Supporting a remote and mobile workforce has always been a challenge for community care organisations, but recently we dramatically changed how we respond to that challenge, writes Jeremy McAuliffe.
Across the community care sector, our remote and mobile workers have long been a disenfranchised group. Working remotely, at times both in the physical and emotional sense of the word, this group has had a history of going without the appropriate supervision, support and sense of belonging that is so vital to attracting and retaining a skilled and happy workforce.
By definition, remote and mobile workers have little connection to the ‘home base’ of an organisation. They don’t have the creature comforts of a work station. Instead their office becomes their car, or clients’ homes. They don’t enjoy the same routine of office workers, who see familiar faces every morning for a quick debrief in the coffee room. Their main relationships are with the clients they visit every day, who can often present with their own challenging and complex behaviours. This combination can compound feelings of stress, isolation and severe disengagement.
Pre the ‘new world order’, Benetas’ Community Services operated as two completely separate divisions. Community Services, the organisation’s government-funded home care service arm, spoke little to Benetas At Home, the fee for service division. This lack of communication attributed to the fact these divisions were operating as two separate entities, with separate structures and separate general managers. it contributed to inefficiencies, poor staff engagement and limited ability to achieve best outcomes for clients.
Approximately 200 home care workers were spread out across Victoria, from the tip of the Mornington Peninsula, to East Gippsland and the Mallee. Their sense of connection to Benetas came through a monthly newsletter posted out to them, and their professional development and support was limited to a Carer Support Coordinator who checked in with them at a quarterly staff meeting.
This was far from best practice, and the resulting disengagement, feelings of being unsupported and isolated, and compromised client outcomes were inevitable. A disengaged workforce is simply not a good workforce.
And it had to stop.
The first step, like any step in solving a problem, was to acknowledge the issue. Staff engagement and productivity was not where it needed to be. We knew this because we received formal and anecdotal feedback from both staff and clients.
We then set out to understand why this was the case, and how the underlying structures of the organisation could be used to benefit our remote and mobile workforce. We recognised we had an inappropriate and inefficient organisational structure around our community care services. We were operating two separate divisions, but both targeted the same client group and were dependent in some way on the operations of the other. Job roles overlapped and this led to lack of role clarity; there was process duplication and this led to confusion and inefficiency.
So in April 2014 we amalgamated our Benetas at Home, Community Services and Respite Services divisions, and added an In-Home Nursing Service – launching our new Benetas Home Care division.
The amalgamation process involved consultation, research, benchmarking and business modelling and produced a new structure and introduced new ways of working. Change always brings challenges but has also created new opportunities for staff in the way of new and different job roles, additional leadership roles and more integrated and supportive team structures.
As part of this, we regionalised what had been one giant pool of home care staff within Community Services and Benetas At Home, into three teams. These three teams, compared to the previous one which had no sense of connection or belonging, were attached to an existing Benetas operational region. Straight away, this gave each team, and each staff member within that team, a sense of membership.
Each team was then assigned an In Home Service Delivery Manager, charged with recruiting, supporting and training staff and to provide regular, comprehensive supervision.
We also called upon technological innovations to help us connect this group.
In September 2013, Benetas In Home Service Assistants were given access to the eRoster system, which has facilitated a more connected mobile workforce. eRoster enables staff to view their rosters remotely, access emails and view important client information on their smart phone, tablet or home computer. This system has improved client care significantly, with staff able to receive point in time rosters and updates on changes to client requirements.
A text messaging system was also introduced to enable us to communicate quickly to carers. Carers can respond free of charge. This has resulted in significant efficiencies in our rostering process, ensuring shifts are filled as quickly as possible and carers feel connected at all times. It also means that the two or three people responsible for rostering within a region can manage their large staff pool effectively.
In addition, a regular ‘pulse check’ survey has been introduced and focus groups have been conducted at different sites to get a sense of how staff are feeling within the new structure, and to identify and respond to any issues before they have an impact on staff performance and client outcomes. These sessions have been supplemented with increased communication activity in the form of a monthly regional-specific newsletter, a monthly Home Care specific newsletter, and regular briefings from myself.
Staff have also been offered increased professional development, with training and opportunities to ‘act’ in higher roles presented regularly. Each staff member is also engaged in a six-monthly performance review activity, which gives them the opportunity to identify areas for development with their manager.
Development of a Home Care Learning and Development Plan, integrating training for all Benetas Home Care, is underway. This will cover mandatory compliance training, and training specific to job roles and client needs. A feature of the plan will be the use of online training making it easier for remote staff to participate.
Feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive. Staff report a sense of belonging and connection with the business that was completely absent before.
One staff member reflected this in a recent ‘pulse check’ survey that: “We are all working towards one common goal – there is no us and them.” And clients report the same thing, which tells us that we’re getting something right.
While Benetas has made significant inroads to improving outcomes for staff and clients in this space, there is more work to be done.
We realise we need the best people on board, working in the most collaborative and connected way possible.
Jeremy McAuliffe is general manager Benetas Home Care.
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