The pandemic-driven migration to remote work has accelerated health care companies’ movement toward the future of work, opening up opportunities for innovation.

At the start of 2020, few health care organizations imagined that within months, most of their nonclinical (and in some cases, clinical) workforce would be working from home. COVID-19 has accelerated and catalyzed several aspects of the future of work and the future of health that might otherwise have taken years. The end state is neither clear nor predictable, but health care organizations understand that few people will return to the workplace they knew a few months ago and are exploring strategies and solutions to transform the way we work. Our research shows the challenges are many—with concerns about the loss of organizational culture topping the list. However, there are opportunities to innovate; solidify diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and priorities; focus efforts around mental and spiritual health and well-being; develop and attract talent and new capabilities; and thrive.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the fall of 2019:

  • 85% of employees never worked from home
  • 8% occasionally did (i.e., once a month or less)
  • Less than 3% worked from home one to two days a week

Almost overnight, COVID-19 forced many health care organizations to revisit traditional ways of working and engaging employees. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions surveyed 100 employees from health systems and health plans and interviewed 13 chief human resources officers (CHROs) to explore how organizations are maintaining productivity and engagement among remote workforces; developing effective, forward-looking virtual work strategies; and building resilient workforces. Our research shows that while virtual work is working well for both employees and leadership, organizations should harness this opportunity to transform the way they work. We found:

Organizational culture is the top concern for employees and leadership. Fifty-nine percent of employees feel less camaraderie with coworkers after transitioning to remote work—and the top concern raised by leadership in our interviews was that virtual work hinders culture and connectivity. For many organizations, the physical workplace was a big part of the culture, and workplace design was a priority for several years. Organizations focused on designing physical spaces that promote collaboration and sustainability to enable culture and teaming. Now, there are concerns about what the loss of the physical workspace will mean for the workforce, the culture, and the mission. Leaders are challenged with how to replicate in-person mentoring and development in a virtual setting. There are no easy answers, but an analytical approach using network data and applying data science to reveal collaboration, performance, productivity, and other metrics can help organizations go beyond the traditional organizational chart and illuminate strategies to build resilience and evolve into an Adaptable Organization.

Organizations are leaning in to the social consciousness movement and working to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategies and priorities in a virtual environment. For many years, organizations and workers avoided discussing race and ethnicity in the workplace due to discomfort or fear. But times are changing. CHROs told us the shift to virtual work was an opportunity to revisit the status quo and traditional networks and invite new ideas and foster an environment of inclusion and belonging. Leaders said the shift to virtual work has shone a light on what capabilities, including relationship-building, empathy, and managing through change, are needed for organizations to succeed in the future of work. Organizations can use this opportunity to tap into data to identify who is isolated or has less access to leadership. These insights could give organizations the chance to hear diverse perspectives and make better decisions around developing talent and recruiting new hires.

Not all employees are experiencing virtual work the same way, and leaders should plan accordingly. Our survey showed that younger generations feel more productive at home and are more satisfied with the level of leadership communication compared to baby boomers. However, when it comes to performance management, younger generations grapple more with how they will be evaluated in a virtual setting compared to baby boomers. Organizations should consider using data to assess ways to increase engagement, experience, and productivity in the new reality. It’s critical that everyone in the organization has a work environment that enables success—and the environment might look different for different populations.

The shift in how and where we work has prompted health care organizations to innovate, and this mindset should serve them well as they prepare for the future of work. Prior to COVID-19, only 9% of employees said their employer was introducing new ways of working. Since virtual work has become the norm, 78% of employees reported their employer was planning to or has already introduced new ways of working. Our research indicates leaders are learning that virtual work is not about replicating in-person work online, but rather leveraging new technology to rethink work, teams, and culture. Health care organizations should continue harnessing the changing landscape to consider new ways of working.

Mental and spiritual health and well-being are paramount and require different strategies in a virtual environment. Heading into 2020, employees’ mental and spiritual health and well-being were top of mind for global organizations across industries, including health care. Not surprisingly, our interviews showed that health care employers have a strong desire to address these issues while in a virtual setting. Organizations are exploring different benefits to help employees better manage responsibilities at home, including child- and elder-care support, strategizing around avoiding burnout, and exploring ways to help employees make meaningful connections with each other.

Download the full Deloitte report here.