Our approach to working remotely
and planning ahead

WA Primary Health Alliance’s (WAPHA) focus is to shape and sustain a health system that works for people. To continue to deliver on the goal of sustainability, we, like many other organisations, are having to rethink our practices at this difficult time of COVID-19.

What steps has WA Primary Health Alliance taken to protect against COVID-19?

We were among the first organisations to move to remote working, recognising the risk presented by busy workplaces to our staff, visitors and stakeholders.

During this time, we have worked efficiently and effectively, and have been able to deliver and meet our organisational expectations and those of our stakeholders.

As we have been planning ahead, we have undertaken significant consultation with our staff, listened to the needs of our stakeholders and sought guidance from experts in infection control.

Our goal is to ensure WA Primary Health Alliance’s road map is in step with the uncertain environment created by COVID 19.

We will have systems and processes in place to respond quickly and effectively, walk back our strategy and implement tighter controls, if community spread of COVID-19 arises in WA.

What changes are you making and why?

Following significant feedback from our staff, and discussions with our Board and among our Executive team, we are taking the opportunity to do things differently by implementing a hybrid or flexible way of working.

This decision, and the planned and incremental change that will follow, are and will continue to be underpinned by best practice health and safety advice.

What is next for your staff?

From September, while most of our staff will continue to work remotely for the majority of the time, they will also be able to book workspaces in our metropolitan and country offices for collaboration, quiet work, and other tasks.

What is next for your stakeholders?

In addition to meeting stakeholders at our offices, from September we will resume face to face meetings with stakeholders on their premises where this would be beneficial.

This will be carried out in a planned and coordinated way, with the necessary safeguards in place.

For example, we will maintain a register of all meetings attended by our staff, both at our offices and external locations, allowing us to easily trace contacts, if required.

What will your requirements be for the external organisation where your staff are attending meetings?

Details of these requirements are still being finalised, however they will include seeking confirmation of the COVID-19 safety measures each organisation has in place, with some additional safeguards if the meeting will take place in a clinical setting, to protect our staff and the stakeholder’s staff, clients or patients.

Will you still continue to conduct some meetings and events virtually?

Yes, we will. We have seen the benefits arising from using the available technology, for example allowing people to more easily participate in discussions and education, and the ability to easily connect with multidisciplinary primary care teams.

 We have found that most of the challenges that have come up during this time have been overcome using technology, or simply by thinking and organising things a little differently.

What if the COVID-19 situation escalates in WA?

The measures we are putting in place will allow us to very quickly walk back our plans and return to a higher degree of remote working, as well as easily trace and contact people our staff have been in contact with.

How will your staff cope with these significant changes to the way they work?

This new way of working is supported by our staff, however we heard that they wanted to retain the ability to come together with teams, colleagues and stakeholders to meet, collaborate and celebrate their achievements.

We recognise this is a significant change in the way we work. As such, we will implement a comprehensive change management strategy to support the organisation and our people through the journey ahead, keeping our stakeholders informed as we do so.

We have already put in place measures to support managers and staff to work in this different way and, importantly, we have implemented a number of wellbeing programs and social activities to support our staff.

Our discussions with staff will be ongoing allowing us to do our best to ensure our way of working remains fit for purpose and continues to meet the needs of the organisation and individuals.

What have you taken into consideration in making this decision?

The safety of our staff, stakeholders and their clients and patients has always been and will continue to be our highest priority.

As a large employer, we have had to weigh up a number of issues around returning to the workplace and participating in face-to-face interactions.

Those issues have included:

  • how to stagger the return to our offices
  • the steps we need to take to ensure the risk to our staff remains low
  • how to balance the needs of our stakeholders
  • how to deal with staff who may work in facilities other than ours
  • the design of our office
  • the resources needed to support our return.

Weighing up these and other legal, ethical and moral issues is no small task and is one we take very seriously.

Why has it taken you longer than some other organisations to make these decisions?

Many organisations, designated as essential services, have continued to work in their usual locations, adapting to comply with social distancing and infection control requirements.

Others have implemented plans to return to office-based working and, at least some, face-to-face service provision bolstered by telehealth.

Given the immense importance of a well health workforce, it was incumbent on all of us not to put them at any greater risk, even if that risk is low.

In our case, we have been able to function highly effectively whilst working remotely and, as a result, we have been able to innovate in many areas of our work.

Those of our staff whose work usually involves a significant amount of face-to-face interactions, have shown ingenuity and tenacity in their methods which have been well received by their stakeholders.

This gave us the benefit of time to assess our situation and to make the best decisions for the future of our workforce, stakeholders and the communities we serve.