One of the greatest challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic will be keeping a positive team culture during this time of crisis. Therefore, it is paramount during this crisis that physician leaders are purposeful in developing a positive work culture. Here are some ways in which you can do that.
By Christopher Scuderi, DO, Vice-Chair, Practice Management Committee; and Robert Pedowitz, DO, FACOFP, Chair, Practice Management Committee
Being a family physician also means being a team leader. Whether talking about your staff, your colleagues or your patients, you have to be present, calm, give direction with clarity and set goals that are achievable. More than ever we are being looked at to be everything to everybody—a jack-of-all-trades and the glue that keeps it all together.
While there are collective challenges faced by family physicians and our care teams, there are unique stressors for our staff that we need to be aware of as physician leaders. Many staff members are concerned about their exposure to COVID-19 and how this exposure may put their loved ones at risk. As patient visit volumes are decreasing in some practices, employees are concerned about their risk of being furloughed or having their hours cut back. For employees who live paycheck to paycheck, this may put them at financial risk. Many of them have also found their work routines completely different as offices transition to predominantly telemedicine. A number of staff members are now working full-time and have to come home at night to home school their children. The lists goes on and on.
One of the greatest challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic will be keeping a positive team culture during this time of crisis. Therefore, it is paramount during this crisis that physician leaders are purposeful in developing a positive work culture. Here are some ways in which you can do that:
- Remember that the little things matter. During this stressful time, small things such as buying lunch, writing thank-you post-it notes on their computer or posting positive reviews from patients means so much more.
- Continue regular meetings. One of the greatest challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is that information and protocols are changing almost daily. This is a time when more frequent—but shorter—meetings may allow everyone to be on the same page. Consider meeting every week or every other week.
- Engage your staff. Approach each day with purpose and share your vision with your team. Listen to and incorporate ideas from team members.
- Use technology to meet. As we encourage social distancing with our patients and communities, we need to do the same with our employees. Meeting via online meeting platforms, such as Zoom, allows teams to meet without sharing small spaces. Two positive byproducts of this include: 1. getting your team comfortable with technology and preparing them if and when there is a need for the office to become virtual and 2. allowing team members to share comments in a more candid way using the chat feature.
- Call a huddle. If the office is getting off-track quickly, consider a five- or 10-minute whole team huddle to get everyone back on the same page. Stopping the team from getting far off course can be a big moment in the success of the team.
- Consider a Sunday night plan-of-the-week email. Helping your team understand what their expectations are and updates in protocols will make the week smoother. One of the most important details team members need to know is current COVID-19 testing options in your area and how symptomatic patients should be triaged.
- Start your day with a good morning walk-around. Getting to your office five minutes early to say good morning to your team helps you to have a pulse on the current climate of your staff and to anticipate any staffing challenges if team members are ill. Having a morning moment to center helps start the day in the right direction.
- Review workflows regularly. As many offices move to telemedicine, the roles of team members may be very different from their roles in February 2020. Review with your team what is working and what can be improved to optimize these new workflows. If they need IT support or equipment, review how your leadership team can provide this.
- Empower your management team. As family physicians are treating their patients during this pandemic, having roles that can be delegated to your team can be a great help. Review your administrative duties and workflow to see what can be done just as well by someone else in the office.
- Celebrate small wins. At a time when most of the news has been challenging and employees and patients are extremely stressed, taking the time to celebrate the little wins can help keep the team moving forward. Set goals and celebrate small victories.
- Remember your why. Family physicians chose family medicine for unique and inspired reasons. At a time when our patients, practices and world are facing a challenge greater than ever before, returning to our core is centering. Sharing that core with our team can help them also know why we do what we do even when it is hard to see the next step in the journey.
As we face this pandemic, we will not be able to practice without a strong team working with us. As family physicians, we must cultivate and maintain the health of our practice as we optimize the health of our patients. By doing all this we will achieve the results we desire.