Setting Up Remote Operators Part 2 of 2 – Home Office
For this particular Midwestern hospital, 16 operators are working from home. Each was given a computer, a phone and Internet access for handling calls.
Before being allowed to work from home, each operator was required to sign an agreement that included conditions such as, eliminating background noise, requirements to report to the hospital in case of a cable or power outage, attending staff meetings, returning equipment immediately upon leaving, providing an appropriate work area for themselves, and bringing equipment in for upgrades or repairs. Many of the operators designated a room in their home for handling calls to help eliminate background noise and to help them stay focused.
The operators are able to handle all types of calls, including code calls and overhead pages— all as if they were on-site. Even though the operators are 20 or 30 miles away, it’s like they are actually sitting in the building. The agents use 1Call’s Operator Chat feature to keep others updated. The chat feature allows them to communicate with each other as if they are in the same room. Operators also communicate via email and phone calls.
The Benefits of Working from Home
There are many benefits that working from home offers to operators. “They don’t have to pay for gas, they don’t have the wear and tear on their vehicles, and they don’t have the clothing expense. When they start their day, they log into our time card, and they don’t have the commuting time. Because of the economy, there were a lot of benefits we weren’t able to give them, but I think some of the other benefits compensated,” stated the hospital manager.
“The minute I walk in the building, I turn my agent screen on, and I chat with the operators to make sure they’re okay,” said the manager. “I’m not always here to make sure they’re working, so I run reports to make sure they’re not taking extra breaks or extra lunches, or that there aren’t long gaps between calls.”
Using 1Call’s Voice Logger recordings, calls can be monitored each day to assess the operator’s ability to handle the calls correctly. “My complaints have dropped drastically since switching to 1Call’s software.”
Keeping the Staff Connected
One thing that a lot of the operators miss about not being in the office each day is the social aspect. To address this, and to help keep the staff connected, staff meetings are scheduled every three weeks. “To stay connected, we either meet at the facility, or we try to go outside the facility,” the manager said. The operators also plan additional staff outings outside of work, and meet with each other for lunch on their days off.
In the event that Internet or phone service would go out, or operators are unable to use stations remotely for any reason, the operators are required to report to the main hospital facility, where backup stations are available. There have been a number of interesting circumstances. The manager commented, “I have people located in two different counties. The last time we lost our Internet service, we found out that everyone in one county lost their Internet, but the people in the other were okay. I had the backup, so I was able to call the operators in the available county and say, ‘Hop on, because the people in the other county can’t get on.’ We learn as we go with this.”
Fewer Sick Days
One benefit that was obvious from the beginning was the reduced operator sick days. “Between sick calls and having to travel in the bad weather, we don’t get as many as we used to. And if we do get a sick call from somebody, it’s easier to find someone to fill in.”
When new operators are hired, they train on site for about a month. “They work with a seasoned operator, listen for a day or two, and then usually by the third day, the new person is taking calls. They’ll start with one specific site and then will move on as they progress with their learning. They work with the seasoned operator to make sure it’s going like it should,” according to the manager. “I had someone that started right before the operators went home, and she caught on right away. That was probably the fastest training I’ve ever done.”
Having the operators work from home has also opened up a large potential employee pool, including those who would be unable to travel to the main location. The manager commented, “For a recent job that was posted, I had 26 applicants. They finally closed it after the second day. I think everyone thought, with the theory of working from home, that it would be easy to do. But even though some think it’s a luxury, you have to have the right person. And they do have to be available to come to the site if they lose their internet access.”
Handling Remote Discipline
When there is a problem, handling it remotely can be challenging. “Sometimes, when I send an operator an email, they mistakenly think I’m mad at them. So, another piece I’m learning is the best way to communicate. I also think it depends on the individual. Issues with some operators are best handled by a phone call— some by email.”
As with anything new, having the operators work from home initially met some opposition. The manager said, “At first it was hard for the operators to adjust. For some, this was their way to interact with people. But those that struggled with it the most seemed to end up liking it the most. It was just the whole idea of ‘change’ that they didn’t initially like.”
Some physicians were also skeptical. “In the beginning, a lot of physicians were not happy with this. They felt that the operators needed to be on site, since they were the ‘go-to’ people, but I think they’ve realized that they can still access the operators for any questions they had or if they needed anything. They’ve grown to adapt to this.”
The administrators also love it, and as this Midwestern hospital continues to grow, they continue to look for ways to have even more staff members work from home.
For callers, the fact that the operators are remote is transparent. “The only ones that know the operators are working from home are the ones that knew we went home. Other than that, they would not know.”
Read Part 1 of Setting Up Remote Operators – Staff Considerations