How do I

Communicating with staff whilst working remotely

Liz Jackson, optometrist and co-owner of three Midlands-based optical practices, tells OT  how adaptations made during the lockdown will leave her business better placed for the future

Liz and John

Overseeing three practices and 20 team members means we’ve had to quickly embrace the mass communication tools available during this time of remote working – primarily WhatsApp groups and Zoom meetings.

Our initial challenge for communication with our staff was that we were fully engaged in running the practice still – with emergency appointments, either in person or video, as well as arranging deliveries for all the work that had been done before shutdown. So any communication was sporadic.

But as we have three practices, we have the advantage of having a large cohort of staff that have all kept up their morale and engagement at different times, through these platforms.

The challenges

The downside of all these WhatsApp groups can be the information overload. We very quickly decided to split our communications into ‘social’ and ‘work’ so that anything that was a ‘must read’ went into the work related one and wasn’t lost in the general conversation thread of the social group. Separating out the noise was a useful strategy in a world that is so chaotic at the moment.

Separating out the noise was a useful strategy in a world that is so chaotic at the moment

 


We’ve held Zoom meetings to keep the staff up to date on what is happening in the practice in their absence. Although enjoying the time with their families and some head-space for a change, the staff are missing the fun and purpose of a typical day in practice - the interaction with their colleagues and our patients, and the pride of making the difference we do for others. The Zoom meetings are so important to show that even in these testing times, we are making a difference still. Our patients are massively appreciative of it, and there is hope for the future.

The value of face-to-face

We are a very visual group of people, so I think it’s in our nature to thrive on the face to face interactions that we have and I believe video calls are so much more effective at meeting these needs. It's so important that this sense of camaraderie remains even when we’re apart. I’ve had several messages after the meeting from staff saying how nice it was to ‘see’ everyone again and that they can’t wait for the next one.

The staff are missing the fun and purpose of a typical day in practice

 


The ages of our team range from teens to 60s, so we did wonder whether technology would be an issue. We therefore set up ‘test’ Zoom meetings for any individual team members who hadn’t used Zoom before, to make sure they were comfortable with the technology. We’ve offered the flexibility of different time slots for our meetings, in case people were not available at the same time, and although these were taken up initially, the minority moved to the majority time slot just so they could all be involved together. But we will continue to make it as easy as possible for them to stay engaged as time goes on.

Moving forward

Having seen the benefit of video calls for both patients and our staff, these new approaches will certainly be kept in place after restrictions are lifted. It is so much more productive from a staff point of view, while remaining engaging. And our patients have been so much more reassured by the face to face contact we have had with them via the NHS video system. Those subtle visual nuances make it so much easier to judge understanding, more easily than via a phone call.

Although the rate of change and acceptance has been overwhelming at times, these new adaptations might just leave us better placed to embrace our ‘new normal’.

Liz is the co-owner of Oakwood Eyecare and Alvaston Opticians, both in Derby, and Kimberley Opticians in Nottingham


  • As told to Lucy Miller

 

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