It’s often quoted, and there’s no doubt in my mind, that healthcare workers have been the heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve been putting their lives at risk daily around the globe to help humanity during this once-in-a-lifetime event, and they’re helping us find a way forward.

I recently hosted a group of senior HR leaders from the healthcare industry to discover what’s on their minds, how they’re supporting their employees, and how they’re leading their companies through the crisis. 

Three key themes emerged from the conversation. 

Burnout mitigation adds to well-being as a large focus

Many of the healthcare people leaders shared that once the pandemic hit, their initial focus was on their employees’ well-being. They used their employee engagement programs to understand how well supported employees felt, and how their mental health was faring. They also gathered practical information such as whether their teams had the tools they needed to work from home effectively, or if they had sufficient personal protective equipment. During this period, ad-hoc or “always on” surveys were vital in gathering this feedback with dispersed workforces and frontline workers who were desperately time-starved. 

As the pandemic response has emerged as less of a sprint and become more of an ultra-marathon, HR leaders are now concerned about how to support their employees through an extended period of extreme stress for frontline workers, isolation and burnout for remote workers. 

Workspaces will be reinvented 

The adjustments frontline workers have made may be obvious. However as employees return to work, how will workspaces change? And is this a permanent shift for the future?

Most of the healthcare people leaders I spoke with said their employee engagement surveys indicated remote employees want to return to the office. Surprisingly, though, the number of employees who have returned to re-opened offices is low. For instance, some cite concerns over traveling on public transport. Others aren’t invigorated by the idea of working in an office with safe distancing measures in place. They believe that the opportunities for interacting and collaborating with colleagues will be limited. 

As we look forward, continued remote work may create tension for organizations, both in terms of culture and real estate costs. How can companies maintain and develop their culture without the common workplace experience? What decisions will need to be made around real estate as leases come up for renewal, and offices sit unoccupied? 

Companies are grappling to understand both the financial impact of long-term remote work, and how employees genuinely feel about it. Individuals have dealt with the change in different ways, depending on many factors such as whether they have family at home, how much space they have, and even their personality traits. Adding to these factors in the uncertainty ahead, everyone has good days and bad days. Without regular feedback and check-ins with employees, the full picture may not be revealed. 

For the healthcare sector, flexible work policies will likely succeed as leaders become increasingly sensitive to the differing experiences of their employee populations, from frontline workers to corporate office employees and beyond. As an example, how can frontline workers be supported so that, in addition to being protected and staying safe while at work, they don’t feel disadvantaged when they observe other workers take advantage of the flexibility to work from home or other locations of their choice? 

Here are some other issues that healthcare HR leaders are still addressing: 

  • How to create guidelines for managers on work-from-home policies 
  • How to conduct effective new-hire onboarding remotely and help team members feel included in company culture 
  • How to further enable effective collaboration within and between teams 

The upside of 2020 

Many of the people leaders advised that their organizations have also experienced positive changes as a result of the pandemic. Broadly, the changes in the environment forced innovation. For instance, can the move to remote work be taken as an opportunity to draw up new flexible-work policies, enabling employees to have a better work-life balance? Companies are rethinking how to build an experience that will enable employees to be happy and successful working at home, and what they can do to attract the best candidates for open positions in more locations. 

Organizations need to open up conversations with their employees to devise ways to harness the uncertainty, and turn the threat of not knowing the future into opportunity. It is an unexpected and unprecedented opportunity that may just drive reinvention and transformation to move towards a better future. 

For more information, check out our People Success Toolkit for the Healthcare Industry or other resources for building the new world of work.