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In a multi-part series, Health Evolution is examining the future of the health care workforce. As we approach the one-year mark of when the pandemic begun disrupting lives across America, how has the virus changed the mindset of CEOs and organizational leaders in terms of how they view their employees and the skills they need to cultivate? For part one, we’re exploring potential shifts impacted by the rise of remote work, borderless recruiting, and virtual care.  

It was almost one year ago that approximately 6,000 employees at Indianapolis-based IU Health—or 17 percent of the organization—were instantly forced to work remotely due to the pandemic.   

While these kinds of changes were happening across the country, it represented a remarkable shift in the health care industry. Before COVID, health care leaders had been slow to move employees outside the walls of a hospital, clinic, or administrative building. According to research from Deloitte, only 9 percent of health care employees said their employer was introducing new ways of working prior to COVID.  

Now? That number has ballooned to 78 percent.  

Jen Radin, chief innovation officer for Deloitte’s Health Care practice, says that some organizations struggled with this overnight change. “There was a whole set of actions and questions that it triggered. How do we think about productivity? How to be connected to each other? Do we need to stay connected to each other? How do we help with bandwidth where people may or may not have it? How do we help people manage their personal and professional obligations? This was true across many industries but because of health care’s 24/7 nature, it was a little different,” Radin says.  

On top of keeping frontline workers safe and the community at large healthy from the burgeoning virus threat, IU Health had to undergo a massive overhaul of its operations overnight. One of the biggest challenges was helping the organization feel like it was connected. CEO Dennis Murphy sent out video communications on a weekly cadence for the first six months to ensure people felt connected.  

“The nature of people who are attracted to health care is they like to be around people and suddenly there was a whole segment of our workforce that we needed to move to all virtual,” says Tanya Hahn, vice president of human resources at IU Health. “We had to get people comfortable turning their cameras onso you feel like you’re getting that personal touch and engagement. For leaders in our organization, it was new, and it was important for us to figure out how to check in personally with our team members in a way that we didn’t when we saw them in the office.”  

The ability to manage employees remotely has become one of the challenges health care leaders have had to master in the pandemic. There’s also the matter of recruiting, retaining and upskilling workers to adapt to this new digital environment, amid an already-dire shortage across most clinical areas. One year later, health care leaders have a greater sense of the skills that will be needed to cultivate in employees going forward, including the need to thrive in a virtual environment.  

A new skill set needed  

Futuro Health was established with a $130 million investment from Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West to increase the number of health care jobs in California. The state projects a demand for 500,000 more workers across clinical, administrative and support positions by 2024. Thanks to the disruptions from COVID, the skills for which health care organizations will need to leverage those potential workers has changed dramatically, says Futuro Health’s CEO Van Ton-Quinlivan.  

Futuro Health CEO Van Ton-Quinlivan

“You’re going to need individuals with a more complicated set of skills. Data conversant. Technology conversant. Clinical conversant. That talent pool isn’t going to exist on its own,” says Ton-Quinlivan. “Having intentionality in developing that talent pool will be important and should be a collaborative process.” 

She says the virtualized environment—whether it’s clinical care via telehealth or remote work for other employees—is here to stay and health care organizations will have to adjust. Survey data backs up these assertions. More people are interested in remote work—more than half of employees surveyed by PwC indicated they want to work remotely going forward at least three days per week. More people are interested in telehealth and virtual care—76 percent of consumers, according to a survey from McKinsey. 

Some organizations are equipped for this transition. Because its clinical network was already operating in a virtual world, diabetes and chronic condition management company Cecelia Health adapted perhaps more naturally to virtualizing its workforce than traditional brick-and-mortar operations, including its New York City headquarters. 

“Does that mean we’ll fully abandon face to face? No. We miss out on some things without face to face,” says Mark Clermont, who took the helm as CEO last month when founder David Weingard assumed the role of Executive Chairman. “But I am intrigued by the models put forth by other companies such as Salesforce and Wolters Kluwer.”  Weingard added that it could be challenging to continue operating sales teams in fully remote environments.