Behavioral Health Agency Advantages for Managing Remote Teams During the COVID 19 Pandemic

By April 1, 2020
young home office manager sitting on couch with pillows in front of laptop

In an industry where the mission is driven by face to face interaction, it could be assumed that the effects of COVID-19 and social distancing would have only tremendous negative implications on Behavioral Health & I/DD Providers – where social connection and human interaction are at the crux of your everyday work and passion. In a world of daily uncertainty, crisis, and imbalance, the thought of learning new skills to manage an already intensive industry, is daunting. As you are forced to abruptly replace face-to-face interactions with telehealth and remote working, there will certainly be new challenges and for you and your co-workers. But what about the incredibly unique opportunities you as providers have to navigate this time of transition to remote working? You are a courageous group of people – a characteristic absolutely essential to working in this industry. But you also have distinctive strengths and skills that will allow you to effectively navigate this unforeseen transition to remote work.

As a way to help behavioral health and I/DD providers manage remote working environments, we’re providing a quick guide that will repurpose your proven strategies for client management to work with your team.

Agency Advantage 1: Client Engagement as a Model for Remote Team Engagement  

Previously, we posted two blogs surrounding client engagement and maximizing the time between sessions with clients (aka, the time when clients are remote). Simply put, there are skills needed to creatively and intentionally engage clients that you have already cultivated. In the blogs, we talk about how one session a month is simply not enough time to build the necessary trust with your clients or partner with them to successfully accomplish their goals – as clinicians, you are forced to maximize time outside of the sessions themselves to truly see progress and engagement. Whether you are a manager or team member at an agency, we want to simply remind you of the very same tactics we outlined for client engagement between sessions and translate them to help with engaging one another as (newly formed) remote teams.   

For Team Members:

  • Instill trust from a distance. You likely do not know how or what your co-workers are feeling as you begin to transition to remote working. You also may not be aware of the larger personal challenges one may be facing during this crisis. It is important to use your training, empathy, and compassion to cultivate trust with each other in order to support each other well from a distance.  
  • Meet your co-worker where they are at. Listen intuitively, observe carefully, and ask the right questions at the right time. Do your best to speak the language of your co-workers based on comfortability with the transition to remote work, listen without judgment, and be mindful of when to confront or challenge a co-worker in their way of thinking as you navigate this together. 
  • Identify barriers of remote work and create solutions. It is important to be sensitive to your teammates and the barriers that may emerge – remain curious and seek to learn as you take new challenges head-on. Always seek to create a solution as you work through what is going well and what isn’t as a remote team. 

For Managers: 

  • Employee Journaling. Could we use the same practice we use with clients to help those we lead during this uncertain time? You may decide in the transition of leading a remote team that a daily or weekly team meeting is essential. No matter what the frequency, there is still time between each meeting in which your team is navigating new challenges. Encourage them to journal their emotions, barriers, and new learnings of working remotely. Create space for team members to then share what they are learning. This will help with increased feedback and ownership in obtaining goals – similar effects we see from client journaling.  
  • Ongoing Communication. As a leader, we encourage you to creatively maximize the time between regular team meetings with various forms of communication. What is the communication preference of your team members? What creative new outlets of communication can you integrate to effectively communicate (more to come soon on tools we recommend!)? What are out of the box ways in which you can check in with those on your team and socially connect one another? Again, use some of the creative means you and your team have already come up with to utilize with clients and apply them directly to one another. 
  • Include your team in decisions. A sure way to effectively achieve buy-in during this time of change is to include the people you lead in your decisions. Ask questions, gather feedback and input, and consider every side of the story as you weigh the best routes to take and decisions to make. 
  • Establish concrete goals. Your team will likely feel discouraged if they do not have clear and concrete goals to measure progress (this feeling of discouragement from lack of clarity will likely be enhanced when remote). Remember to include your team on the development of goals and outcomes you will measure while working together from a distance.  

Agency Advantage 2: Maximize Coping Strategies to Proactively Address Mental Health Challenges that Accompany Remote Work  

As a behavioral health provider, you have the unique skill set and capability to identify mental health challenges, while knowing how to most effectively cope with and navigate them. While making this transition into becoming a remote agency, it’s important to first be aware of the many mental health challenges that can come with remote work: isolation, feelings of being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ with a leader or teammate, stress accompanying new work boundaries physically and mentally, abrupt changes in routine, and many more.

For Team Members:

Once aware of the mental health challenges you are facing, it is important to encourage both in yourself and co-workers, ways to cope with these feelings you may be experiencing during this transition:

  • Take breaks
  • Practice yoga
  • Exercise
  • Aromatherapy
  • Meditation
  • Diet
  • Focused breathing
  • Social connectivity
  • And many more!

Don’t forget to integrate those creative coping practices you have come up with for clients and use them in your day to day.

For Managers:

While of course, it’s still important to deliver high-quality services for clients during this time, it’s equally important to keep on the forefront of our minds the time of crisis and uncertainty we are all living in – a time that no one was prepared for. This is an incredible opportunity to use the grace and compassion that so often characterizes this industry for those considered to be your most important assets – the individuals that make up your team. We are reminded during this time as leaders of how to truly create WOW moments in the lives of others: “Look for a way to lift someone up. And if that’s all you do, that’s enough” – Elizabeth Lesser 

Please reach out to anyone on our team at Remarkable Health if there are creative ways we can support you and your agency during this time. We are continuously looking for ways to remove the obstacles you face as providers – even the obstacles we can’t plan for or expect. 

Want to take it with you? Grab our takeaway guide to share with a co-worker or post at your desk!