Reshaping the Healthcare Industry – Now is the New Future of Work


Admittedly, finding the topic for this specific column has been challenging. There is no need to remind you of the challenges the world and the nation is going through since March. At the same time, the coronavirus theme is hard to avoid. The question then becomes how to address COVID-19 without bringing back memories of the true hardship that we all are still going through.

As we all know, looking on the bright side, a crisis is an opportunity to enhance efficiencies and optimize productivity. It is an occasion to have a hard look at how your organization conducts business and operations. In the specific case of healthcare, it is time to redefine the industry, to implement this year what was in the five-year strategic plan, and in the end, make now the new future of work.

From an HR point of view, multiple concepts of “now is the new future of work” come to mind: remote work in healthcare, virtual engagement, virtual talent acquisition and executive leadership. 

Remote Work in Healthcare

For the safety of our teammates, Atrium Health, in less than four days, had to go from almost no staff working remotely to about 9,000. This is a tremendous feat. The question now is to learn from this experience and define what the new remote work “normal” will be. Productivity data, financial implications, cost savings, real estate consequences and teammate engagement are being considered to make that decision.

READ: How Healthcare HR Teams are Raising the Bar During COVID-19

Without having the answers today, it is safe to assume that healthcare, an industry somewhat averse to remote work compared to others, will look differently in this area in a couple months. Topics like 1) leading at a distance, 2) remote productivity management, 3) isolation and 4) virtual engagement are now key to any healthcare system in the country.

Virtual Engagement

In healthcare, staying connected to the remote workforce is now, more than ever, central to organizational success. Engagement is not a yearly event any more with a couple of action plans, but more of a daily challenge. Leadership 101 needs to be executed perfectly. Visibility through multiple quick touch bases through the day or week, extreme clarity in expectations and communications, recognition, etc. Simple “rules” like always having your camera on versus a phone call makes a huge impact.

Also, assessing your engagement platform to ensure as much flexibility as possible is the way to go. Can you survey who you want, when and how often you want and with the questions you want with less than a week of work from your HR team? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you need to rethink your full engagement strategy if the desire is to maintain strong connection to the remote workforce.

Lastly, converting what would normally be an onsite routine to virtual has a made a huge impact on my team. Let’s take happy hours, for example, which is now virtual. Every day at 4:45 p.m., my full leadership team meets for a 15 minute happy hour where talk about work is forbidden.

Often, the 15 minutes turns into an hour or hour and half conversation mixed with some much needed laughs in the middle of a very long day. Every Wednesday, the happy hour is extended to 30 minutes beginning at 4:30 p.m., and all the Workforce Engagement team is invited. Even if the event is voluntary, it is common to have more than 60 teammates joining. The amount of positive feedback and messages received about this simple weekly half hour is countless, and for most, this is now their favorite call of the week. In a weird way, as a leader, I feel as if I’m more connected now to my extended team than pre-COVID-19.

Virtual Talent Acquisition

Safety of our communities, patients and teammates has been the main priority for Atrium Health. To protect our stakeholders, talent acquisition had to move to a full cycle virtual effort. Technologies like video recruiting, virtual job fairs and text recruiting, to name only a few, became essential to safety and efficiency. Technologies that, two months ago, were in the five-year strategic plan for many healthcare systems had to be embraced in a matter of weeks.

READ: Talent Acquisition -  From HR to an Experience Function 

Executive Leadership

In period of crisis, chain of commands change, boxes from an org chart are removed to maximize productivity and decision making, and boundaries between departments are less “territorial.” Every leader is called to wear a hat they have never worn before and to even do work that has nothing to do with their day job or home department.

The impact is impressive. Using Atrium Health HR department as an example, we accomplished in a matter of hours/days what would normally take months if not years. There were no playbooks to address the level of pandemic we reached as the last one was the Spanish Flu in 1918. The speed that HR was able to modify or create policies, develop additional benefits for our teammates and brand-new safety guidelines and then have them approved and sponsored by executives from other departments was unbelievable.

Is there is a lesson to learn from this situation? Are the boundaries between departments as necessary as they were a few months back? Is maximizing your executives’ strengths and having them operating in the blank space on your org chart versus putting them in a defined box the way to go? I don’t have yet the answer. That said, I am paying close attention to the question.

The Future of Work is Now

As an industry, we moved forward five years. And, of course, I would have preferred we do so for a different reason. Trying to see a positive outcome in a very real and rough situation, as healthcare professionals, we risk redefining and impacting our entire industry.

We all can make healthcare better through this hardship. We are not only impacting care of our current patients; we are redefining care for generations to come. There are two major obstacles and risks in our way:

1) An economic downturn morphs markets and workforces, but for a short period of time, sending short-terms signals to organizations making it easy to lose focus on the long term

2) As an industry, reverting back to the old habits once this is over. We have one chance to use the current landscape and optimize the future, let’s not waste it.

Photos Courtesy of: Atrium Health

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