COVID-19 has introduced drastic changes to the way we work, mainly by forcing many people to do it remotely. This has brought both benefits and challenges. As human beings, we know that we need to be together and work as a team, so that we feel connected and in that way generate new ideas and solutions. Many of the managers have asked the question - when does remote working really make sense, and no, will remote working continue.
Working from home works best for relatively independent tasks, when knowledge is codified and can be easily shared at a distance. In the health sector in particular, working face-to-face in teams is crucial because tasks are interdependent, require knowledge sharing in a fluid manner, and coordination needs are not routine or predictable.
More recent studies in healthcare show that around 25% of the workforce could do it from home at least one day a week (Petters, S. et al. 2022). You may not be able to have someone consistently remote working, but we can create more flexible jobs from home for these individuals.
An honest assessment of the type of work that employees do may provide a solution to the degree to which we rely on proximity for quality.
But for some sectors or certain companies in particular, the work is conducive to having a balance of days at home and face-to-face days in the organisation.
I believe managers should rethink whether a permanent shift to remote working is considered positive. If this shift takes place, don't we risk taking ourselves from coronavirus pandemic to loneliness pandemic, with potentially terrible costs?
Pre-pandemic research and new studies conducted during lockdown show a marked increase in loneliness among employees, who remained in work-at-home environments for extended periods. In addition to the human cost, loneliness leads to higher rates of employee burnout, turnover and lack of engagement. Contrary to widely accepted assumptions, cutting edge technology, is not increasing the sense of connectedness, but in many cases, actually has the opposite effect when used as a substitute.
What may seem like an improvement in convenience and efficiency, may in the end prove to be a real management challenge.
In the healthcare sector this will be even more challenging. Attempts to reduce physical contact have spurred the rapid adoption of telemedicine, home health services and virtual platforms to help patients with appointments.
In the future will still need to reflect on how a more sustainable career can be streamlined and how to leverage technology and digitalization to achieve this.
Administrative and customer service positions are also expected to be largely automated. Demand for workers in direct patient care roles will continue to grow, although some areas of these jobs will also become automated.
This is problematic for a workforce facing unprecedented burnout, with increasing cases of new variants of COVID-19.
On the other hand, it also offers some opportunities for employers to use technology to give these employees more flexibility.
But can we accept that in the future a healthcare professional could work four days a week in a hospital or clinic? That they can do administrative work, look after the nursing hotline, or help manage virtual care, in some remote location?
Analysts predict that healthcare jobs, especially those that are focused directly to patients, will shift to care locations with higher revenue growth and away from large hospitals.
Revenue growth may trend higher post-pandemic in virtual care, behavioral health, outpatient and prevention sites.
Different studies also show that a hybrid approach will not work if it results from an individual choice made by each health professional.
In this sense, healthcare leaders and managers should manage this approach in a structured way, so that employees are together in a predictable and not just reactive way. Conceptual simplicity gives rise to operational and organisational complexity to define the mechanisms, structure and organisational culture to put these new challenges into practice. These actions should translate into the realisation of projects and fulfilment of tasks, with greater security and productivity for organisations.
>Petters, S. et al. (2022), Work and worker health in the post-pandemic world: a public health perspective, the Lancet Public Health, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp. 188-194.