The CIO’s New Motto |

David Chou, SVP & CIO, Harris Health System

Covid-19 has put unprecedented strain on the healthcare workforce, challenging clinical resources and departments supporting the clinicians. Healthcare CIOs have worked extremely hard to transition toward a remote workforce during the pandemic. While organizations are putting together their plans, leaders must build a new culture with new philosophies for managing teams remotely, highlighting burnout prevention.

Studies have shown that remote workers increase their average workday by 8.2 percent, equating to an additional 48.5 minutes daily. A survey by online employment platform Monster found that over 69 percent of employees experience burnout while working from home. Increased hours, coupled with things like homeschooling children, can escalate stress and add to burnout risk. Here are some of the things CIOs can do to help alleviate that.

Work is not a location

Work is not a place where employees go, but rather an output of their effort to advance the organization. This should be the new motto for CIOs; it’s a motto that leaders can use to promote work-life balance. Healthcare technology teams include established professionals, and they should be trusted to complete their tasks without being in a particular location. If leaders do not trust their employees, then they probably should not have hired them.

Harris Health System’s IT department, which I lead, has allowed its team members to work remotely for the past few years, and the department’s working environment has not been affected by the pandemic. As the Texas-based health system embraces the new normal, leadership has exemplified a forward-thinking approach by extending either full time or hybrid telecommuting to the entire workforce, so long as employees can successfully manage tasks remotely. Full-time telecommuting is not the norm for healthcare providers, so Harris Health System leads the way here.

Provide more personalized feedback

When it comes to managing burnout, even small gestures can make a big difference. Some leaders are making special efforts to recognize outstanding performance, so employees know their efforts are valued. Tokens of appreciation, such as personalized cards and gift baskets, can increase employee engagement. Anna Turman, Division CIO with CommonSpirit Health, mails a personalized card with a small gift to 30 different employees and managers monthly. These modest signs of recognition help boost morale when the typical healthcare IT workforce puts in 60 hours per week to support clinicians in fighting the pandemic. Her positive employee engagement score is testimony to the success of her efforts.

Create “virtual watercoolers”

When working remotely, IT employees miss out on informal communication and watercooler chats. CIOs should utilize existing collaboration tools in their portfolios, such as Microsoft Teams, Webex Teams, and Facebook at Work, to create a watercooler group to drive employee discussions. Healthcare leaders can learn from Jonathan Feldman, CIO of the City of Ashville, who encourages non-work-related discussions through his virtual informal watercooler setup. By doing this, he is setting the foundation for relationship building among remote team members.

At Harris Health, I have adopted bi-weekly town hall meetings to share updates and discuss our strategy. Most importantly, it’s a forum for leaders to listen. Seattle Children’s CIO Zafar Choudry takes a similar approach, sending out weekly messages that include words of motivation and learnings from recent books he has read, incorporating personal challenges during COVID-19.

Monument Health CIO Stephanie Lahr utilizes social media platforms such as Facebook Live to showcase employees’ cooking skills through a virtual event. The team also shares content regularly on its IT Facebook page. It’s an example of how healthcare CIOs are learning to be even more social, designing online experiences that complement offline, in-person interactions.

Shorten video meeting times 

Video meetings are another source of stress for employees. Instead of having back-to-back video meetings for eight hours straight — which can be draining — CIOs should try to reduce durations to allow for breaks and thinking time. For many organizations, video meetings are set for 30- or 60-minute sessions. Tech leaders should establish a different expectation to combat burnout. For example, Health First CIO William Walders limits meetings to 20 or 50 minutes, allowing for a gap in the meeting schedule.

The healthcare industry has traditionally frowned upon a remote workforce. Now, many organizations are offering telecommuting work options, and that means CIOs urgently need to reflect more deeply on the risks of burnout and figure out ways to improve work-life balance.

This piece was originally published on David Chou’s blog page. To follow him on Twitter, click here.


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