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World events and an ever-evolving technology have forever changed modern healthcare in delivery, education, location and management. The coronavirus pandemic redirected the attention of nurse leaders worldwide. Fear, uncertainty, confusing and contradictory information vied with healthcare professionals’ commitment to provide quality, compassionate care as the status quo changed at least weekly. The question became, ‘can nurse leaders effectively manage their healthcare delivery systems and professional staff remotely?’ Thankfully, the answer appears to be a resounding ‘Yes’ with certain accommodations, challenges, expectations and innovations.

The first important and challenging characteristic of a successful work-remote culture is trust. Merriam-Webster defines trust as the

‘Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something or one in which confidence is placed.’

Every registered nurse is in a trust and leadership position in and of itself. Nurses are universally recognized as figures of reliability and authority. So as Nurse Leaders, the importance of trust between team members is paramount. Trust that the right people are in the right place. This in turn engenders the nurse managers and front-line nurses to trust their leaders. Reciprocal trust has proven to increase performance, productivity and satisfaction. Building trust remotely is more difficult to accomplish and more easily broken, so building it, nurturing and maintaining it are key. One challenge of remote communication is reliance on email, text and voice messaging. Letting people know if you do not respond immediately, you will at the soonest possible opportunity will help keep the communication lines open.  Liz Dunlop, Senior VP and CHO at Indiana University Health Services, Indianapolis sums up trust in this manner. “You have to trust your remoted employees to do their jobs and inspire others to do the same.” She continues on to recommend investing and embracing new technology to keep these staff engaged.

Technology

This brings us to the second remote leadership tool, technology. Technology is your best friend in these times so embrace it fully in order to engage with and support your staff. It may be your only tool to establish rapport. Think leadership first, location second. We are learning new tools. Invest in the latest remote-work equipment of the highest quality, function and security. IT Support should be on speed-dial for any and all troubleshooting scenarios. Travel between facilities may be desirable but not always feasible for nurse leaders to be present in both big and small ways so technology provides an answer. Pay attention on the phone, connect via video, treat remote staff as if they are local. Face to face interactions keep us all human as we navigate these paths.

Communication

Communication is the capstone of this process of remote management. A culture based on honest open communication is essential for work to be collaborative and effective in any setting but especially so with remote leadership. Establish what systems and methods work most effectively for your team regardless of your personal preferences. Communication channels may need to be rethought or revamped in order to maintain, protect, foster and encourage communication. Acknowledging that life is not normal right now is a good start and so is a sense of humor. Rose O. Sherman, Ed.D., RN, NEA-BC, FAAN believes that communication and connection are crucial leadership topics.  Among some of her recommendations are the following:

  • Clear performance expectations, goals, timelines
  • Clear communication expectations; attendance at meetings, calls
  • Accountability standards; establishing time tracking procedures. Conduct routine remote check-ins, end of shift check-ins.
  • Virtual office hours; clear periods of availability. Schedule weekly 1:1 meetings with managers-Earmark ‘Meeting Monday’
  • Weekly team meetings: always have audio as well as video turned on to gauge non-verbal cues, ask for feedback and suggestions and allow time for personal discussion, not just policy, procedure and performance topics.
  • Weekly Inspirational messages and/or establish a team email for personal sharing: pets, grandchildren, vacation pictures, weddings.
  • Individual, personal messages reflecting your knowledge of individual interests, strengths, skills and motivations.
  • Team recognition: Recognize efforts, achievements, positive feedback from patients or other staff. These can help guard against disconnection and isolation.

Nursing Leadership regardless of setting has always included qualities that are encouraging, inspiring, supportive and equipped to evolve as nursing itself continues to evolve. Masks hide smiles, touch is altered by gloves and compassionate eye contact can be distorted by face shields, but nurses and their leaders are inherently capable or creating environments that nurture staff and foster quality patient care.

In an interesting statistic, Forbes Magazine reports that “ In an International Workplace Group survey, 74 percent of respondents described flexible working as “the new normal.” Further, “80 percent of workers in the U.S. would choose a job which offered flexible working over a job that didn’t.” So, while we look forward to seeing the the coronavirus controlled, remote workers are a new reality. “No matter the health crisis, you can be sure that in the long-term you’re going to need to know how to effectively lead remote employees,” states author Kevin Kruse.

At NHS Solutions, we have first-hand experience with remote workers. We have had several interim nurse leaders successfully manage their teams and departments from their homes. While this is not ideal in a healthcare setting, our experienced leaders have navigated the challenge with great success. We have also managed a hybrid of remote and on-site assignments. NHS Solutions has the experience to help our hospital clients tailor a leadership placement to the unique and perhaps evolving needs of their hospital. Contact us to discuss this or to schedule a call with our recruiting team for your next career move.