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Tips for successfully working from home, from our team of expert remote workers

While COVID-19 has led to an explosion of employees working from kitchen tables, couches, and home offices, InformedDNA has had a telegenetic counseling model in place since its inception in 2007. Our team of “Chromies” (the self-chosen nickname of our staff) shares expert advice for working efficiently and effectively at home while practicing important self-care.

Q: Why did InformedDNA originally set up a telegenetic counseling model, back in 2007? What makes InformedDNA successful with this model?

InformedDNA’s mission from the start was to provide broad access to genetic expertise in order to empower people with knowledge in a growing and highly complex area of healthcare. Genetic counselors play a critical role in providing genetic information in an understandable way. There are only about 5,000 genetic counselors in the U.S., most of whom are located in urban areas and academic centers, so for many people, physical access to this expertise isn’t readily available. Our telehealth-based system removes these access barriers and allows us to deliver these critical services in an effective and cost-efficient way.

Creating a successful and clinically valuable experience for all involved — patient, provider, payer, genetic counselor, staff — is of utmost importance at InformedDNA. We have learned the value of clear, concise, and timely information. Many genetics centers have wait times of weeks or even months. Our model allows us to offer most patients an appointment within one week, at a day and time that is convenient for them. Our genetic counselors also benefit from flexible scheduling, enjoying work/life balance — and not having to commute or incur dry cleaning bills!

Q: What do you think are the most important things to keep in mind in leading a remote workforce?

Effective communication in every direction and access to the right tools and technology are key. Regular team check-in meetings allow our teams to track progress and identify challenges. Still, leaders remind team members not to wait for meetings to communicate. In an office setting, people have hallway conversations and pop into each other’s offices to share ideas. It’s important to find ways to enable impromptu and informal interactions in a remote environment, too. Chat features are a great way to keep conversations flowing. Additionally, pick up the phone from time to time. Conversations that take more than a paragraph should usually be handled over the phone.

Q: What do you do as a leader to ensure that your remote work-from-home employees are productive? How do you ensure that you and your staff are “connected” when you all work remotely?

Staying in touch regularly (phone check-ins, chats, emails, meetings) is critical, as is setting clear expectations about roles and responsibilities. If possible, allow flexibility in work schedules, and ensure that a supervisor is always available to answer questions during business hours. It’s also helpful to designate specific call hours when supervisors set aside time to take calls from the team. We’ve found that prioritizing a variety of team interactive activities like book clubs, coffee chats, or happy hours helps build camaraderie, relieve stress, and enhance job satisfaction among remote workers.

Q: What is the most important guidance you provide your team in order for them to be successful in working from home? How do you handle typical managerial duties for your remote workforce?

Encouraging transparency and honesty is essential, but never more so than during this global health crisis. The new realities we are facing — from sheltering in place, to homeschooling children, to food or housing insecurity, isolation, fear of the unknown, and caring for vulnerable loved ones — are causing a spike in stress, anxiety and depression. To ease work pressure at InformedDNA, we rely heavily on tools like shareable calendars. Everyone sets their work hours and is clear about when they are and are not available. We also focus on the work product rather than the hours a person “clocks,” which makes it much easier to be transparent about taking a homeschooling break or working at night. We also strive to be very clear about goals, expectations and deadlines so everyone is on the same page about what constitutes success.

Q: What have you found most surprising about working remotely?

There is a common belief that working remotely means isolation and lack of team building, but working at InformedDNA is proof that it can work extremely well. There are many colleagues here who know more about each other’s daily lives than they would if they worked in a busy clinic setting. Continuous encouragement to make that extra effort to reach out and connect has fostered a very open and collaborative working environment. Many Chromies say they feel more socially connected to their remote co-workers than they have at any in-person job they’ve ever had.

Q: What strategies have you had to develop or refine to succeed in working remotely?

We have learned through trial and error to effectively communicate about specific types of information and problems. It’s important to discern whether email, conference call, chat or video meeting is most appropriate. COVID-19 has caused an explosion in the use of video conferencing, but it is not always the best choice and can be more distracting than beneficial. Think carefully about what you are trying to accomplish and choose the best format to achieve your goal.

Q: What strategies have you employed to ensure work/life balance when working remotely?

Those who are used to working in an office or clinic setting can easily take advantage of coffee breaks, water cooler chats, or short walks to rest, reflect and recharge. When working at home, quick breaks — even loading the dishwasher or running a load of laundry — reduces monotony. Taking time to stretch, hop on the treadmill, or get some fresh air several times throughout the day is essential. These little breaks are not only refreshing but remove subconscious to-do list distractions. Chromies also say that keeping a set schedule and setting and keeping boundaries between work and personal/family life improves balance. Be clear with family members that working from home does not mean you are not working. Let them know when you are and are not available. When the workday is done, can you close the door to your office space? Power off your computer? Turn off your work phone or even just the email alerts? Be creative about boundaries that work best for you and the others in your home.

Q: How do you stay connected with your co-workers when you all work from home?

The social support of teammates is a highlight of working at InformedDNA. Our culture focuses on creating opportunities for personal and professional connection via virtual meetings, social clubs, and cross-team collaboration on projects. While meetings are goal focused, taking a few minutes to connect with colleagues on a personal level is important. Respect boundaries but know that a five-minute phone call to catch up with a colleague is healthy for a work relationship, too.

Q: What do you recommend to those who are new to working from home to keep things light during this stressful time of social distancing due to COVID-19?

The geographic diversity of our workforce has been invaluable during this time. We are respectful of the fact that everyone is facing their own set of challenges in mapping out a “new normal” and we are working together to leverage each other’s talents, resources and abilities. For example, those with a background in education are providing sample lesson plans for homeschooling, and some of our expert bakers are sharing delicious recipes using staples. The current situation can feel very isolating, but knowing you have a team’s worth of support behind you is so helpful. Open and honest communication, patience, kindness and understanding help to mitigate fear and uncertainty as we count on one another to get through this pandemic.

From our “Chromies,” Six Quick Tips to Use and Share

  • Call or connect. Isolation fuels fear for many. Stay connected with friends, family and coworkers by phone or video chats.
  • Maintain healthy habits. It’s important to exercise, rest, drink plenty of water, and eat healthy foods. Online nutrition and exercise programs for people of all ages and abilities are plentiful.
  • Limit exposure to the news. Set aside short periods to read and watch the news. Choose trusted sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, or local public health departments.
  • Control what you can. Practice social distancing, strictly limit errands, and follow preventive care recommendations.
  • Breathe. Meditation and deep-breathing exercises relieve stress and redirect worry.
  • Cocoon. Surround yourself with things that lift your spirits and bring you comfort.

Thanks to the following Chromies for their contributions to the tips in this blog: Kelly Athman, Jana Pruski-Clark, Megan Cazrniecki, Linda Colon, Shannon Morrill-Cornelius, Whitney Ducaine, Claire Egan, Erin Eichhorn, Lee Fowinkle, Wendy Glatfelter, Shanna Gustafson, Emily Higuchi, Denise Jones, Julie Kaylor, Karen Miller, Carly Murphy, Debbie Pencarinha, Marissa Street, Rachel Utesch, and Sarah Zentack.

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If you’d like to learn more about InformedDNA and the expert genetics services we offer for health plans, health systems, medical systems and hospitals, or pharmaceutical companies, please get in touch – just fill out the short form below, or give us a call: 844-846-3763.