Association and History: Founded in 1970, the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) is the largest non-profit medical organization dedicated to promoting excellence and consistency in the practice of critical care. With 16,000 members in more than 100 countries, SCCM is the only organization that represents all professional components of the critical care team. The Society offers a variety of activities that ensures excellence in patient care, education, research and advocacy.

Mission: SCCM’s mission is to secure the highest quality care for all critically ill and injured patients.

Envisioned Future: SCCM envisions a world in which all critically ill and injured persons receive care from a present integrated team of dedicated trained intensivists and critical care specialists.

The Society for Critical Care Medicine Takes Working Remotely to an Entirely New Level

So, maybe you let your employees work one day a week at home; maybe even two days, and you offer flexible hours. Or maybe you’re one of those CEOs who says, “No way. I know little work will get done at home—too many distractions.”

CEOs who see a future for their associations 10 years from now with the right staff to take them there have only one option: Creating a remote work environment.

“We have more people working remotely than can fit into our office space,” said Laura Lewis, Director of Technology for the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM). Instead of opting for adding more office space, moving or building a new headquarters, SCCM chose a much less expensive route: convincing leadership to trust their employees and investing in technology that supports telecommuting.

“Almost 95 percent of our employees work remotely,” Lewis said. “Even our CEO works two days from home.” Let’s hear more from Linda:

Why did SCCM start a remote workforce?

About 10 years ago, SCCM was reviewing its emergency response plan in light of a pandemic that was a possible threat on several continents. We have a very active volunteer leadership, and they’re on the front lines of providing health care in emergency situations globally. We must be available 24/7 to assist our members, whether it’s an epidemic or tsunami.

We realized that we didn’t have the technology to handle a disaster, so we started with the basics—a remote desktop service (RDS), where employees could log into SCCM’s systems from home and forward their office phones to their cell phones.

We debuted the RDS plan on a what would have been a “snow day” for employees. The meteorologists predicted heavy snow, so we told staff to stay home and we conducted our first all-employee, remote work day to test the technology. For the most part, it was a success, and we had plenty of time to work out any glitches in case of a real emergency. Now we look at this as Phase I.

What triggered the next phase?

Each spring, our CEO and executive vice president, David J. Martin, CAE, conducts a retreat for the leadership team and asks everyone to read a book. Several years ago, the book was, “Why Managing Sucks, which talked about a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)”. Authors Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson posed these questions, “When does work start, and when does work stop in today’s global economy?” They also discussed how defining work as “butts in the seats in the office” is pretty antiquated.

I was inspired and became a ROWE evangelist! I’ve always believed in setting department goals and then letting my staff determine how to accomplish them. As long as the work is done, I don’t mind if my programmer wants to work at 2 a.m.

It turned out that I was one of the first employees to test the remote system beyond working from home—out of state. In 2016, my dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He’s fine now, but his condition was very serious back then. For four months, my sister and I took turns performing our jobs remotely for two weeks at a time from a Michigan ICU hospital room.

There were a couple of glitches. One was that I noticed that the network connection might not work in one part of the hospital, so I’d move to another location. Nothing major, but this was good intel for what might be problematic for SCCM employees working remotely.

Also, I’ve been working in technology for 20 years now and don’t get flustered. Tech people generally are not afraid to try new things. If one thing doesn’t work, you try something else. That’s my mindset.

Not everyone is comfortable with technology. How did you achieve by-in to the concept?

People still can and do work only in the SCCM office. It’s an option, but most employees choose a combination of remote and office time.

When I introduced the ROWE concept to senior leaders, I posed one question: “Do you trust your staff?” As you can imagine, people were shocked. Unless you’re standing over your employees all the time, you don’t know if they’re doing their work, and that’s not practical. If you don’t trust them to do their job at home unsupervised, maybe you don’t have the right people working for you.

We all get tired of hearing about “culture change,” but this really is a culture change and for the best. Were some people against the idea at the beginning? Absolutely! However, one staff member went from being a complete skeptic to being fully on board with the concept. Suddenly, you can watch little Johnny play baseball and not have to take a half-day off. Just do the work and be available to your colleagues. We’ve seen a real shift in peoples’ attitudes. They feel they have better control over their lives, and we do not have a high attrition rate.

While there are some completely “virtual” associations, some CEOs are still having difficulty with a couple of employees working from home one day a week. How do associations start a broader strategy such as SCCMs?

By asking some serious questions. First, in 10 years, do you expect your association to still exist? If you answered “yes,” you will need a flexible work environment to attract staff. Millennials expect access to anything and everything from anywhere. Also, we’re a global society! An 8 to 5 workday is a dead idea if you want to expand your reach internationally. Work life and personal life are blending.

Second, do you have commitment from the top? The first step is to present your ideas to your CEO. I wouldn’t have even thought to proceed without David’s support for many reasons, and because I knew people would go to him to complain. Changing the culture is the hardest part. The technology is easy. How people define work, how the association defines work, and do you trust your staff are questions that need to be answered.

What would you have done differently?

Our original phone system did not work well for this number of staff to work remotely. We had to use work arounds such as forwarding your phone. Well, people often forget to forward their phones.

We also may have relied too long on technology being housed in the physical office space, and a server went down. That was a fail. Moving to Office 365 helped. We are working on moving all of our servers to the cloud—no physical data “center” will be necessary.

We also should have brought a few more people to the table during the early planning process. It’s always a challenge to determine who the “right” people are. While you can’t have everyone involved in every aspect, it would have been a good idea to include, for example, the switchboard operator—not just her boss—from the beginning.

Last piece of advice?

The world will not end if the conference call goes dead.