This is the fifth article in a series regarding process-based opportunities as the healthcare industry begins to emerge from the challenges of the pandemic. As noted in the introduction to this series, each of these articles will define an issue, consider the problem and its implications to healthcare, and then present potential solutions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamic of how people work and has created process and logistical challenges in how organizational leaders facilitate their work. In the previous article on telehealth, I wrote about the rush to get patient care back online with telehealth. That is how we got frontline healthcare providers going again, but now we need to go back and reevaluate what we left behind in the process of getting there. In that reexamination process we also need to consider more than just frontline healthcare workers.
We often talk about physicians, nurses and other clinicians in the context of coronavirus-era healthcare provision. We tend to focus less on the white collar workers – people in finance, information technology, and other operational areas – but they are the ones whose workplace has changed the most in this turmoil.
What is their future workplace and concept of work going to look like, and how will we find appropriate people for these vital positions and keep them engaged in a rewarding environment? The answers to these questions will be critical for healthcare organizations going forward. Finding solutions starts by examining talent transformation in this environment of major organizational change.
In early 2020, the COVID-19 Pandemic spread across the United States, causing disruptions in nearly every industry. High-contact industries such as hospitality, essentially shut down. The healthcare industry was hit particularly hard, as non-urgent preventive care and non-emergency surgeries ground to a halt for months. Frontline healthcare workers were slammed with the onslaught of COVID patients, while people in management and white-collar jobs in healthcare were largely forced to work remotely.
Through the end of 2020, many workers continued to work remotely, but these changes were mostly deemed to be temporary, especially as the year closed out with promising vaccines on the horizon. It was assumed that eventually things would return to “normal.” Eventually may not be coming soon.
Implications for healthcare
Often when we look at a problem, the implications for healthcare are largely negative. I would like to look at some of the bright side of the “problem” of the workplace disruption caused by the pandemic, because it resulted in some remarkable, transformational innovation in how we employ and develop our talent.
Most of the implications for healthcare are about what happens when things settle down, assuming they do. I see many articles and opinion pieces speculating on what the future of work will be for the healthcare workers who have jobs that are conducive to remote work. Will they be working remotely? Will everyone be back in the office? Will they work under a hybrid model? These questions are often asked as if what happens is out of our hands. It is not.
In most cases, the ideal benefit of implementing major organizational system/process change is to significantly increase the productivity of the people who use and are impacted by the systems and processes being introduced. So, it is ironic and often regrettable that how those people fit into the workflow and maybe more importantly how they think they fit into it are often overlooked in the implementation planning.
After a year and a half of working in this new model we are now starting to get some data to help us move forward. In PwC’s latest U.S. Pulse Survey (August 2021), 32% of healthcare leaders strongly agreed that the number one factor driving their back-to-work planning was employee preference.
I believe this is the way it should be, not only from a corporate culture standpoint, but because those employees have been living with the benefits and drawbacks of living under this grand experiment for 18 months, so they have much in the way of insights to share. What do they want this future to look like, what do they like about it, and what concerns them?
First, let’s consider the view of remote work pre-pandemic. In a survey of more than 1,200 workers across the United States conducted just before the pandemic hit, workers who worked remotely, whether full-time or part-time, said they were happier and less stressed, felt more trusted by their organizations, and were less likely to leave for another job than those who work full-time in the office.
When it came to issues that affect recruiting in that same survey, 71% of respondents agreed that being able to work remotely would make them more likely to choose one employer over another when going for their next job. Eighty-one percent said having the remote work option would make them better able to manage work-life conflict and the same percentage said it would make them more likely to recommend their organization to a friend.
That August 2021 PwC study mentioned before surveyed more than 750 executives and 1,000 employees in healthcare. When employees were asked which incentives were most attractive to them, schedule flexibility was at the top of the list with 38% of respondents rating it in their top three (tied with expanded benefits).
Fourth on the list of 10 was location flexibility. When executives were asked how their organization differentiated themselves given the current and projected labor market, location flexibility and schedule flexibility were rated #3 and #4 respectively, also very high. Interestingly (and appropriately, I would say) executives rated company purpose and values and company leadership and culture as the top two ways they differentiate themselves with prospective and current employees.
According to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, prior to the onset of the pandemic, only 9% of employees stated that their employers were introducing new ways of working. Today, 78% reported their employers had either already implemented new ways of working or were planning to do so. As the report authors point out, leaders are learning that virtual work, “is not about replicating in-person work online, but rather leveraging new technology to rethink work, teams, and culture.”
We are in the midst of an upheaval, and there are signs that we have to throw out some of our old ways of thinking about recruiting and retaining the right people. In the next article in this series, I will continue to dive deeper into this theme by looking at how the home healthcare sector might provide a model for creating a thriving location-independent workforce.
Sam Hanna is an executive-in-residence at American University. Prior roles include being a consulting practice leader, a chief strategy and innovations officer and a digital strategist at global consulting firms such as PwC and Deloitte. He holds a PhD in Translational Health Sciences from the George Washington University and a MBA in Entrepreneurship from Babson College.