Speaking of Supply Chain

Engaging Virtual Teams
Christine Homer
By Christine Homer, Co-founder Supply Chain Sherpas, Founder Breakthrough Culture 
2021-March-12

2020 created challenges for the healthcare supply chain far beyond anything we have experienced before - with demand of critical product far outpacing our expectations, challenges with foreign manufacturing, and distribution channels stressed to their limits. Nationally, providers and suppliers worked through the initial COVID-19 wave, then wave two, and are supporting vaccine distribution and continued high census now in 2021. Providers and suppliers developed solutions to meet immediate crisis needs, sustained manufacturing of essential products, and continue to navigate uncharted territories.

And within these moving parts, and the problem-solving and innovation that took place since last March, providers and suppliers relied on their teams and each other to rise to the challenge day-in and day-out. “Other duties as assigned” took on a broader definition and a higher percent of time allocation for all of our team members to support patient care. You expected your team members to immediately adapt, to learn new skills, and to commit long hours each day for months at a time. You changed most of your measures of success and dramatically changed the work environment to appropriately support the crisis. These changes create stress on the system, and stress on the individuals required to execute.

You asked your teams to accomplish these monumental tasks while tired and isolated at home. There is no easy way to doublecheck your thinking and validate your next actions when you cannot walk down the hall for a quick chat. Remote work took away the opportunity for hallway conversations, check-ins, huddles and brainstorming sessions. It is within this isolation that you continue to lead your teams – with no end in sight.

So how do you continue to engage your teams in this virtual environment?

Encourage self-care. Be aware and demonstrate compassion for your team members’ health and well-being. Support them taking PTO and shutting down – both planned and unplanned when needed. Encourage breaks during the day and encourage movement and exercise. Always model what you ask from your team when it comes to powering down and creating space away from work.

Create time for connection. Complete check-ins at the start of meetings for team members to share how they are doing and feeling. Schedule “hang-outs,” coffee chats, or virtual happy hours to allow time to catch-up on what matters most to them outside operations. When we like and care about each other, we are more engaged and willing to pitch in to support each other.

Listen. Whether onsite or virtual, one of the greatest engagement skills we have is to listen and to seek to understand others. Create time for one-on-one conversation. Be still and quiet on camera to hear what is being shared, appreciate the input, ask clarifying questions, and thank your team members for their contribution. Empathize with what they are experiencing then follow-up.

Express Gratitude. Thanking your team as individuals and as a collective, with sincerity and impact, should be a regular practice. Make gratitude and thanks a standing agenda item and remember, employee recognition is not an exclusive requirement of the manager! Encouraging peer-to-peer appreciation builds team engagement and reinforces a value of collaboration and helping others.

Celebrate wins. We have heard from many healthcare supply chain professionals that celebrations were muted in 2020 because of the dire situations our care providers face every day. There is guilt around celebrating individual and team success when death is on the rise globally from COVID-19. I am here to empower you to celebrate! There is no shame in recognizing excellence, moving work forward, overcoming challenges and successfully navigating our current situation. Be creative and make it count! If this is not your strength, enlist your team members to lead as a fun side project.

We have seen many benefits of remote work, including better access to colleagues, improved employee productivity, a collective decrease in carbon footprints, and improved employee safety. Many teams are planning for future remote work, or hybrid opportunities where you can work in-and-out of the office based on need and space. Creating a strong plan for engaging your workforce, wherever they are, will serve you as a leader and serve your organization well into the future.

There are many resources available on this topic for you to reference:

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

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