Resource Guide: Remote Communication

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Remote communication and telehealth service delivery was catapulted into mainstream practice by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Following government recommendations, state vocational rehabilitation agencies quickly began to explore ways to continue providing essential services to people with disabilities remotely to protect the health and well-being of all.

Although the overall rates of telehealth use have fallen since the early days of the pandemic, they continue to be above pre-pandemic levels. The 2021-2022 Updated National Survey Trends in Telehealth revealed that 22.0% of adults in the United States used telehealth in the last four weeks prior to taking the survey. Interestingly, it also revealed that individuals who are Hispanic or Latino, Black, and Asian were more likely to use audio-only telehealth than individuals who are White.

This and other findings around telehealth trends of specific populations underscores the need for vocational rehabilitation service providers to understand the unique preferences and needs of the people they serve.

Remote Communication and Vocational Rehabilitation

Although many vocational rehabilitation agencies and professionals have embraced new technologies and skills necessary for providing services remotely, those from marginalized communities may not have the resources, experience, or technology to have developed the same level of access and comfort.

Keeping this disparity in mind, here are some best practices for remote communication when providing vocational rehabilitation services to people with disabilities pursuing quality employment. These practices are taken from Rural and Remote Service Provision in Vocational Rehabilitation Webinar – TACQE.

Learn Your Customer’s Level of Access and Comfort

When setting up a meeting, take time to learn your customer’s level of access to and comfort with technology.

  • Ask them about their internet and phone service. Many people have unreliable internet, limited data, or government-issued phones where minutes are limited.
  • Learn which devices they have and their level of skill in using them, and give instruction on remote communication platforms when needed.
  • Be patient as you talk through how to use technology to better connect and work together. When needed, take time to instruct or review how specific devices or programs work. Give an overview of important program features and allow time to practice at a relaxed pace.
  • Encourage video chat whenever possible. Video enables more connection and communication through body language.
  • Talk through any concerns and develop strategies to make your remote meetings comfortable and productive.
  • Meet each person you work with where they’re at. Let them know they may feel awkward at first, but not to be afraid to speak up and ask questions.

Offer Suggestions for Secure, Safe Access to Internet

If the person you’re working with doesn’t have reliable, secure access to internet, offer these suggestions:

  • Ask whether they have a friend or family member who has a device and/or access to internet they can use temporarily. If not, agree on other ways of connecting, such as texting or emailing.
  • Look for places in the community where they may be able to access free Wi-Fi in a secure, safe setting. Local libraries may offer internet access and private meetings rooms at no charge.
  • Be aware that public wi-fi access may not be secure. PCMag offers tips for public wi-fi hotspot security.

Give Choices to Meeting Attendees

Although remote communication is often the most practical solution for a meeting, be sure to offer the person you’re working with their choice of the entire range of communication and meeting options. These could include:

  • Zoom (phone and video)
  • Teams (phone and video)
  • Direct dial phone
  • Email­­
  • Text messaging
  • In-person in the office, at the person’s home, at a work site, or at a mutually convenient public place

When arranging a meeting, be sure the person has the appropriate technology or transportation for the meeting. Invite them to have significant others or advocates join the meeting if they wish.

Ensure Privacy and Confidentiality

The same rules of privacy and confidentiality apply to remote communication as apply to in-person meetings. When planning a meeting:

  • Assure the person that you will protect their rights to privacy and confidentiality.
  • Understand the security features of the technology you are using and apply them as needed. Examples include room passwords, use of waiting rooms, and meeting room participant approval.
  • Check that individuals are in a place where they can talk freely without being overheard.
  • Disclose if anyone other than you can overhear or see the meeting attendee.
  • Ask for their permission before inviting anyone else to the meeting.
  • Obtain verbal approval before recording a meeting, and do so only if you would record an in-person meeting. Always send the person a copy of the recording after the meeting.
  • Be sure to keep any personally-identifiable information out of sight when using video or a camera.
  • Know how to remove people from the meeting room and how to quickly end the meeting if needed.

Use Proper Meeting Etiquette

Using proper etiquette when meeting remotely helps attendees feel comfortable and connected. Prior to meeting, review established strategies for remote service delivery. At a minimum, the following tips will help you set a solid foundation for your remote meeting:

  • Join the meeting 2-5 minutes before it is scheduled to begin.
  • Act naturally, as if you were meeting physically with the person.
  • Give the person your undivided attention, just as you would during an in-person meeting.
  • Discuss what will happen if you get disconnected.
  • Review any time or minute limitations.
  • Always keep your camera on throughout the meeting.
  • Provide a visual description of yourself if you are on video and the attendee(s) cannot see you.
  • Eliminate ambient noise or other distractions in your area.
  • Use a non-descript and color-neutral visual background if you are on video.
  • If using a cell phone, turn off call waiting to keep distractions to a minimum.
  • Create a backup plan for the times when technology fails. This will happen, so prepare by talking about it in advance.

Learn More

Use these resources to learn more about best practices for remote communication in vocational rehabilitation service delivery.

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