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Managing Virtual Employees

November 21, 2014
by Tim Tolan
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Today there are a host of technologies that allow a far-flung workforce act like a tightly integrated team
Tim Tolan

Like other market segments, the HIT world is moving to a workforce of virtual employees. As the candidate market gets tighter, I believe this trend will become even more commonplace.

The virtual worker train left the station a long time ago. I’ve personally led business development teams for over two decades, and the bulk of my teams have been mostly virtual. With a shortage of HIT workers, more organizations are becoming creative to find great talent, and many are allowing their employees to work virtually (at least to some extent).

This trend is something we need to embrace. It was always hard for me, back in the day, to track productivity and know what my team was working on; and that was nearly impossible with those working remotely—but not anymore.

We are all wired 24/7, and the tools that are available today to track productivity for those working virtually make the task much easier. Let’s take an inventory of the tools and or processes that can help us better manage a remote worker:

  •  VoIP Telephones. Plug-and-play Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones are a great way to keep people connected to the organizations’ main phone number, and really help remote employees feel like they are part of the team. VoIP phones also have great reporting features and the ability to get all of the voice mail messages sent to the smart phone. A real plug-and-play tool.
  •  Video Conferencing. This technology has come a long way over the past few years. With WebEx, Skype and a host of other video applications, the sky is the limit to what you can do. We have video meetings that allow remote employees to visually participate in team meetings—which I believe adds to their sense of belonging to the team. A real plus.
  •  Integrating Virtual and Office Time. It’s a good idea to integrate some portion of the remote workers to be physically in the office and visible to the rest of the team. I recommend that remote employees work one day per week in the office/facility, or that those who live too far away spend one week each month onsite, giving the remote employees a chance to build and maintain important relationships with the rest of the team. Hosting a team luncheon periodically is another way to foster team-building and relationship development for the entire team.
  •  Instant Messaging. IM is an integral part of communications for organizations with or without remote employees. Being able to send an IM message on the spot to a team member or an entire team about an issue an employee is having is great. It’s immediate and the employee has a chance to respond regardless of what he or she is doing at the time.  We use Yammer as a tool to communicate with other offices around the country. Great tool.
  • Text Messaging. Again, it’s a great tool that many of us use in our personal lives and one that is already getting lots of usage in the commercial world we live in. All you need is a cell phone number and you are connected. It’s more commonplace now to use text messaging with our candidates to confirm interviews, travel and other search related items.
  • Hosted Email and Outlook. With so many options on hosted services like WebMail and Microsoft Office 365, being plugged in is easier than ever. Integrating email on our mobile devices and smart phones has been around for a long time, but now almost any application we are using on our desktop is portable to other devices, including laptops, tablets and smart phones. With lots of authentication and security tools most of your concerns around the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) should be minimal.

It’s becoming much more difficult to argue that having remote employees is not efficient. I would argue that it’s much more productive to have remote team members as part of your workforce. Based on our experience, remote employees work more hours and are much more productive. They don’t have to deal with the minute-by-minute interruptions of co-workers or the impromptu meetings they never had on their calendar. Your remote employees may prove to be your most productive employees in your entire IT organization. Try it!

Tim Tolan is senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates-Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or (904) 875-4787. His blog can be found at