulate Cleveland Clinic’s approach to remote work should not only think about how to educate managers but also how to actively model best practices. That could be as simple as using icebreakers to kick off discussions or experimenting with new features of online meeting platforms.
“It’s important to go beyond just talking about these strategies,” she says. “You have to practice what you preach.”