Be flexible if you want to retain staff

Our troubleshooter Jane Braithwaite answers independent practitioners’ frequently asked questions on business matters. 

This month: Now that my team has had a taste of home working, they all want to work from home more of the time. How do I make this work?

Home working is like Marmite; you either love it or hate it. Over the last few years, most people have had some experience of working from home and most people have strong views on the pros and cons. 

The major pro for most people is the loss of a lengthy commute and the associated costs. This has given people back time to spend doing other activities that benefit them personally or they may have spent this extra time doing additional work that benefits their organisation. 

As people have spent more time at home, many have developed increased anxiety about commuting and returning to the office and, as a result, they are actively looking for home-based roles. 

There are obvious cons of home working too. It is especially difficult for more junior staff to receive the support they need in terms of day-to-day coaching and mentor­ing. On-the-job training plays a huge part in the ongoing development of individuals and this is much more difficult to achieve working remotely.

Being isolated 

Isolation is also a big factor, and this is the major reason for some people not enjoying home working. This can be more of an issue for those living alone.

But home working during the Covid pandemic was a very different experience to working from home in more normal circumstances and isolation is generally less of an issue. 

I have worked from home for many years and isolation has not been a factor prior to Covid, as there would be plenty of social interaction outside working hours. But during Covid, of course, this was not the case. 

So I would encourage those who hated home working during the pandemic to keep an open mind as to how it might benefit them in the longer term.

In healthcare there are some roles that are well suited to home working, but there are many other roles where it is impossible to see how home working would work.

A lot of the roles within the supportive functions for healthcare practitioners, including administration, finance and marketing, can obviously be managed outside the office with the right investment in systems. But caring for patients has to be done within the clinic or hospital environment and it is hard to see how this will change significantly. 

If your employees have enjoyed home working and are now reluctant to come back into your clinic, how can you address this?

Question your employees

In some industries, we have seen the introduction of various perks to attract employees back to the office including morning yoga classes, a daily supply of fresh fruit and areas dedicated to socialising with games such as table tennis and so on. These may be motivational for some employees, but I daresay not to the vast majority. 

Before investing in possible solutions, a wise starting point is probably to ask your employees to describe why they feel reluctant to return to office working and ask them what actions you can take as their employer to address this. 

Depending on the size of your organisation, this could be done in the form of an employee survey or through individual or team discussions. Once you understand the overall issues, it is easier to develop a plan to address and overcome the concerns.

In my experience, the desire to work from home is often driven by a need for greater flexibility over working hours. Many individuals have caring responsibilities either for young children or for parents. 

The time and associated cost spent commuting is another widely reported problem. What­ever the reason for wanting greater flexibility, the outcome is usually the need to take a fresh look at working hours and how they can be changed to better suit the individual. 

For some, it may be a shorter working day, finishing an hour earlier, and for others it might be changing to a three- or four-day working week.

Working remotely

As I mentioned earlier, there are some roles in healthcare that can be done remotely from home including customer/patient services, including all call answering, administration, finance, marketing and I am sure many others. 

Employers should show a commitment to making home working a possibility for individuals in these roles or risk losing them to companies who will allow them to do so. 

To enable this does require investment in systems and a review of processes and, most critically, a change of management style with the focus on outcomes and deliverables rather than presenteeism. 

But what can we do for the individuals in roles that really do need to be based in the place of work whether it be a hospital, clinic or GP practice?

For nurses, doctors and many others in healthcare, the option to work from home is obviously very limited. But if we are open- minded, we may be able to implement working practices that allow greater flexibility. 

Hybrid approach

Video consultations have now become a well-accepted method of providing patient care, with both GPs and consultants communicating with their patients in this way regularly. 

Clinics could be re-organised to take a hybrid approach, allowing a clinician to hold face-to-face clinics three days a week and hold video consultations on the remaining two days of the week and, of course, the video consultations could be made from anywhere, including home. 

In roles where it really is not possible to introduce home working the key to retaining employees may need to come from offering greater flexibility in terms of working hours, days and shift patterns. 

This can be more complex to manage and an additional overhead on organising the day-to-day operations of the clinic, but a willingness to embrace flexibility by the employer will often generate a more flexible approach in the team who have a strong desire to make it work for them.

In summary, my recommendations are to fully understand why your employees are unhappy about returning to the office and develop a plan to address these concerns. 

In terms of embracing flexibility, there are three main options: moving roles that can be moved to home-based working, introducing hybrid working, where possible, with a mix of office and home and finally looking for flexibility of hours and working patterns. 

If you have any specific questions that you would like answered in coming editions, please do feel free to get in touch.  

Jane Braithwaite (right) is managing director of Designated Medical, which offers bespoke support across accountancy, marketing, medical PA, HR and recruitment

See ‘How to hang onto your employees’