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How Mayo Clinic Has Harnessed Digital Communication to Keep Remote Employees Engaged During the Pandemic

Large or small, the COVID crisis is disrupting employee communication channels at hospitals and health systems across the country, and the Mayo Clinic is no exception.

The Rochester, Minnesota-based system has some 66,000 team members scattered from Phoenix to Jacksonville, Florida, in facility types of every variety. But with officials declaring a public health emergency in March, Mayo was forced to send some of its employees home to work, and eventually many also faced furloughs of various durations.

Suddenly, clinic leaders were left searching for ways to stay in touch with workers, keep ahead of the rumor mill and share crucial updates in a cyber-safe manner. The pivot came quickly, however, with communicators harnessing a mobile app and dedicated Facebook groups to minimize disruptions to Mayo’s operations. It was a culmination of discussions that had been brewing for months.

Developing an App

For years, Mayo has offered employees the ability to comment and discuss system news articles on its intranet utilizing their personal LAN IDs. This has helped to foster an environment with more “genuine, responsible” conversations, since there is no anonymity, Aase said.

However, employees can only do so behind a firewall, and many nurses and other clinicians are often on their feet and away from their workstations. This problem was further exacerbated when thousands of employees started working from home in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Mayo’s teleworking ranks quadrupled.

Around a year ago, Aase and his team started exploring how to offer the same functionality of its workstations on a mobile platform. They evaluated several vendors, but eventually opted to develop an in-house application to allow for more customization.

“We recognized that it was going to take longer than we would like, but we saw some significant upside in being able to create a much more integrated experience,” Aase said. 

Going the custom route, he added, would allow for some of the many considerations they had in mind, including utilizing fingerprint or face identification, incorporating the staff directory and enabling mobile commenting that instantly and seamlessly synched with the intranet.

Aase said the app was not quite ready when COVID-19 arrived, but his team embraced the “positive pressure” of the pandemic and started addressing “a few niggling details that we needed to work through. We were faced with a situation where a majority of our workforce lacked regular access to employee news. It caused us to ask, ‘if not now, when?’” he said.

Mayo finally launched the new app on March 24, the day after the system started postponing elective procedures and realigning its office strategy. It was introduced to employees with a blog post announcing its availability to staff outside of the firewall, along with instructions on how to complete the download.

In the first 20 days alone, about 9,000 users downloaded the app, and it has seen growth at a steady clip since. Aase said it has provided employees at home with an “identical experience” to communicating from their regular workstations, with synchronized comments and no “disjointedness.”

Taking the Pulse 

Beyond that, the clinic has sought out means to continue gathering feedback from employees while they work remotely. Historically, they have administered in-depth, every-other-year surveys, supplemented with quicker “pulse” questionnaires in between. But leaders have now implemented a continuous feedback model utilizing social listening.  

“The rapid environmental changes we were seeing related to COVID spurred us to adopt a new strategy relatively quickly, with full leadership buy-in,” Aase said. “With so many staff working from home, they suggested that we needed to be able to gather feedback from them in real-time.”

To do so, the communications team created a series of private Facebook groups tied to its many geographies. Three, for instance, served major campuses in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, with four more dedicated to Mayo Clinic Health System regions of community hospitals and clinics.

The goal, Aase said, was to provide support for staffers, allow them to connect with one another and offer a vehicle for leaders to hear major questions and concerns. They’ve been careful to do so in a way that is not heavy handed, or duplicative of other communication channels.

Mayo set the pages up as private, but visible, and looked to facilitate easy entry, with admission and administration handled by human resources (HR) and the social media team. Those who requested access had to accept rules related to patient privacy and business confidentiality and tie their profiles to six-digit employee ID numbers. They’ve avoided overbearing moderation, though have offered the option of letting online community members flag concerns to address more minor issues.

Aase said the pages ramped up quickly, amassing 10,000 users within days, and nearly 20,000 weeks afterward. HR and social media leaders have been judicious about administrative announcements. One instance, however, where it proved beneficial was in spreading news that Rochester-area schools were closing and facilitating child care options. In another, Mayo shared information about pay protection for allied health staff who would continue receiving paychecks, regardless of whether they were working.

“This gave us an opportunity to get the announcement out quickly, hear what people were concerned about and counter rumors,” Aase said.

He believes the groups have helped to maintain and even strengthen system camaraderie, and they’ve even resulted in the marketing team creating T-shirts and coffee mugs to further spread burgeoning Mayo Clinic pride.

“The overall response that we saw through this was really heartwarming, especially in the last half of April when we announced our financial stabilization measures that meant 30,000 members of our staff would be affected by FTE reductions or furloughs that would put them on unemployment, at least in the short term,” Aase said. “It was astonishing and encouraging to see the way everybody said, ‘hey we’re in this together, we’re going to pull through this.’”

This article features an interview with:

Lee Aase
Communications Director, Social and Digital Innovation
Mayo Clinic
Rochester, Minnesota


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