Remote Leadership & Staff Management During the Coronavirus Crisis

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) practices have temporarily needed to shift from in-person service delivery to a work-from-home model. As a result, ABA practice owners, managers, and executives are looking for ways to maintain staff morale and productivity — showing leadership and propelling their team while practicing “social distancing.”

Here are some tips curated for ABA practices for successful remote leadership and team building.

Proactively and intentionally communicate both as colleagues, and as humans needing human compassion.

Ensure that you or your manager(s) touch base with each staff member, every day. For efficiency, consider 15-minute group meetings via video conferencing. If your team is small and focused, HIPAA-compliant group messaging might suffice. Check on your team’s progress — remote training tasks, delivery of telehealth services, appointment rescheduling, supporting best clinical practices, analyzing organizational data, and more.

  • Start from the top. From the highest level, do your best to provide reassurance to your team. Focus on your mission as ABA providers, and remind staff of what they can and cannot control. Culture begins at the top, and now more than ever, it’s important to foster a sense of trust among your team through openness and transparency. When sensitive topics arise, do your best to answer questions honestly. The feeling of information being withheld might add to your team’s already high stress levels. Build digital trust, and your staff will repay you with honesty and results.

  • Help ease loneliness. Employees are likely to miss their workplace, colleagues, and routines. To help your staff feel less lonely, encourage them to interact frequently with colleagues virtually using face-to-face video chat, and utilize chat apps like Slack throughout the day. Find creative ways to offer “shout outs” and social reinforcement to your BCBAs and therapy staff as they continue to provide excellent support and services where they can to your clients.

  • Include staff in client communications. Keep clinicians abreast of how you are updating families on changing policies and even ABA telehealth opportunities. Consider involving skilled staff in running point on social, website, email, or postcard communication to families. This will keep connections warm if ABA therapy services are temporarily disrupted, and help clinicians to stay on-message if they have any personal communications with parents and families.

Remote Supervision

While it can be challenging to supervise remote staff, consider this as an opportunity to “reduce prompt dependency” for your staff. Show staff how to stay on-task even when you’re not present, and continue to provide reinforcement (praise, gift cards, acknowledgement during team meetings, etc.) to encourage their efforts. Here are some tips to help you supervise and monitor remotely:

  • Use a tool that allows screen sharing. Be sure your screen sharing provider signed a Business Associate Agreement (BAA), if you anticipate screens will show client personal health information (PHI). Sharing screens with your employees during supervision will provide a more intimate feel, allowing them to walk you through things visually.

  • Track your staff training. A good Learning Management System will show staff progress through assigned courses, and give engagement reports on who logged in for how long.

  • Use digital ABA service monitoring. Review graphed data and audit for mastered goals in your ABA data collection software, such as the Clinical area of CentralReach. This keeps clinical supervisors aware of everything happening with ABA treatment, even while working remotely.

Cut Staff Some Slack

During this stressful time, it’s inevitable that some staff won’t be able to perform at the same frequency or duration as they would in their normal work setting. Many of them may be working while supervising young children or school-aged kids, and many may be anxious over the COVID-19 outbreak and its possible effects on their family.

While your staff would love to continue doing their jobs as if it were “business as usual”… it isn’t. Now, more than ever, it’s important to keep morale up, and maintain work-life balance. Here are some tips to cut your employees (and yourself) some slack while maintaining business continuity:

  • Help staff prioritize. Some tasks are truly important and urgent, while others can wait a few days. Make sure each staff member knows the difference, and feels comfortable asking their supervisor for clarity and for help prioritizing when needed.

  • Have fun with your team. Lighten the mood and unite your team with just-for-fun activities. For example, some companies are having #SpiritWeek costume competitions, video-friendly icebreaker games like “Two Truths and a Lie,” or sharing photos of their lives: their dog or cat, kids, favorite mug, or even the view from their apartment or house. Here are some examples to get you started!

  • Be cool with kids. As a result of COVID-19, thousands of schools across the U.S. have been closed or are scheduled to close. This is a stressful change for your staff with kids, as they balance working from home and parenting. Small things like allowing flexible hours, or understanding that children may yell during phone calls, will mean the world to your employees. (Remind staff to keep kids out of ABA telehealth meetings, though!)

  • Encourage “mini-breaks.” While working remotely, it can be easy to fall into the trap of never truly “unplugging.” Let staff know it’s OK to take a break every so often! Whether they spend five minutes outside, call a friend, or make a hot cup of coffee — they’ll feel refreshed afterward, and likely return to work with a clearer mind.

  • Be realistic of the new normal. Newly remote workers are often surprised by the difficulty of simple things — getting questions answered by colleagues, locating files, or staying on task… especially when you can hear the kids fighting, or your partner’s work call. This can be especially true for BCBAs, RBTs, and paraprofessionals who are leveraging COVID-19 cancellations to take advantage of remote training. Cut employees some slack and forgive the uptick in questions as they acclimate to this new situation.