By: Suzzette Svoboda on August 14th, 2023

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Why Remote and Hybrid Work Is So Important In Healthcare

Business Management & Strategy

Although the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us now, there’s one part of the crisis that still lives on: the debate over remote work.

Most employees would rather work on a hybrid or flexible basis. Most employers would prefer if their teams returned to the office. It’s a constant source of tension, and it’s been a key driver behind trends like The Great Resignation.

Nowhere is this debate more important than in the field of health. Healthcare workers—including practitioners and support staff—are one of the groups most likely to be asked to work on-site. They’re also the group with the strongest desire to work remotely.

What should employers do? In this blog, we’re going to look at the challenges of remote work in the healthcare industry and offer advice on how to create a remote work program that suits everyone. But first, let’s take a closer look at the background.

Table of contents: 

  1. Background on remote work in healthcare positions
  2. Pros and cons of remote and hybrid work in healthcare
  3. How to provide remote and hybrid work to healthcare workers
  4. Need help building a winning team? 


The rise and fall (and rise again) of remote work healthcare positions

When the Covid-19 emergency was declared in March 2020, workers were divided into two groups:

  • Essential workers: People who must be physically present in order to perform their duties.
  • Non-essential workers: Anyone who could perform their role from a remote location.

This distinction was more important for healthcare workers than any other group. Healthcare workers played a vital frontline role in the fight against the pandemic, but that also put them at a much higher risk of exposure to illness. Also, healthcare workers had a unique digital challenge, as HIPAA meant that they faced strict rules about handling patient data.

In the end, the majority of healthcare workers found a way to work from home during 2020, whether that meant remote access to Electronic Health Records (EHR) software or providing teleconsultations to patients.

When the pandemic ended, many clinics asked their staff to make a full-time return to the office. This resulted in massive staff turnover in 2022, with over 500,000 resignations in June alone. Of those who remained, 52% said that they decided to stay because they were allowed to work remotely.

As recruiting consultants, we have seen how our clients in healthcare find it much easier to attract and retain talent when they offer remote working. Personally, I have worked with at least one company that experienced a wave of resignations when they insisted on a full return to the office. The company offered hybrid working as a compromise, which helped to improve retention.

When the company finally decided to return to full remote working, they had filled all of their vacant positions in under a month. It goes to show: employees and candidates are extremely eager to find jobs that offer flexible working.


Pros and cons of remote and hybrid work in healthcare

Remote work (or hybrid work, which is a blend of remote and in-office work) greatly benefits employees as it makes it easier to manage their work-life balance. Employees also save on commuting time, plus they have fewer absences for personal emergencies.

But employers also benefit from offering remote work. Some of the main benefits include:

  • Access to more candidates: Remote work means that you can hire from anywhere in the country. This gives you a much bigger talent pool when recruiting.
  • Lower costs: While there are some costs associated with remote working (especially if you provide home office equipment), these costs are generally lower than commercial office space.
  • Service flexibility: Remote employees are usually more willing to work unsocial hours, or to work split shifts across the day (for example, working 8am to noon, then 4pm to 8pm). This gives employers greater flexibility when scheduling operating hours.
  • Reduced stress: Remote work is generally associated with lower levels of stress. Remote employees are less likely to experience burnout, which means employers benefit from lower absenteeism and improved staff turnover rates.
  • Total Rewards: Work-life balance is one of the five Total Rewards that make up an employee compensation package. Remote work is effectively a benefit that contributes to the employee’s compensation package; offering remote work makes it easier to compete for talent and negotiate on salary.

However, there are some issues to consider, especially in a healthcare setting:

  • HIPAA and data security: Remote working can increase the risk of data breaches, which are very serious when they involve medical information. In 2015, Cancer Care Group was fined $750,000 when an employee lost a laptop containing patient information.
  • Reduced patient interaction: Face-to-face contact is an important aspect of medical care. When patients interact via telemedicine, they have reduced contact with the team, which may impact on their quality of care.
  • Issues with technology: Working remotely always means tech problems, whether it’s a bad connection or the software crashing. Some remote employees may struggle without appropriate tech support.


