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Marcie Hopkins, U of U Health.
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Telecommuting in the Time of Coronavirus
Telecommuting is a novel work mode for many of us in health care. Veteran telecommuter Christian Sherwood shares her tips for navigating the uncharted waters of taking our work and teams offsite.
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’ve worked for U of U Health for a while now. Occasionally I pine for my career days of yore when I worked remotely for seven years from a small New York City apartment. I loved it after I figured out how to be successful miles away from my boss and peers.

As we navigate these uncharted waters of taking our work and teams offsite, I want to share some things I learned about maximizing your skills while working from your home office. (Or, in my NYC case, a very small sofa.)

Practice professional self-discipline

Practice conference call etiquette.

In my old job, my boss had strict expectations for remote meetings. A few have stuck with me:

  • Make an agenda and send it out in advance. The topic should merit an actual meeting and be worth everyone’s time.
  • If you set up the meeting, then run the call. It may seem obvious, but I’ve been on a number of calls where no one takes the lead. The call leader should make introductions, manage topics and timing, and summarize and outline next steps.
  • Be present. It is obvious to everyone (despite what you may think) when you start multi-tasking and stop paying attention to the conversation. 
  • Mute your phone while others talk. Whether it’s loud breathing, dogs barking, or noisy chewing, mute your line. And for those who frenetically type during the whole call? We don’t believe you’re taking notes. Also, see previous bullet point.
  • Call in one minute before the start. By the time you dial or click to connect, you’ll be right on time.

Your calendar is your friend.

Your calendar has never been more important. Use it to stay on track and in-the-know: set time to call a peer since you won’t see her in the break room, schedule a few minutes for virtual lunch, mark out time for meeting prep. And be considerate of others’ calendars. If you need more than five minutes, set up a call.

Be a better communicator.

It’s inevitable. You’re going to have to write out a really long email since you can’t pop in for a quick chat. You’re going to have to actually dial a phone number. It’s OK. Take time to be more detailed. It will pay off.

Get comfortable with your technology 

Get your Skype world in order.

Make sure you can set up meetings and join them flawlessly. And by all means figure out your audio options! Nothing is worse than sitting on an hour-long call where someone sounds like they are talking from the inside of an aquarium. Do a test run with your cell phone, your land line, and your computer speaker. Skype supports all these options, so take a half hour and figure out the best setup for you.

If you’re really into it, try a video meeting. Be sure to give everyone on the call fair warning. No one wants to see you in a wrinkled “vintage” tee shirt.

Make sure you have proper access to systems and files.

It is super annoying when a coworker asks you to send a document because he can’t access a shared drive. Why? It’s almost certain there will be version-control issues in your future. When working remote, it’s your responsibility to have the same access as when working onsite.

University of Utah has set up this handy remote resources guide to get started. If you need help, put time on your calendar to call the helpdesk folks at 801-587-6000 and get yourself set up properly. Find out if you actually need VPN access (ask them what it is, no shame), or if the already-installed Citrix connection will get you everything you need. Try using an online drive like Box to easily share documents with your team.

Do what you’ve always done—just more deliberately

Be confident.

Your work speaks for itself. No matter the meeting format, how you lead and the outcomes you produce are meaningful. Remember what got you here in the first place and keep doing it.

Try not to turn into a robot, especially with your staff.

Stay connected. Keep your team meetings scheduled and add more structure so they are productive. You might consider adding a personal touch. For example, you could ask when was the last time each person saw toilet paper in a store. (Please don’t; but throw out a question to get everyone talking about something simple and relevant.)

Be flexible and a little more forgiving.

We are all working out the kinks as our day-to-day structure changes. There will be frustrating moments. You’ll be certain an issue could have been resolved quite quickly in person. And you’re probably right. Remember, we are deliberately—and responsibly—working offsite to lessen the spread of COVID-19 and its effect on our clinical colleagues, family and friends. Let’s do this really well for them.

Contributor

Christian Sherwood

Director, Communication and Recognition, Human Resources; Deputy Editor, Accelerate, University of Utah Health