9 healthcare leaders share tips for working with remote employees

Various hospitals and health systems allow certain staff members to work remotely. But communication with remote employees can be challenging, especially if the organization has locations across multiple states.

Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare leaders to share their tips for working with remote employees. Read their responses below.

Chanda Chacon
Executive Vice President and COO of Arkansas Children's (Little Rock)

"I help lead a healthcare system with hospitals three hours apart and outreach programs that crisscross our state, so this is an emphasis for Arkansas Children's. What we've learned during our transition into a system is to be present — in the big ways and the small ways. Pay attention on the phone, make the effort to be in person, connect via video, make a plan to be in person and commit to it. 

"Systemness is not sameness. It is defining deliberately what we do the same to leverage our partnership and resources and what we do differently to leverage our separate locations and unique assets. 

"Being a part of a system means that you will not always be face to face with your team and that you will need to travel to ensure you have a portion of face-to-face time. Leaders need to show up and be present in every way."

Liz Dunlap
Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Indiana University Health (Indianapolis)

"The most important (and challenging) characteristic of a successful work-remote culture is trust. You have to trust your remote employees to do their jobs and inspire other leaders to do the same.

"Embrace and invest in new technology that keeps remote workers connected. You need to have remote workers connect live through video meetings and virtual town halls to build and maintain relationships. And adjust internal communications strategies and channels so your remote employees aren't left out. Remember, working remotely doesn't mean working in isolation.

"This year, a major construction project made it difficult for thousands of our team members to get to work. We developed some broad guidelines and encouraged leaders to allow flexible work arrangements, including remote work, if it made sense for their team. We communicated expectations clearly and saw an overwhelmingly positive response from our team members (with no loss of productivity or pause in operations)."

Keegan Fisher
Vice President of Caregiver Benefits & Well-Being at Providence St. Joseph Health (Renton, Wash.)

"As a healthcare organization with nearly 120,000 caregivers (employees) serving across seven states, we recognize the need for all of our team members to stay connected. With teams working together on projects and serving as people managers who they don't always see face to face, it's certainly given our leaders a chance to practice and see what works well. And our friends in information services have provided us more ways to stay connected than ever before — whether that be video conferences, Skype messaging and other tools to share work remotely.

"Just like the successful relationships you have with those who you work with in the same office, it's important that we intentionally build personal relationships with our colleagues who are remote. While it's a bit harder, be sure to round (via phone) and take a genuine interest in getting to know your colleagues who are located elsewhere. We start every meeting with a reflection, which could be a prayer or a story that is meaningful to the person sharing it. This is part of our culture, and it allows our caregivers to open up and share something personal — and it's given us way to include the voice of all of our team members regardless of where they sit."

Eric Humphrey
Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of Froedtert Health (Milwaukee)

  • "Build and maintain trust in the remote employee-employer relationship 
  • Set clear communication and performance expectations
  • If required, establish which meetings employees must attend in person versus remotely
  • Set clear work standards and periods of expected availability
  • Conduct routine remote check-ins
  • Ensure workstations, internet connections and other equipment needed to work remotely are secure, of high quality and function properly."

Robin Mutz, BSN, RNC
Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (Memphis, Tenn.)

"Technology is your friend. Use tools to leverage meetings and presentations. Be organized and get prep materials to meeting participants ahead of time, along with agendas, goals, etc.  Be respectful of time zone differences. For employees who work remotely, set clear expectations, goals and deliverables. Have regular check-ins and include remote employees in regular team meetings so they stay connected to the team."

Marc Probst
CIO of Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City)

  • "Well-defined accountability
  • Having good technology that allows for collaborative working (tele, video, online file-sharing, integrated collaboration platforms)
  • Appropriate security practices and tools: VPN [virtual private network], managed devices, encryption, etc.
  • Solid time-tracking processes and tools
  • Good goal-setting
  • Face-to-face touchpoints — keep a level of human interaction
  • Trust — building it and keeping it."

Laura Rainey
Regional Marketing Director at UnityPoint Health (West Des Moines, Iowa)

"At the beginning of the partnership, meet one-on-one weekly in person or video conference to establish rapport, trust and clear expectations. After the partnership/communication channels are established, I still reach out beyond our one-on-one meetings to be visible and to touch base. Treat remote employees and leaders as local, which means being very responsive to their emails, calls, texts. My team knows that if there is an urgent matter, text me first and then I'll step away to devote dedicated time for them.

"Conduct face-to-face meetings as much as possible and never, never cancel a one-on-one meeting. If I do conduct a one-on-one via the telephone, don't multitask. They deserve your complete attention. If an employee or leader reaches out and is looking for a response, don't ignore them. No response or acknowledgement sends the wrong signal. Never underestimate the impact of sending a written note through the post office. It's unexpected!"

John Jay Shannon, MD
CEO of Cook County Health (Chicago)

"Cook County Health is one of the largest public healthcare systems in the nation, serving approximately 300,000 patients each year through more than 1 million outpatient visits and 20,000 inpatient hospital admissions. The system includes two hospitals, a network of 15 community health centers, four regional outpatient centers, correctional health for 7,000 detainees at the Cook County Jail and residents of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, and a public health department serving 2.5 million residents in 124 municipalities.

"We don't employ what most consider 'remote employees,' but we do have more than 6,300 physicians, nurses, case managers, administrative staff, support staff and more working across some 950 square miles, each day providing health and wellness services to residents of the county. While we are not all under the same roof, a culture based in honest and open communication is essential for working collaboratively and effectively. Monthly in-person leadership meetings and consistent proactive communications, including systemwide publications that provide updates to all employees, can compensate for the physical distance between staff and sites of care. A shared electronic health record used by staff so effectively that we have reached HIMSS Level 7 certification assists effective synchronous communication about clinical care.

"And while Cook County Health has a workforce that is diverse in both function and geographical area, we are united by a mission of caring for those most vulnerable — a mission that is as important today as it was in 1835 when the system first opened its doors to the community."

Joel Yuhas
President and CEO of UCHealth Memorial Hospital (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

"I'm always trying to create opportunities for inclusion. Whether that's by phone, invitations to in-person management meetings or visiting outlying locations — there are many ways to demonstrate support and make others feel connected. Administrators in affiliated and satellite hospital campuses know their communities best. Every organization has its own culture that needs to be respected and balanced along with system culture. Take to time to listen. I'm always interested in what I can do to help someone else be a more effective leader." 


More articles on leadership and management:

If employees aren't speaking up, take a look at company culture
Corner Office: Cook County Health and Hospitals System CEO Dr. John Jay Shannon on the importance of strong teams
'We're working on healing': UPMC physician discusses synagogue shooting response


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