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Shirlee Sharkey is president and CEO of Saint Elizabeth, a national health care provider and social innovator.
Shirlee Sharkey is president and CEO of Saint Elizabeth, a national health care provider and social innovator.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Three tips to engage your mobile work force Add to ...

I couldn’t believe it when our CFO told me Saint Elizabeth Health Care had surpassed the 7,000 staff mark – that is enough people to fill a football field. I sometimes wish our staff were together in a football field, even just for one day. I admit, I envy leaders who can wander the proverbial shop floor and chat with their teams.

Our primarily mobile health care team does 11,000 visits every day to care for people and allow them to remain in their homes. With 6.4-million visits annually, we have an almost unheard of opportunity to collect data, test and prototype, and improve quality. But from a business standpoint, there are some real challenges for leaders of mobile staff when it comes to communication. It can be difficult to share your vision, build strong bonds and encourage engagement.

Despite my occasional longing to be able to see everyone all at once, there are untold advantages to a mobile work force. I believe that harnessing the strengths of these independent problem solvers may just be the secret of innovation.

Let me share with you some of the strategies we’ve implemented. I hope they get you inspired and energized.

Love the one you’re with

Are you spending time hoping your mobile workers will magically check the company intranet more frequently? Or come to the head office more regularly to connect? News flash – they won’t. The key we’ve found is to work with the inherent strengths these dynamos bring to your team. Think independence. Agility. Adaptability. Empowerment. Develop ways to tap into their natural talents. We recently implemented SoapBox – to gather and share ideas in a virtual way. It builds on our pre-existing virtual community and taps into the insights of staff who see clients every day. We’ve allowed the community to grow organically, and although it has been an investment, we believe we will see better results based on this strategy.

Video killed the radio star

It’s obvious that technology can bring people together to socialize in ways we never thought possible. But sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that if we load up our mobile workers with tech gear, everything will be beautiful. There are so many components to technology and the mobile worker: Will they use it? How long will it be relevant? How much does it weigh when you are dragging it around?

But perhaps more importantly is the idea that we cannot ever lose sight of the fact that technology is an enabler and not the outcome. True innovative technology can transform human interaction for the better. Think about Skype and long distance grandparents – those real feelings have nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with the people. Technology is vital, but don’t become blinded by the thinking that introducing it to mobile teams will be the magic bullet.

We are the world

To truly connect and galvanize your work force, you need an anthem – a mission – a bandwagon everyone can jump on and feel great about. Exceptional leadership takes people on a journey to a better place. In our organization, social purpose drives us, so we started a movement to spread ‘Hope and Happiness.’ We gave everyone in our organization a hope and happiness token of $25 to go out and do more of the special things they already do – little things to brighten someone’s day. It wasn’t about money; it was about the collective, and doing something awesome. Our employees are rarely in the office so this helps to build on our ‘culture of connectivity.’ We have found that mobile or not, once you set up the environment for a movement – it will happen.

Finally, we recently held a company event where we brought everyone together. We offered employees three different ways to participate: in person at movie theatres across the country, via live webcast, and we made it available immediately afterward so anyone who missed it could watch it later. We set it up for success because we designed the experience based on how it would work best for staff.

As much as I would love to connect with our staff in person more frequently, by embracing the unique qualities of the mobile work force, and seeing the amazing things that can happen, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Shirlee Sharkey is president and CEO of Saint Elizabeth (@StElizabethSEHC), a national health care provider and social innovator. Read her blog here.

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