Telecommuting and Your Medical Practice: Could It Work?

April 21, 2012

Do you have a fantastic staff member that you can reward by giving them an opportunity to telecommute? Here's how to be successful with this approach.

Over the past several months, we talked about insurance companies, your A/R, your billing company and some areas of HR within your practice. I wanted to touch on an area of opportunity that you might take a look at, or try on a temporary basis with a trusted employee.

There are many reasons employees request to start telecommuting. Whether that is work and family balance, gas prices, location, or knowing that productivity can be increased outside of the normal working hours, telecommuting is on the rise. Have you been approached by one of your staff members requesting the opportunity to telecommute? Here are some things to consider and topics to discuss with them:

As a manager, you are very aware of the employees who are productive, independent, hard-working, honest, trustworthy, and who are good with time-management. These employees make great candidates for telecommuting.

1. Sit down and meet with the employee and ask them how they would like to split up their time in the office vs. telecommuting. Sometimes two to three days per week can yield very high productivity results.

2. Make the sure the employee understands how to plan their time wisely, and understand how to compartmentalize their time and tasks.

3. Do you have a means for the employee to work from home (i.e. computer, printer, phone, Internet / software set up)? It's imperative the employee have the tools to succeed outside of the office setting.

4. Set up a communication protocol which includes expectation, policies and procedures, and the necessary processes that allow the employee to communicate with you or your manager.

Obviously, not every employee will qualify to telecommute given their job class. If you need someone to answer the phone, collect co-pays, and schedule patients, they are not an ideal candidate for this type of opportunity. For someone who provides back office support, however, this can be especially lucrative. If you have an employee that does a lot of data entry or tedious work that would produce better results with less interruptions, this is a great opportunity.

As the employee working outside of the office setting, they need to be very aware of the potential pitfalls that will produce less than desirable results working from home.

1. Be sure that during the designated working hours that friends and family do not disturb you and just drop by to say "hello” (or call or e-mail) This is your working time, and constant personal interruptions should never be allowed.

2. Set an alarm and get up and walk around every few hours. This does not mean doing your laundry and cleaning your kitchen. This means, allowing yourself some time to get up and stretch. Walk around, maybe sit outside and get some fresh air.

3. Set aside specific timeframes for work e-mail and phone calls. If you are constantly being interrupted, you will never be productive at your tasks.

4. Know that you can contact your manager at any given time with questions or concerns about your work. Communication is key and must be active on a daily basis between both parties.

From a managerial standpoint, it is imperative to recognize the possible pitfalls of allowing an employee to work from home when others are not allowed that opportunity. Sitting down with your staff and explaining very clearly your decision and why it was made (i.e, tedious work needs less interruptions, more productivity in “off-working hours,” etc.) and keeping it about the work itself, and not about the employee's personal wants or needs, is very important.

Try this on a temporary basis, set up some measurable goals and give the employee something that they consider a “benefit.” You will win with more productivity, and they will be happy to have the trust and freedom that they seek from you!

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