From the day you hired the first member of your team, whether you intended to or not, you started to create your office culture. The greatest asset you have is your team and office culture. It is not your location, your high-tech equipment, or even your patient base. A unique challenge that every practice currently has due to the temporary office closures, is how to maintain the office culture and community that you have worked so hard to create.

Here are 2 ideas to help you maintain and strengthen your office culture during your temporary closure.

Schedule Regular Video Calls with your Team

One of the most important things you can do while your office is closed is to meet with your team on a regular basis (we suggest weekly, but no less than bi-weekly). These calls do not need to be long. This is a worrisome time for your team. Your team will have lots of questions. When are we reopening? Will our schedules and duties be the same? As your team is thrown out of their daily routine, challenges are inevitable. Whether it is parenting logistics, frustration with technology or simply coping with the reality of the current situation. Be honest and transparent and remind them that this is an evolving situation. It is okay to say you do not know or that things are undecided. If they understand that your decisions are temporary and necessary to keep them and your patients safe, they will be more likely to understand and accept the situation.

To prevent the spread of misinformation through rumors and gossip, share only credible and accurate information. One of the concepts that we talk about with our clients is the idea of team communication and an “information vacuum.” Especially in a time of crisis, we are all hungry for immediate answers. In the absence of timely updates and information, we tend to fill the “information vacuum” ourselves, usually with speculation and hearsay. Avoid this situation by communicating with your team and stakeholders frequently, openly, and honestly.

In addition to providing your team with office updates, ask how they are doing. How is their family? Chances are someone will have a birthday or another important family event during your office closure. Recognize those events. Keep the emotional connections among your team alive. Let them talk with one another and get caught up.

Continually encourage your team to maintain good hygiene practice per CDC and OSHA guidelines. At some point, your team is going to return, and you want them to be healthy and free of the COVID-19 disease. One of the worst things that could happen when you reopen is for one of your team members to unwittingly infect another member of your team or one of your patients. Based on CDC guidelines, you would need to notify any employee or patient who was in “close contact” (6 feet) of the infected or exposed individual and encourage them to seek medical advance and take appropriate steps to prevent further transmission (more on how to deal with a COVID-19 infected/exposed employee or patient in next week’s post).

There are many video conferencing options you can choose, including Zoom, GoToMeeting, Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams to name a few. Each have their pros and cons (some offer a free plan with feature limitations), but they all include the essentials for a group video call.

As the weeks progress, you may be tempted to skip a week here or there thinking there is not much to report or update. Do not cancel your regularly scheduled video calls. Some of your team may not be able to participate in every call and you may not always have significant updates but keep the communication channels open. You will be surprised at how close your team is and enjoy re-connecting on each call.

Create a Group Text for your Team

While your weekly video calls are important, creating a group text for your team will enhance communication and provide an additional channel for more frequent and less formal communication. Group texts are an easy way for you and your team to stay connected and updated. Through a group text, team members can say happy birthday, share how their unemployment claim is progressing and answer questions that a co-worker may have about their own claim or challenge. How are they are handling home schooling, videoconferencing technology, their search for toilet paper, and all the other unique Coronavirus-related challenges and adventures that we are all sharing.

Now would also be a good time to develop an Infectious Disease Prevention and Management (IDPM) Plan. What is an infectious disease prevention and management plan? It is a plan that addresses infectious disease safety precautions, employee training and policies regarding how to manage sick employees and patients or anyone that exhibits potential symptoms of contagious illnesses at your office. Be mindful of the interplay between sick leave laws and policies, the FMLA, ADA, HIPAA, and Workers’ Compensation coverage. Work with your HR partner in developing your plan to ensure you are compliant with federal and state labor laws, OSHA regulations and treating your team and patients emphatically.

Finally, brainstorm with your team about how your practice will reopen and what it will look like. Ask for input and suggestions. Your team has a personal relationship with your patients and will have a unique perspective on how to open and get patients rescheduled. You might want to consider creating teams to deal with specific reopening steps. If you have a Patient Communication Plan in place during the closure (recommended), this is also a good time to discuss how to stay connected with your patients.

One additional note – be aware of wage and hour laws and what constitutes “hours worked” when holding video calls or team meetings. Calls or meetings that are voluntary are not compensable, but if you are asking (requiring) members of your team to meet to develop or update plans, programs, or procedures, this time may be compensable under federal and state wage laws (check with your HR partner to be sure).

The COVID-19 crisis is temporary, but the effects will be lasting. There will be a “new normal” in the world – at school, at the grocery store and certainly with your team and patients. We are all navigating in uncharted territory, but uncharted territories bring new opportunities. Work with your team in looking for creative ways to reinvent and revitalize your office. Develop and implement new policies, procedures, and practices to make your “new normal” a better normal for both your team and your patients. Taking the time to maintain and strengthen your team and culture will pay dividends for your practice for years to come.

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