Building a great place to work — literally

Google, Adobe and Cisco set a high bar when it comes to office design. But their sleek interiors and generous amenities are about more than just aesthetics. These companies' leaders know a pleasant work environment contributes to employee satisfaction and, in turn, productivity.

Hospital buildings may have less room for creativity, but many leaders and architectural design firms see the need to improve the physical environment to benefit both patients and employees.

"Over the last five to 10 years, there has been a growing emphasis on creating new, dynamic environments focused on enhancing staff experience," says Michael Pukszta, a principal and leader of CannonDesign's health market core leadership team. "It used to be all about creating a positive patient environment. That is still a priority, but now a focus on staff is included in design."

Mary Johnson, COO of University of Minnesota Physicians in Minneapolis, also knows this to be true. "As leaders, it's our responsibility to make sure our staff has a good experience at work," says Ms. Johnson. "We value our employees, and we want to create an environment that they enjoy and where they can do their best work. Part of being a good leader is providing your employees with the tools and resources they need."

This belief drove Ms. Johnson, along with leaders at Minneapolis-based University of Minnesota Health, to partner with CannonDesign for the new University of Minnesota Health Clinics and SurgeryCenter. The new five-story, 342-000-square-foot clinic, which opened in February, is designed to elevate inter-professional care delivery while providing a unique patient experience. The facility embodies concepts borrowed from other consumer industries, including retail and air travel, to provide personalized patient care and increase efficiency and working conditions for staff.

For instance, inspired by the customer service of Apple stores, the Clinics and SurgeryCenter does not have formal check-in or check-out areas. Instead, a staff member greets patients with a mobile device to check-in, fill out health forms or schedule future visits. The new facility also includes space designed to facilitate collaboration, as well as modernized, aesthetically pleasing areas devoted to relaxation and socialization that go far beyond the typical staff lounge. M Health's clinic includes a multi-story staff lounge featuring an atrium, delivery from the cafeteria, a beverage counter and large exterior windows with access to natural daylight.

The essential design elements of a great place to work 

Healthcare workers' top priority — regardless of specialty or position — is to ensure patients receive the best care possible. When something poses a barrier to the clinician-patient relationship, it can negatively impact employee satisfaction, according to Mr. Pukszta.

Even the smallest design features affect clinicians, from the size of patient rooms to proximity of resources to the number and layout of touchdown areas, which are shared spaces where clinicians can work when they are not meeting with patients.

An often overlooked feature employees enjoy? Easy access to fresh air.

Healthcare organizations like SouthwestGeneralHealthCenter in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, realize the importance of access to fresh air to provide respite and restoration for staff. With their new PandrangiTower, Southwest General introduced open-air balconies on all floors so employees can step outside for quick breaks throughout the day.

"Breaks during the workday are brief — employees may not have time to go for a walk, but one thing we've done is build outdoor balconies and gardens dedicated to staff right outside of their lounges to help increase access to daylight and fresh air," says Tonia Burnette, a principal and leader of CannonDesign's health market core leadership team.

Design features that reduce unnecessary noise also yield positive effects for employees. After all, there is a direct correlation between the sound level in a nursing unit during the day and nurses' quality of sleep at home, according to Mr. Pukszta. Eliminating unnecessary alerts and announcements, fixing squeaky wheels on carts and providing ambient noise can help nurses get a better night's sleep when they go home, which will help sustain energy and alertness during the day.

How design impacts care delivery

Medicine today is increasingly oriented toward team-based care. As healthcare providers take steps to break out of silos and better coordinate patient care, the physical environment should reflect these efforts. Large spaces that accommodate numerous workers from a variety of care teams support collaboration.

U of M Health Clinics and SurgeryCenter incorporated spacious, flexible collaboration space that connects to all of the clinic's specialty areas. This makes it possible for subspecialists to access one another as quickly and easily as possible.

"One of the most common comments we've received from providers is how impressed they were with how easily they can walk from one collaboration space to another to consult with each other," says Ms. Johnson.

The collaboration space helps the institution fulfill its academic mission, because the residents and fellows completing their training will be better prepared to provide team-based care after having worked in space conducive for collaboration.

"We've learned lessons from contemporary workplace environments — from offices such as Facebook and Google. Both employees and technology are mobile," says Mr. Pukszta. "People enjoy having the ability to collaborate and work in different zones."

Make the design process inclusionary

Include clinicians and other healthcare workers in conversations that inform design decisions, advises Ms. Burnette. Each member of the care team is impacted by the work environment, and everyone involved in care delivery is a potential source of innovative design ideas.

"Talk to each [healthcare worker] about what they need in their workspace when they're interacting with patients," says Ms. Burnette. It is now standard for her firm to include hospital staff in planning conversations. Her colleagues also use full-scale mockups of certain elements of design — such as workstations or touchdown areas — and encourage employees to give feedback on the size, shape and configuration of the space. 

Technology, care delivery models and processes are constantly evolving, so hospitals' physical environments should be designed to accommodate change.

"We wanted to create something visionary and futuristic that would live on past changes in future healthcare delivery," says Ms. Johnson. "We didn't want to design a building that would be obsolete when technology or processes change."

The ideal healthcare facility maximizes revenue-generating space while supporting staff. To do this effectively, leaders and their design partners must do more than just consider staff interests — they should incorporate staff feedback and ideas into the design process. Doing so will result in a work environment that empowers clinicians to provide the best possible care for patients, while also allowing them to take care of themselves.

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