When my business partner and I sat down to review our hiring plan, we didn’t expect to hire four of our five employees virtually. But that’s what happened. When the pandemic turned our world upside down, this meant transitioning from an office setting to a virtual practice. Since going completely virtual, we’ve learned a few key ways to increase our employee engagement during an unexpected time.
3 Tips for Employee Engagement in a Virtual Practice
We place a high value on hiring and retaining the best therapists. We also strive to create a workplace that is highly enriching and healthy for our clinicians, so that they can do their best work. It’s essential to focus on employee engagement in your workplace as an employer. Here are a few ways you can engage your employees in a virtual practice.
1. Have regular team meetings with simple agendas.
It may seem obvious, but one of the biggest ways to increase employee engagement is to simply have regular check-ins with your staff—particularly when you’re all working in different locations. In addition to individual check-ins and supervisions that happen on a weekly basis, our practice has one team meeting each month that typically lasts about an hour. We use these meetings to share important information, make collective decisions, and most importantly to connect as a team.
We place a high value on starting and ending this meeting on time to make sure we’re respecting our employees’ time. We also send an agenda out several days in advance, so everyone knows what to expect.
We’ve all been in meetings where you reach the end of the hour and realize nothing was actually accomplished. No one likes to be in a meeting that feels scattered or not clearly directed, so we make sure to clearly communicate the goals for this time in advance.
2. Find ways to connect on a personal level.
Sometimes it’s hard to find time for moments of personal connection. In our fast-paced world full of back-to-back sessions and note-taking, it might seem easy to forgo connection in favor of getting right down to business. But those moments of personal chitchat are just as important for employee engagement.
In our practice, we use some time at the beginning of our team meetings to see how everyone is doing on a personal level. Especially considering the turbulence and trauma we’ve all experienced over the past year, we want to be a safe place for our employees to process their feelings. This also helps us as managers understand our employees’ values, and how we can help them engage those values in their work.
Another way we’ve tried to increase employee engagement in our practice is by writing them thank-you notes and mailing them the old-fashioned way. Because who doesn’t like to receive a thoughtful piece of snail mail? This is just one small way to let our employees know that they matter to us, and show how much we appreciate all their contributions to our practice. Forming connections and valuing your staff go hand-in-hand. Take the time to get to know your staff not just professionally, but personally as well.
3. Make your communication protocols clear.
With the increase in virtual work, we no longer live in a world where we can just pop into someone’s office with a quick question. That makes it important to clearly establish how to get in touch with everyone—whether that’s a secure messaging service for quick questions or email for larger projects or scheduling questions.
It’s also important to communicate everyone’s preferred communication method and have it documented somewhere that everyone can access it. We have a shared spreadsheet with everyone’s contact information and preferences, so the staff can access it and connect with us and each other.
I’ve found that for my own work-life balance, restricting my email communication on weekends helps me take a mental break. So it’s important that my staff know if they need me on a weekend, text is the best way to get in touch with me.
Use these questions as a framework for creating your own communication protocol.
What is your expectation for response time?
Would you like responses the same business day, or within the work week? Clearly communicate your expectations to your staff, and be open to discussing what works for them as well.
Is everyone on the same page for which communication method to use?
Is instant messenger only for quick questions? Do you prefer to schedule meetings over email, or is text better? Let your coworkers know upfront what the best way to reach you is, so you’re not waiting around for answers or support.
What boundaries are you establishing to encourage work-life balance?
Should your staff avoid reading and sending non-essential emails on weekends? Should everyone avoid making non-urgent phone calls after work hours? Sometimes emergencies happen, and after-hours calls might be necessary then. But by setting policies that encourage your staff to disconnect from work and take a break, you’re letting them know that their own health and well-being matter too.
As a group private practice, our clinicians are our most important resource. When you prioritize employee engagement, providing an environment where they can do their best work is essential for the health of your practice. If you run a group practice or are considering scaling your solo practice, consider implementing these three tips to promote better employee engagement, and ultimately retain high-quality employees.