In a time when nothing looks as it once did, the workplace for many has been redefined. After months of working at home, all of us at Southwestern Health Resources (SWHR) have adjusted — and we have come a long way since March. We want to continue building on our day-to-day successes and finding new ways to innovate and make significant advancements as we continue to telework.
So while we all still have challenges, we also see opportunity for an agile organization such as ours to reimagine productivity and collaboration, including what our new “work” might look like. We have made excellent advancements in video conferencing and other means of virtual connection, yet we know that face-to-face meetings and collaboration will always be a valuable part of our operations model.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, I was leading a team that was planning to consolidate our 11 locations across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Centralizing nearly 1,000 employees into one location was a highly anticipated plan for what we expected would be maximum integration of our workforce.
Then we entered a world where the highly contagious novel coronavirus made consolidation of our employee operations a tenuous and inadvisable prospect. We worked quickly to shift to new expectations in a changing world and prioritized our commitment to the health and safety of our employees by deploying an immediate work-from-home model. Employees began establishing new routines and a regular cadence of virtual meetings — providing them an opportunity to redefine their own work-life balance.
A catalyst for a new workplace model
When the threat of a pandemic became apparent, SWHR methodically worked to assist employees and partners with connectivity, upgrading computer hardware and software and ensuring everyone had secure access to support the shift from in-office work to at-home work, virtually overnight for most. Even with our entire workforce engaging in telecommuting, online meetings have been productive. Everyone can be seen and heard.
This has been an opportunity, brought about by unexpected events, that has helped our employees and business partners appreciate our resiliency and innovation.
Over time, I expect to better understand where the critical mass for virtual connection lies. We currently have the benefit of employees working remotely. With this, we each have the ability to interact via webcam, and that normalizes the interactions of the group — a level playing field for all when it comes to technology. When conditions are safe and we move toward a hybrid model, it will be interesting to see how we keep these virtual benefits during meetings that include some people in a room together at the office. Regressing to the pre-pandemic model — where virtual attendees are significantly disconnected from the dynamics of the in-person meeting — is not an option for us.
To be successful with a long-term, hybrid workplace that considers in-person and virtual colleagues, we need to commit to the simple but effective practices and online etiquette that have made things successful during the past several months — using our webcams, engaging in and moderating online chats, actively listening and participating in virtual interaction.
Listening to our colleagues
After several months of telecommuting, we surveyed our employees to see how they were faring with their new work environment. The survey results were overwhelmingly positive, underscoring that our telecommuting model was working very well.
A remarkable 96% of respondents reported they had the appropriate tools and resources to work remotely and were similarly pleased that they had ample information to get their work done. The strength of our management and team shone through with a resounding 97% who were pleased with the communication of their teams and 96% confident that their team was working efficiently. And 94% of employees believed their managers were communicating just as well with them working remotely. In addition, 95% felt that overall, they were comfortable with the way things were going at the time of the survey. Even more impressive was that more than 80% of our workforce replied.
I attribute these extremely positive ratings to the steps we took to continue to engage with our teams after we lost the ability to connect in the office and created these shared experiences. SWHR made a concerted effort to maintain these connections and re-establish them when needed. From hosting our weekly all-employee huddles to making business decisions empathetic to the employees going through life changes, the work to keep the culture together and support our colleagues was intentional and led by a remarkable senior executive officer.
We listened to the feedback and began adjusting our plans for our workplace of the future. We will still open a new location in summer 2021, but it may no longer need to accommodate 1,000 people. Our new location may only need half that space. We are evaluating what teams and individuals could continue to work remotely, only having to come in to the office occasionally, for collaboration sessions, training or other meetings. Fewer people may need their own dedicated offices; more space could be shared and repurposed. Based on a variety of factors, we envision many options. In the end, this work will save money and increase job satisfaction. That savings is at the heart of our mission as a value-based organization.
We know that even the most robust online platforms cannot completely replace the synergy of creative minds engaging in one room. This innovative hybrid model of working both at home and in the office will offer the best formula for success in an organization on the leading edge of healthcare delivery and population health.
Our entire SWHR team helps lead the way
We intend to continue this dialogue with our employees. Many appreciate gaining extra hours and untold minutes in their days by removing their commute time, energizing them and allowing them to focus on their work — and then enjoy their personal time after hours. We know that many of our employees are taking this opportunity to deepen relationships with their families by being more involved in their children’s education or their parents’ care, which only adds to our team’s sense of well-being. We encourage our employees to discuss any issues that arise with their managers. We are working creatively and smarter.
This has been an opportunity, brought about by unexpected events, that has helped our employees and business partners appreciate our resiliency and innovation. Our creative collaboration as a high-performing clinically integrated network is exemplified by our adaptability in these most unusual times.
Tyler Munson is Vice President, Strategic Operations, for Southwestern Health Resources.