How Leading Remotely is Changing Company Culture

As of this writing, most of us are sheltering in place and working from home due to COVID-19. Non-clinical hospital leaders, including the patient experience professionals, may be coming to the hospital a couple of days a week, but we’re doing most of our work from our living rooms over Zoom. So without being there, how do we know things are getting done?

Early in my career, I worked under several bosses who felt they needed to micromanage everything my colleagues and I did. Every moment between 8:30am and 5:00pm had to be accounted for or the assumption was we were slacking off. I always had a pretty good work ethic and wasn’t motivated to work out of fear. I did the job because I enjoyed the job and wanted to keep learning. I realize not everyone thinks that way.

But those colleagues of mine who didn’t have that same attitude didn’t do great work under that kind of micromanaging. They found ways to game the system and make it look like they were working. And they mostly got away with it. At some point, they might have gotten found out but that only brought the hammer down harder. I had to ask myself why they didn’t just let them go? Why spend your whole day surveilling your staff when you could be doing more important things?

When I came into leadership, one of the best things I did was hire people who appeared to have a work ethic like mine. People who got the job done without having to be watched like a hawk. People who had a passion for the work and who wanted to keep getting better at it. People I knew I didn’t need to micromanage.

And guess what – work got done. I had a great team who understood the expectations, had the tools they needed, knew they could come to me with questions, and were recognized and celebrated for doing a good job. I could spend my time setting the strategic direction of the department instead of yelling at them for coming in ten minutes late.   

And now that I’m not physically in the hospital, watching to be sure leader rounds are happening and staff are using AIDET in every interaction, I have to trust that they’re doing it because they know it’s the right thing to do, not because they’ll get in trouble if they don’t. 

For those managers who came up thinking that they always had to be looking over their employees’ shoulders, always there monitoring their every move lest they start goofing off, this new normal should be proof positive that that style of leadership doesn’t work. It never has. Anyone can get compliance, what matters is commitment. 

I don’t know what work will look like when this is over, but working remotely has forced micro-managers to trust their employees and change their style of leadership. It’s about time. I’m sorry it took a pandemic to do it.

Author: Kate Kalthoff

It's simple: leave people, places, and things better than I found them. For more than 20 years, Katherine Kalthoff has been working to improve the way healthcare organizations connect with the people they serve. She began her career at Gift of Hope, the organ procurement organization for Illinois, approaching families and securing their consent to donate a loved one’s organs for transplant. Through compassionate, empathetic listening, Kate led the Family Services team to one of the highest consent rates in the country. From there, Kate went to Advocate Health Care, Illinois’s largest healthcare system, as a Physician Relations and Business Development Manager, improving physician satisfaction and strengthening the relationships of both the employed and independent physicians with the system as a whole. Just prior to joining Northwest Community Healthcare as the Patient Experience Officer, Kate was the first Manager of Patient Experience at DuPage Medical Group where she built a platform of organization-wide service excellence through her inspiring brand of education, training, and one-on-one coaching. A much sought-after speaker and trainer, Kate has a very simple approach to her work: leave people, places and things better than you found them.

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