Implementing a Long-Term Remote Work Strategy

Identify criteria, consider multiple models and encourage flexibility

Remote work strategies

By Chad Minor, MBA, FACHE, Chief of Workforce Strategies and Associate Chief Caregiver Officer

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Before the pandemic, remote work environments in healthcare were few and far between. COVID-19 forced everyone to work differently, and now remote work is becoming an expected norm.

After months of research and planning, Cleveland Clinic in June 2021 launched its new long-term remote work strategy, which was spearheaded by our organization’s first-ever Director of Remote Workforce Solutions, Ashley Rader, MHA. Based on our experience, those who are looking to do the same will benefit from the following:

· Support more than one work model, such as remote, hybrid and onsite models.

· Identify specific criteria and eligibility to guide decisions on permanent work arrangements for leaders and employees.

· Promote experience and flexibility and create safe, collaborative spaces.

· Maintain business continuity and optimize efficiencies from space and infrastructure consolidation.

Creating and defining remote work models

There is no one-size-fits-all model for long-term remote work. Some people thrive in at-home work environments while others flourish with in-person interaction. To encourage a culture of productivity, teamwork and performance, more than one type of model is necessary. At Cleveland Clinic, we developed three: remote, hybrid and onsite.

When defining your models, consider the type of work employees perform as well as how work is measured. For example, caregivers who are part of our fully remote model perform work that is quantitatively measured daily or weekly, such as medical coders, helpdesk and call center employees.

Hybrid models, which rotate work onsite and off, are becoming increasingly popular. There are different ways to structure hybrid models. For example, two or three employees may share an onsite work space but come into the office on a rotating basis. At Cleveland Clinic, our hybrid model is for employees whose work is based on objectives and key results milestones and assessed through weekly goals. Types of employees who work in this model include project managers, coordinators and analysts.

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It’s also important to ensure work-model consistency between administrative leaders and their teams. Cleveland Clinic administrative leaders follow either hybrid or onsite work models. They use the hybrid model if they manage remote or hybrid teams and follow the onsite model if they manage onsite teams.

Empowering leaders by allowing them to choose the best model for their employees goes a long way in demonstrating trust and accountability.

From our research, we knew that Cleveland Clinic’s administrative leaders desired flexibility and discretion in determining how their teams would work. With recommendations and support from their HR business partners, leaders chose the most appropriate model for their teams. They also used a simple work model selection graphic, designed with questions and accompanying yes/no prompts that guide leaders to the most ideal model based on the type of work each team performs. In the hybrid model, individual managers also determine whether teams work two or three days onsite.

Ensuring optimal work experiences

Providing employees options to work remotely has been shown to increase worker productivity, improve morale and reduce stress and burnout. Successful remote-first organizations focus on creating greater flexibility for their employees by embracing asynchronous workflows where feasible, reducing reliance on meetings, and encouraging enhanced transparency and collaboration. They associate the term “remote” with how people work as opposed to where people work. They also aim to create communities around workspace building to help employees feel more connected, with opportunity to give input and provide questions.

Cleveland Clinic conducted extensive research and analysis when determining the best long-term workforce solutions for our teams. This included industry benchmarking, internal stakeholder interviews, support from executive coaches, and referencing best practices from organizations that worked remotely pre-pandemic. We looked to Dropbox’s Virtual-First Toolkit and Unito’s The Better Workplace Toolkit. From Vocon, we garnered insight on how the workplace should be a destination for collaboration, engagement, talent development and preserving culture. From CBRE, we learned about

the top benefits of working in the office, including connection, face-to-face collaboration, and access to tools and space.

When creating our hybrid model, we were mindful to encourage the best use of time spent in the office and working remotely. We determined that an entire team was to book hoteling spaces and return to the office together for their two or three days each week. When the team is in the office, it is to conduct purposeful work, which includes in-person meetings, collaboration, ideation, engagement, team building and so on. We want caregivers to leave the office feeling fulfilled, satisfied and accomplished – to think “Wow, I’m glad I came in today. I couldn’t have had that experience remotely.”

Remote workdays are for following up on tasks and completing work discussed in the office setting.

Nearly 8,000 administrative caregivers work in remote or hybrid models today. This is 12.5% of Cleveland Clinic’s total caregiver population and reflects a nearly 600% increase in remote and hybrid work from 2019.

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Early findings from our third-party engagement survey vendor indicate that both remote and hybrid models continue to promote high employee engagement and connectedness to self and team.

Employee quality of work/life balance has also been positively affected. During a recent pulse survey, employees shared that they agree Cleveland Clinic provides opportunities to learn and grow whether working onsite, remote or hybrid. When asked if they would recommend Cleveland Clinic as a place to work, remote caregivers responded 92% favorably, with all caregivers responding 85% favorably.

Capitalizing on building and facility consolidation

While employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity are among the top goals of remote work models, organizations that implement these models can also realize cost-savings and other benefits from space and infrastructure consolidation. For our health system, space consolidation is allowing increased future investment in employees to improve caregiver experience.

As part of the transition to remote work, our strategic facilities/space team interviewed 90 departments in 15 buildings to outline move plans that, before the pandemic, weren’t possible. The plans densified some of our existing spaces. For example, caregivers working in the hybrid model no longer needed dedicated desks, so those spaces were consolidated or reimagined. This included creating standard workstations, more collaboration spaces for when hybrid caregivers are onsite, and new spaces for other team needs, such as huddles, casual conversations and formal meeting rooms.

Our IT team also built nearly 1,000 new workstations to accommodate our workplace transformation. Over the next six to 10 years, our goal is to have one-third less administrative office space than we have today. With that, we will be able to apply the operational savings gained from reducing administrative spaces directly to our caregivers, focusing on employee well-being, professional development and more.

Embracing the change

Shifting to remote or hybrid work may be one of the biggest changes your organization ever makes. But it’s worth it. As you embrace the change, encourage leaders to practice empathy and inclusion, and to trust and hold employees accountable. Also, remind employees that it’s OK to lean in and try something new.

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