Why hospital executives are dialing B-school professors

Academics are readying for a season of consultations with executives — including those from health systems — to field questions about remote work, hybrid arrangements and return-to-office plans, Bloomberg reports.

Hospitals, schools, universities, corporations and government agencies are seeking guidance as COVID-19 cases fall in the U.S. "My inbox is exploding daily," Tsedal Neeley, PhD, professor of business administration and senior associate dean for faculty development and research with Boston-based Harvard Business School, told Bloomberg

At least 70 percent of knowledge industry workers say they prefer a hybrid workplace, according to Dr. Neeley, who cited employee survey data. The extension of hybrid arrangements is becoming tablestakes to attract and retain talent as the "Great Resignation" persists. Furthermore, 20 percent of staff are what Dr. Neeley calls "remote natives," meaning they joined their employers during the pandemic and expect to keep working from home even after COVID-19 becomes endemic. 

Executives' questions range from the broad to the specific: Should working from home be a built-in feature of my organization, and how often if so? Should we go fully remote and lose the real estate, require workers to return full-time, or fall somewhere in the middle with a hybrid model? 

The hybrid model brings its own questions: Should employees get to choose the days they come to the office? How do you coordinate schedules so the right people are in the same room at the same time? How do you ensure that managers aren't preferential when scheduling or discriminating against remote workers for promotions and pay raises?

Despite the clamoring around academics who study remote work and can provide consultation, big questions remain even among the experts, according to Bloomberg. "Among the experts, one of the biggest debates about remote work concerns productivity. Most employees say they're more productive working from home, surveys show, but employers are divided on the question," according to the report. 

Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell, recently navigated the ins and outs of hybrid work to develop a plan for the New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based system's 8,000 shared services team members, many of whom were forced to start working remotely when the pandemic struck in March 2020. He told Becker's the exodus left the majority of 200-plus offices occupying 3 million-plus square feet of space at 78 locations largely unused.

"This shifting work model has impacted dozens — if not hundreds — of different non-clinical job roles within human resources, finance, legal, managed care, procurement, marketing and communications, risk management and numerous other support services that are vital to the effective day-to-day operation of our health system, but do not necessarily require people to be in the office five days a week," Mr. Dowling said. 

By March 8, all Northwell managers were executing plans to transition their teams to a full hybrid work environment through a model called "Workwell." The system established 10 technology-rich hubs in convenient locations throughout its service area that feature workstations, conference rooms, customized rooms to promote innovation and collaboration, multipurpose space, café zones and cafeterias, and even meditation rooms and ping-pong and billiards tables. 

Northwell is converting some of its office spaces for support services into clinical spaces with the aim to expand the ability to see additional patients, reduce wait times and improve patient satisfaction. 

"All healthcare leaders, including conventional leaders like me, must recognize the realities of today's workplace and not force their non-clinical staff back into a five-day-a-week office environment, to where many have no desire to return — and may leave the organization if they're given no choice," Mr. Dowling said. 


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