remote teams header
Marcie Hopkins, U of U Health.
How to Lead a Remote Team
Your social media feeds are awash with tips for working from home, but how do you lead from home? Karen Wilson and Dawn Newberry, of University Medical Billing, have led remote teams for years. Their experience boils down to one principle: build and maintain connection.

t is not uncommon for coders to work from home and University Medical Billing has been no different. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, we were ready. Within a week, our entire staff, with few exceptions, were working remote.

Today, we’re building on lessons from our remote work history to support connected, engaged employees who feel like they are a part of a team and a culture that is making a difference. Connection includes the cultural dimension (the relationships between team members) and the technological dimension (how we interact). And while it may be a truism, it’s worth pointing out that trust underlies them both.

Cultural connection starts with the daily huddle

We highly encourage a short daily huddle. It may seem onerous, but it is essential for maintaining our culture. The supervisors and leads meet every single day—through video camera—so that we can see each other and go over anything that’s pertinent for the day.

What is visible is valued—video meetings are best

Video allows you to see your team and read their nonverbal language. It also helps you engage with team members who tend to sit on the sidelines. If somebody's not talking, leaders have to draw them into the conversation. Go around the virtual table and ask every person, “What are your thoughts?” It forces even the most quiet to say something. Responses may be as simple as, “I agree with everybody.” It may give a more introverted worker the chance to speak up. No matter what, it shows you care about what each member of your team is thinking.

The call can’t be all business though. You have to treat people like individuals, with lives outside of work, by asking them how their days are going. First thing in the morning we touch base so that we can catchup on the previous day. We don’t want to miss hearing about any struggles they had so we can address those as a team.

In addition to the personal element, we’ve also found that the daily call cuts down on emails and forces us to be more prepared. It’s much easier to keep a list of things that you can bring up in the daily huddle, rather than trying to interpret and keep track of a dozen emails.

The technological and physical environment matters

Make sure common platforms like Skype and Microsoft Teams are functional. The hardware is also important. Headphones, working cameras, etc., all make the cultural dimension possible. For those who work in HIPAA compliant areas, a secure environment is also necessary. Working from a couch that has a lot of traffic behind it won’t cut it. That said, your environment should be comfortable and amenable to working all day.

Model self-care. Not everyone has an ergonomic workspace, especially if you were thrown into remote working, but there are things, like taking breaks, that you can encourage your team to add to their routines. When you're in the office, it is easier to get up and get to the water cooler and interact with co-workers. At home you can pile it all up in front of you for the day and never move. Encourage employees to take breaks, get up for lunch, or take a walk.

Model family care. With the schools being closed we’ve done something a bit unusual by providing alternative times to work. Work days used to be 8 to 5 or 7 to 3. But with everything closed, that’s a little harder to do. Create structures that allow your teams to work in chunks so that the work is getting done and so their children’s needs are being met. At the end of the day, our job as leaders is to make sure everybody is comfortable and happy so that the work can get done.

Trust your team

Trust undergirds cultural and physical connection. You may not be able to see what each member of your team is doing every day because you can’t walk out to their cubical and see them on a daily basis. Trust that your team knows what they’re doing. They’re just in a different location now.

Some of your employees may surprise you that they can work much better remotely than they can at the office. And for some of your highest performers, working from home may turn out to be more difficult. Be open and responsive to those adjustments. Be willing to get to know how your teams work under these new circumstances.

Originally published April, 2020


Dawn Newberry

Manager, Medical Billing, University of Utah Health

Karen Wilson

Executive Director, Medical Billing, University of Utah Health

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