Managing a team in a virtual world requires professional leadership skills

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I’m sure that during the peak of the pandemic, I did not think too much about the topic of continuous employee education. Like most people in the healthcare IT industry, my team and I just want to figure out how to survive and deal with the unique challenges posed by COVID-19.

However, one day a colleague reminded me that although we did a great job of deploying employees to the remote support model very well, we failed to recognize the unique challenges associated with team leaders managing remote employees.

I realized that although we previously provided employees with limited remote work opportunities, the workforce that manages 100% remote work is definitely different. This “aha” moment raises the following questions: “What should we do?” and/or “What can we do?”.

The survey data unanimously believe that the respect and trust of employees to their managers is the key reason for continuing to work for their current employers. With this in mind, our leadership team decided that some measures must be taken to assist our management team in this new work environment imposed on us.

In addition, the institutional decision to reduce office space for administrative staff and the competitive pressure from other organizations in our region clearly demonstrate that remote workforce will continue to exist and quickly become the new normal.

Therefore, it is more important than ever to prepare our leaders to successfully manage talent and work efficiency.

We have adopted various methods to improve the remote leadership of our team. First, we use internal education through the Pennsylvania School of Medicine and share the collective learning of our IS management team.

PMA is Penn Medicine’s training center focusing on staff and team development. The guidance and programs provided by PMA help create an educational foundation for remote workforce management.

We also took time to bring our leadership team together in a virtual way, share their experiences and lessons, and exchange quick skills for leaders to learn from each other.

It is eye-opening to realize that many colleagues are going through a similar situation, jumping from one remote call to another, and missing the ability to simply walk down the lobby to meet with team members. This shared experience provides comfort and verification, and leaders who feel uncomfortable in this new environment are not alone.

Externally, we turned to an education development company to design and manage a remote management training program for our leadership team. The training course consists of groups of 12 to 15 managers working together in a four-hour course, allowing presentation of materials, group meetings and discussions.

Recognizing that many remote workers are confused about the pandemic situation and are out of touch with normal office procedures, the plan focuses on the need for clear expectations, communication, and participation.

Overall, the program quickly elevates the leadership team to the unique skills required to manage a fully remote workforce.

An additional benefit associated with our multifaceted training approach is that the feedback provided by managers identifies the challenges their employees face in remote operations. Recognizing that technical, social and personal challenges exist for many people because they are still remote, this confirms the need for more personalized but virtual contact when providing guidance to employees.

The overall fear of the pandemic and the additional work required to address the unique information technology requirements of the pandemic exacerbate these sensitivities. Sometimes, this extra and unplanned workload can lead to overall burnout for many employees.

The cornerstone of our information system team culture is a high degree of attention to the needs of employees. We always measure our success based on various indicators, but zero the overall unplanned employee turnover rate.

The introduction of our remote workforce management program further makes our leaders more sensitive to the unique needs of managing remote workforces, expands our leaders’ management skills, provides a solid foundation for managing future workforces, and guides our entire team Improve employee retention.

This success, coupled with the reopening of many centers, enables us to provide our management team and the employees they manage with more training opportunities.

Mike Restuccia is the Chief Information Officer of Penn Medicine.

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