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Telework as a competitive edge

Where teleworking is suitable, offering the option to employees provides a competitive advantage

David Weldon, Contributor

Even in a populated area like Dallas-Fort Worth, competition for skilled healthcare workers is fierce, and that’s why organizations like Texas Health Resources support remote work and teleworking.

Texas Health considers itself an employer of choice – it was named the #1 place to work by the Dallas Business Journal this year, and one of the Top 100 Best Companies by the Dallas Morning News, both awards based on employee interviews by independent agencies – but the organization knows the importance of having an edge as it competes for skilled healthcare workers.

[See also: Beating the workforce shortage]

Part of the organization’s strategy to gain a competitive advantage is offering and supporting remote-based working and teleworking, said Wendell Watson, director of media relations at Texas Health Resources.

While remote working does not work for everyone in healthcare, there are a variety of roles at Texas Health that fit the bill, either permanently or on a regular limited basis, Watson said – such as medical records transcribers and information technology.

Permanent remote-based workers make up a small percentage of Texas Health’s overall workforce, but teleworkers are another story. These are employees who routinely work from a remote location or home, but put in the bulk of their time on site.

A majority of Texas Health’s employees are eligible to telework to some degree, Watson said, depending on their specific role. The employer encourages the policy as both a recruiting and retention tool, and with the shortage of skilled workers in healthcare, every recruiting advantage is welcomed. Employees like the benefit as well.

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Employees work out a detailed work arrangement with their immediate supervisor, including number of days that can be worked remotely, which days those are, and what is expected for work on those days. To qualify to work from home or remotely, employees must be in good standing and they must agree to all of the same device security at home that they have at work, said Watson.

Watson acknowledges that productivity and performance management are always top concerns with any remote-based employees. Texas Health requires that every employee establish a set of performance goals at the beginning of the year, and uses an online performance management tool to assure that each employee is staying on track.

Putting performance management tools in place is an important step in managing remote workers, but there is a danger in relying on them too much, said Dan Enthoven, vice president at Enkata, an employee optimization software provider that works with clients such as Cigna and Aetna.

“What we’ve found is that most companies have high-level metrics and they’re unsatisfied with the productivity results for two reasons,” he said. “One is that they don’t know if their employees’ targets are correct, and they suspect the targets may be too low. Second, they don’t know how to help people who are struggling to improve. If someone has an error rate that is too high, but they’re in a different state than their manager, it can be really hard for the manager to help out.”

“The important thing is that companies need to understand the limitations of management metrics,” Enthoven added. “The attitude of ‘if you’re hitting the numbers everything is fine,’ opens up a variety of problems.

Problems include employees taking short cuts or skipping steps to hit their numbers; employees with  targets that are way below their potential; and employees who are trying to reach the goal, but can’t. “Remote employees have a hard time getting the right help, because no one can see how they work,”Enthoven said.

Because of these concerns, both Enthoven and Watson offer similar advice to others considering a remote worker or teleworker arrangement.

First, start small. Begin by letting certain workers work one or two days per week away from the office for a test period. As you feel comfortable with the results, expand the program to more employees, longer test periods and greater number of teleworking days.

Second, the key to making this work is the proper training of managers, Watson stressed. Remote workers and teleworkers are obviously hard to keep an eye on. Managers need to be very skilled at tracking their performance, communicating with them and recognizing their needs at all times.


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