By Pete Mercer
In the beginning months of 2020, employees and employers everywhere were introduced to remote work, something that was likely a novel concept for many. Remote work became a consistent part of life for a lot of people: a hot topic discussed as nauseam by thought leaders and influencers on LinkedIn, a burning question of efficacy for business leaders, and an overall discussion on the work-life balance for American workers as a whole.
Not every industry is equipped with the tools to make remote work feasible; for example, restaurant and retail workers have no choice in the matter. Many employers struggled with the decision of moving to remote operations, and not without good reason for concern. For industries that weren’t accustomed to implementing remote employees, it became a question of how to operate smoothly and efficiently without the controlled variables of an office environment. It’s not entirely unfair to say that it’s a bit of a gamble – some employees simply aren’t made to work outside of the office.
For many dental groups, the possibility of working remotely became a cost-effective solution that allowed them to hire more support staff to make the in-office operations more efficient. It’s all about equipping your teams with the tools and software they need to perform their jobs like they would in an office.
While hygienists and doctors aren’t able to perform their duties outside of the office, there are plenty of other ways to implement remote workers that can improve your bottom line, support your patient care outcomes, and increase productivity. Ken Kaufman, Chief Financial Officer at Community Dental Partners described his remote team, saying, “At the practice level, we’re not doing anything remote. From our perspective, it was kind of the support center functions that really have the most opportunities to go remote. My finance team is remote, and my accounting team is split. It’s a challenge sometimes to figure out how to keep everybody aligned, to keep the culture going. We’re testing and trying things a bit to figure out a good solution.”
Adopting new technologies
A crucial step to managing remote workers is adopting new technologies to bridge the gap between remote workers and in-office workers. These tools are meant to encourage collaboration, ensure accountability, and streamline communication between your teams.
Dr. Ron Taylor, Founding Partner and CEO of Trident Endo, says “Everybody always has their focus on the end goal, but they kind of lose sight of the journey in between. We have an office in Pennsylvania, but our main headquarters is in Maryland. The practice manager is in charge of all of the office managers. They have their weekly meetings, establish their KPIs and follow up on their KPIs. We use Microsoft Teams, and I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of what it can actually do. If anyone has a problem or needs to ask a question, you can just hop on Teams really quick, share your screen, and somebody can help them out.”
Finding technologies to adopt into your practice can be challenging with a saturated market, but it really comes down to finding something that works for you and with you to achieve your goals. It’s easier to pick communication tools because they don’t require a larger investment. However, remote call center employees require an integrated phone system that they can easily access from their home.
Taylor said, “It goes back to having the right people, in the right seat, on the right bus. Sometimes you have people who align and are a great cultural fit, and sometimes you don’t. It starts with just having the right people.”
One of the biggest challenges to implementing a remote team is maintaining consistent communication throughout your organization. Establishing a work-from-home program for your organization creates a barrier of communication between the office and your remote workers. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams are designed to improve internal communication for your organization and connect with those that are working from home.
If you can effectively streamline communication for your practice, you will break down the barriers built up by having a remote team. Schedule weekly meetings to discuss objectives, goals, and KPIs, as well as smaller one-on-one meetings to give the remote teams a better opportunity to get to know their team members and engage with your organizational culture. Culture is nothing without a strong communication system, which is why it’s so important.
Leveraging new remote roles for your organization
Timber Dental, a family dental team serving Portland, Oregon, established a new remote role to provide a better customer experience and better patient care. A remote patient care coordinator is meant to help alleviate the pressure off the phones in the front office of the practice. The patient care coordinator provides a direct patient contact service instead of an online chat bot where your patients can feel heard and cared for, while supporting the productivity of your front office.
Kate Casparro, a remote patient care coordinator at Timber Dental, discussed the value of the role
saying, “Timber has a focus on meeting our patients where they are, and a lot of our patients are technologically savvy. They enjoy being able to multitask and make an appointment over the computer while they are working or whatever, helping their kids with school. So, we came up with the remote patient care coordinator. It’s a live person monitoring the chat, someone with dental experience that knows how to answer scheduling questions and insurance questions and other things like that.”
By moving the patient care coordinator to a remote position, you can easily schedule patient appointments, field questions about various treatments and cleaning procedures, and build that relationship before they are even in the office. Casparro says, “Timber has this really amazing support culture system where they want the human aspect to be as obvious and apparent as possible in your chats with the patients. So having that support made it really easy to add a human touch to the chats. We’re able to add emojis and laugh along with the patients. We also respond to any type of time-sensitive material very quickly because we do have access to the front desk staff as well.”
Managing a remote team isn’t impossible. Define the culture of your remote teams early on and give them the tools they need to operate productively and efficiently. Remote work allows your employees to work from the comfort of their homes, ideally giving them more time with their families and a better work-life balance.