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Look up any article on the pros and cons of working as a telehealth nurse or contact center agent and you’re sure to see one major selling point mentioned frequently: the flexibility of being able to work from home.

But while the rise of remote work has likely helped expand the virtual care talent pool and offered staff a better work-life balance, it also presents new challenges when it comes to quality assurance (QA).

Telehealth QA is notoriously difficult, with many organizations struggling to do any QA at all. Those that do find the resources can usually only audit and give feedback on a fraction of calls, which are not necessarily representative of a staff member’s performance.

This means that while tools like post-call surveys may offer clues about patient satisfaction or call quality, it can be difficult for virtual care leaders to pinpoint the source of any problems.

Given the anxiety many employers already have around remote work, it’s easy to imagine them pointing the finger there.

If virtual care companies are unable to effectively evaluate staff performance, it may lead them to reconsider their work-from-home arrangements and keep more staff in-house. It could also fuel a ‘Big Brother’ mentality that leads to excessive employee monitoring and micromanagement.

Here’s my take on how the challenges of telehealth QA can threaten remote work and how organizations responsible use of AI can offer leaders a happy medium that both ensures call quality and offers staff the trust and flexibility they deserve.

Key takeaways:

  • Telehealth QA is difficult and many organizations struggle to effectively audit calls and provide feedback on staff performance.
  • Lacking the resources needed to QA calls at scale, leadership may point to remote work as a source of problems with patient satisfaction and staff performance.
  • Lack of robust QA and performance evaluation processes may lead to remote workers losing their jobs, missing advancement opportunities, or being asked to give up work-from-home privileges.
  • Lax QA could also lead to excessive monitoring and tracking of staff due to concerns about call quality, driving low morale, high turnover, and decreased job satisfaction.
  • AI can be a solution for assessing the work of remote staff — but it must be implemented with care, in a way that drives call quality without compromising staff privacy and trust.

Remote workers at a disadvantage

If leaders at virtual care companies have concerns about patient satisfaction and call quality, but lack the workflows or resources to easily QA calls or assess staff performance, they may think twice about hiring remote workers.

In-house staff are often easier to monitor and, in the eyes of many, sharing office space makes it easier to offer employees spur-of-the-moment feedback and coaching.

All things being equal, in-office work also offers more opportunities for collaboration and team-building, which could give managers the impression that remote staff are harder to train and less likely to grow and advance.

Without robust QA, feedback and performance evaluation processes in place, remote staff may not only struggle to get the feedback they need to do their best work, but also find their quality work goes unnoticed by leadership.

This can result in remote workers losing their jobs, missing out on the advancement opportunities they deserve or being asked to give up work-from-home privileges. It can also lower morale if staff feel they aren’t fully integrated into the team or getting the development opportunities or positive feedback they’ve earned.

The threat of ‘Big Brother’

On the flip side, concerns about call quality, paired with an inability to measure performance, could lead companies to overreach with excessive monitoring and tracking of staff. This could create an air of distrust that alienates remote workers and leads to low morale and high turnover.

While concerns about remote worker productivity have been shown to be largely imagined, many companies still have a strong fear of loss and have turned to apps that monitor and track remote workers at home.

Indeed, Harvard Business Review notes that searches for “how to monitor employees working from home” increased by nearly 2,000 percent in April 2020, with some employers turning to tools that continually track workers’ activity via screen or keystroke captures, video surveillance, GPS location tracking and more.

Such solutions have been shown to be overwhelmingly counterproductive, but without practical QA workflows, managers may feel they have few alternatives for ensuring staff performance is up to par.

As you might expect, this will likely lead to decreased job satisfaction, especially if such information is gathered only from remote workers or is used to punish them for making mistakes.

Even if such tools are used only as a threat in order to encourage productivity and quality work, they can breed an environment of paranoia and distrust that craters staff morale and sends remote workers heading for the door.

A happy medium with AI?

Across customer service and virtual care, AI has been proposed as an ideal solution for assessing the work of remote staff. Using AI, organizations can capture and analyze data from every call and every staff member, then use that information to measure call quality and staff performance in a comprehensive, scalable way.

But while I often write about the power and potential of AI and conversation intelligence in virtual care, any tool that records calls or monitors staff must be implemented with care.

This technology could certainly be a game-changer when it comes to telehealth QA and measuring remote team performance. But to ensure both patient and staff satisfaction, virtual care leaders need to take an approach that drives call quality without compromising staff privacy and trust.

For me, the key is to focus on implementing solutions that are designed to work with staff, not serve as taskmaster or tattletale.

Instead of using AI as a means of collecting ‘evidence’ with which to praise or punish staff, virtual care leaders should strive to offer staff AI solutions that empower them to do their best work.

Here are three key areas in which AI can help teams drive and measure call quality in a way that’s both transparent and empowering for remote staff:

Automated call scoring

AI can automatically and instantly show staff a score for every call based on how well they’re following their organization’s best practices. This not only offers staff a clear target to shoot for (such as getting a perfect score on every call), but also shines new light on their performance.

Remote staff can easily see when they need to improve and make adjustments before poor performance becomes the norm, or find additional confidence and rest assured knowing their quality work is being acknowledged.

Instead of waiting for a surprise one-on-one or annual performance review to hear how their work is perceived by their manager, staff can immediately see how they’re doing.

Real-time feedback

Quality feedback in telehealth can be hard to come by, as it’s often delayed, infrequent or based on only a handful of interactions.

AI can analyze each call as it happens and give staff feedback on key steps they may have missed or suggest resources and responses based on the context of the interaction. Staff can also get instant positive reinforcement when they show strong performance.

By giving staff feedback in real time, organizations can reinforce best practices and ensure call quality in a transparent, supportive way.

Workflow automation

Along with making it easier for virtual care staff to see how they’re performing, AI can drive call quality and staff satisfaction indirectly by automating the dull tasks that sap workers’ time and energy.

Via solutions like automated call notes, AI can help virtual care staff focus less on paperwork and more on patients. This should improve the telehealth experience on both ends of the line and reassure work-from-home-wary employers that staff are focusing their energy on what matters most.

Bottom line: Finding the right balance is key

A lack of QA workflows can pose a serious threat to work-from-home arrangements at virtual care companies, putting remote staff at a disadvantage when it comes to career development and advancement. It can also lead to excessive employee monitoring and micromanagement of remote staff, tanking team morale and driving attrition.

But by taking QA seriously and responsibly implementing AI solutions that aim to empower staff instead of controlling them, virtual care leaders can ensure that their work-from-home arrangements are sustainable and that staff are satisfied and providing quality care.

Waleed Mohsen

Author Waleed Mohsen

Waleed Mohsen is the CEO and founder of Verbal. He has been named a UCSF Rosenman Innovator and has over 10 years of experience working with leaders of hospitals and medical institutions in his business development roles at Siemens and Cisco

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