How to Build and Maintain a Remote Culture among Social Workers in Healthcare Settings

June 23, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic forced unprecedented change in every facet of daily life. With patients and health care providers opting to reserve office visits for emergent needs during the height of the pandemic, many agencies shifted to a telehealth approach. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the United States now has an entire website dedicated to educating the public on the benefits of telehealth. Shortened wait times, reduced need for patients to take time off of work or find childcare, and expanded range of access to specialists (especially in remote or underserved areas) are just a few of the advantages of utilizing virtual healthcare.1 

Social work leaders in healthcare are finding that the biggest challenge with this virtual model is not in providing care to patients, but in creating and maintaining an agency culture in a virtual world.

While effective communication is at the heart of social work practice, social work leaders in health care often overlook the importance of maintaining open lines of communication within an organization. Establishing a system for social workers and other health care providers to collaborate with one another and their leaders  is integral to establishing a positive work environment. Having regular video conferencing meetings (often called an “All Hands”) where all staff members are in attendance, helps to ensure that all team members are aligned on the company’s core values and mission. 

A recent survey conducted by Career Explorer found that of almost 6,000 social workers,  a majority are extroverted personality types, and thrive in situations where they can interact with people on a regular basis.2 This means that it is even more imperative that social work leaders in health care find ways to provide outlets for their team to interact with one another, build relationships, and feel a sense of belonging at their agency. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Virtual lunch hours, coffee breaks, or morning “water cooler” meetings via video conferencing can help social workers  build rapport with their colleagues.

 Another great way to build a remote culture is to provide employees with an outlet to engage with one another in non-work-related conversation with one another. At Concert Health, this is accomplished by utilizing a multitude of interest-based Slack channels for social workers to engage with like-minded colleagues. With channels ranging from #AnimalCrossing to #ConcertKiddos to #Random, there’s something for everyone! 

Sirota Consulting recently conducted a survey which discovered that only 51% of workers felt they were adequately recognized for their achievements at work. In a remote environment, accolades are often even more sparse. With this in mind, Concert Health, which has been providing remote telebehavioral health services since 2017,  utilizes a weekly “Thankful Thursday” post, where social workers and other team members can give “shout outs” to their colleagues for a job well done. In addition, weekly one-on-one virtual meetings between social workers and their leaders provide an opportunity to highlight each social worker’s successes individually.

While many agencies are returning to their offices, some are opting for a hybrid approach, having both in-person and remote social workers. A 2017 study conducted by the Harvard Business Review (Grenny and Maxfield, 2017) found that remote employees felt less supported in their work when compared to their in-office counterparts.3 In agencies that employ both face-to-face and remote employees, it is important to find ways to maintain and boost morale among all team members. Finding a way to include remote staff members in  company celebrations is critical to maintaining company culture among remote staff.

As the field of social work continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of our communities, social work leaders in healthcare will find themselves with an increased likelihood of having a team of remote employees. There are many factors to consider when making that determination, but building and maintaining a remote culture among its virtual workforce is paramount to successful employee engagement, productivity, and retention. 

Sources:

  1. https://telehealth.hhs.gov
  2. https://www.careerexplorer.com/careers/social-worker/personality/
  3. Grenny, J. and Maxfield, D. (2017, November 02). ‘A Study of 1,100 Employees Found That Remote Workers Feel Shunned and Left Out’. The Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/11/a-study-of-1100-employees-found-that-remote-workers-feel-shunned-and-left-ou