How to provide remote and hybrid work in healthcare

Remote work can help healthcare providers build a great team and provide an important service, but it does require having a solid remote strategy. Here’s how to do it.

Speak to your team about their needs

The first step is to find out if your current team wants a remote working option. Some may prefer to remain on-site, while others might want a hybrid alternative. Speak to your team and ask questions such as:

  • Would you prefer to work remotely, on-site, or a hybrid of the two?
  • How many of your duties could be performed remotely?
  • What would be your major concerns if you switched to remote work?

Conversations such as these will help you understand your team’s personal needs and create a plan that improves their employee experience.

Consider flexible alternatives

Fully remote working isn’t the only option that employees seek out. Some alternatives to consider include:

  • Structured hybrid schedules: A pre-arranged hybrid pattern. For example, the employee might work in the office on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then work from home on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Flexible hybrid schedules: Employees can choose where they want to work. This can be fully flexible, or it might be agreed with their manager on a month-by-month basis.
  • Flexible hours: Employees can decide their own start and end times. One employee might choose to work 7am-3pm, while another might log in from 10am-7pm.

Which option is right for your team? It depends on your business needs, as well as the feedback from your employee surveys.

Review the compliance implications of remote work

HIPAA enforcement was relaxed during the Covid-19 crisis. However, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that enforcement would recommence in May 2023, meaning that you now need to be mindful of compliance issues. Things to consider include:

  • Cybersecurity: Remote workers need a secure connection to HER software. This might require that you provide a dedicated laptop and internet connection.
  • Availability: Patient data must be accurate and up-to-date at all times. You’ll need to ensure that remote workers can read and edit records in real-time.
  • OSHA: Remote workers are still covered by OSHA guidelines, even if they’re working in their own homes. Ensure that everyone has a workstation that’s suitable for working with few risks of accidents (such as tripping over cables).

None of these are insurmountable obstacles. It’s all just a matter of talking to your compliance experts, planning ahead, and giving the right support where needed.

Perform a cost analysis

Remote work can help you save money, as you don’t have to pay for things like office space or liability insurance. However, there will be some additional expenses, especially when you’re helping your team to get set up. Some things to consider are:

  • Salary savings: Remote work may allow you to reduce overall salaries. Some employees say that they would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for remote working. Also, you can hire staff from regions with a lower cost of living and lower average salaries.
  • Remote work set-up costs: Remote employees may require some equipment, such as computers, OSHA-compliant desks, and secure internet connections. There may also be associated costs for delivery and installation.
  • Ongoing costs: Remote employees may require some additional supports, such as access to an on-call remote IT desk. You may also need to contribute towards employee expenses such as electricity or internet.

A cost analysis will help you identify possible budget impacts of switching to remote work, whether that means additional costs or savings.

Offer support and training to all staff

Your whole team may need support when changing to a remote working culture. Some training areas to focus on include:

  • Self-support for remote staff: Remote workers can’t call on a colleague when they face a challenge, such as a difficult question from a patient or an IT problem. They’ll need advice on how to find answers and solve problems by themselves.
  • Communication advice for all staff: If you have a hybrid team of in-office and remote staff, then you may experience some communication issues. It’s a good idea to prevent this by offering some communication training, including tips on how to stay connected with remote colleagues.
  • Managerial coaching: Some leaders might be unsure about how to deal with direct reports who are not present in the office. Offer them coaching on the best way to set expectations, track productivity, and build team relationships.

A change in working patterns can affect your organizational culture. The best way to keep things positive is to make sure everyone is fully supported and has the training they need.


Need help building a winning team? 

Should you offer your team remote work? It's a crucial strategic HR decision that could impact your ability to attract, engage and retain the best people. 

The good news is: you can get help. Helios HR's expert consultants can help you design policies that support your organizational goals and team culture. 

Book a call with a Helios HR representative today, and let's talk about how to build your winning team!

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