How Northwell is redesigning traditional office space for the future of work

Evolving technology has prompted significant shifts in the way people work. These shifts have been accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing hospitals and health systems to contemplate what their future of work looks like and how they will adapt to new norms such as hybrid work.

At New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, the contemplation around the future of work began many years ago, according to Maxine Carrington, the health system's senior vice president and chief people officer.

Northwell is New York's largest healthcare provider private employer with 23 hospitals and about 77,000 employees.

Even before the pandemic, the organization started laying the groundwork to advance certain concepts, including flexibility, Ms. Carrington said. Northwell launched FlexStaff, a temporary staffing agency, several years ago, allowing Northwell employees and individuals outside of the health system to sign up for temporary assignments.

"We knew work would have to become more flexible. Schedules would have to be more flexible. We knew the workplace somehow would have to be more flexible. We had been talking about remote work, formalizing it more, allowing more of it, allowing hybrid, allowing more people to work out of state," Ms. Carrington told Becker's.

Then COVID-19 hit, and thousands of Northwell employees began working remote overnight. As the pandemic trajectory continued to change, Northwell officials began to consider when employees would return to the office and what hybrid work would look like.

Redesigning for a hybrid future

Realizing that hybrid work is here to stay, Northwell developed an umbrella initiative called Workwell, which aims to support the well-being of employees through a customizable approach to work. This approach considered the future of work for employees who never had the option of working remote during the pandemic, as well as for employees who worked remote and hybrid workers.

"We wanted to brand this body of work and one leader suggested Workwell because we want people to work well, and we're in the business of well-being," explained Ms. Carrington. "That began what would become the umbrella branding and the whole concept … was all things work in the future. So, what does hybrid work look like? How are we helping you return to work safety, stay engaged and connected? Workwell became the umbrella strategy."

As part of the Workwell initiative, Northwell has opened six "Workwell Signature Hubs," keeping in mind that for some employees, home might be a distracting place, and they want flexibility. The hubs feature private workstations and collaboration rooms, are based on departmental needs, and integrate remote and office-based work through modern technology, according to Northwell.

The hubs opened in September primarily on Long Island at Northwell facilities in areas repurposed for pandemic-related reasons. Employees must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter one of the spaces, and must reserve a space, whether that space is a single desk or a meeting room, said Ms. Carrington.

Northwell employees can reserve the spaces for team meetings or individual work.

"For so long, healthcare was different than the private sector as it relates to hoteling and creative spaces," said Ms. Carrington. "This represents to our team members' innovation and evolution. Employees are seeing something different from us. They've seen it with companies like Google and Microsoft. Now, here we are. We're being able to offer it."

She said the spaces also reflect Northwell's emphasis on well-being, as there are also meditation rooms and other well-being features in the hubs, and they provide a new networking/relationship building opportunity for workers who may not have met before.

Moving forward, Northwell plans to open more Workwell hubs in Westchester County and New York City. 

Ms. Carrington told Becker's she's excited to see how the Workwell initiative continues to progress.

"We're continuing to think about the future and what innovation will look like as it relates to the team member experience," she said. "Even the concept of family members and kids. We're thinking even more now about the entire family unit. Where might this go in that regard, whether it's well-being offerings; diversity, equity, inclusion education; programs for employees' children. What might Workwell look like in that context? That's something we're talking about now as well."


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