As hospitals work to restructure the system with the loss of operational revenue during the COVID-19 shutdown, optimizing labor costs is the key to maximizing the return and gaining more from less. 

Especially now, it is clear that the health care labor force needs to be supported to ensure that staff can work as productively as possible and sustain the work for as long as possible. While leaders test and trial the new workplace, managers and leaders need proper decision-making tools to ensure that productivity is not lost with the most valuable asset of an organization: its people. It is vital for health facilities professionals to help organizations facilitate a supportive environment that elevates all to work at their optimum.

Gone are the days when you will simply build a space and fill it with staff. It is more important now to be certain that the space aligns with the needs of the staff to maximize the performance of each staff member. Organizations need to intentionally focus on individual activities. As we reset the work area, the staff members need to better understand the activities they are doing and the physical environment needed to complete those tasks. This process can be successfully completed by adhering to the following four steps: 

Step 1: Rethink. Reviewing job types and their activities will help get to a point of higher return for the organization. It is important to fully define the activities that can be done at home and the ones that are most beneficial to be done remotely. You must rethink your current model of office assignments — is it even needed?

Conceptually, activity-based designs and spaces should be the primary focus for achieving maximized labor performance and retention. In-person work will consist of direct patient care, training and collaboration, while remote work is more effective for focus time. For example, if a team of 20 staff members can work partially at home two to three days a week and would be only coming back to the office for meetings or to collaborate with colleagues, the organization would no longer need 20 offices. Instead, it would require five to 10 unassigned touchdown spaces and access to conference rooms. Then, twice as many people can fit in the same amount of space, and this becomes the new standard for office work.

This approach will demonstrate that the on-site space you have on campus will not be needed in the same way and will become found space for the organization that will allow for expanding services for improved return on investment. 

Step 2: Repurpose. Repurpose spaces that were originally designed for specific job types that are hybrid work from home and office. The cost of nonclinical office space is significant, and it is essential that all real estate is producing revenue to assist in the rebound and help recapture revenue that was lost during the pandemic. This inflection point provides the opportunity to find space and define new policies of office needs. 

Creating more collaborative spaces can improve staff engagement while working remotely and in-person. As organizations reopen and allow staff to return to physical office space, it is the only time in the life of a facility to look at who comes back to in-person work and what the new office standards could be. First, pose this question: What space does this job need? Then create a purposeful use of space that can also double as other spaces. 

Step 3: Retain. The reset found in the wake of COVID-19 can be successful if an organization is able to maintain its talent and forgo the expensive process of replacing staff. Keeping staff engaged, especially in a virtual-first environment, is of utmost importance. 

Are there spaces for staff to gather internally or externally for collaborative meetings? Is there a program for each department and person on their back-to-work plans and the tools they need to continue operating in a hybrid model?

With a goal of higher employee engagement, the work environment needs to focus on building collaborative relationships, personal ability to contribute to meaningful work and feeling a part of an organization’s greater purpose. 

Step 4: Return. In terms of financial return, the goal is to have staff performing in the most productive environment possible. This means you might not need as much square footage. Aligning their environment to the needs of their role will result in maximized efficiency for both the facility and the staff. 

Leveraging hybrid work environments for nonclinical staff can save overall nonclinical office space by 30-60%, depending on the department and organization. This affords newly found space to repurpose for generating revenue. This significant cultural change will take strong leadership as well as investment in furniture and technology systems that allow for a universal work model.  

Health care organizations should take this opportunity to rethink their model of office assignments, repurpose unused office space, retain top talent and get their highest return possible by using the environment to keep staff engaged.

Lorissa MacAllister, Ph.D., AIA, LEED AP, founder and president of Enviah, Grand Rapids, Mich.