Get Ready for the Post-Pandemic Healthcare Talent Revolution


When redesigning their workplaces, leaders must reflect on employees' best interests, versus their own.

Jim Fields , Jonathan Lee , Marcia Macphearson , Ethan Murray , Ashley Smith , and  Rutger von Post

The adoption of remote work in the healthcare industry had trailed other industries that had moved more aggressively in that regard. Now, as some healthcare companies begin bouncing back after going fully remote in response to the pandemic, they’re becoming more employee-centric regarding work location value propositions and company strategies.

So what will healthcare’s future workforce look like? How can more leaders’ decisions balance employees’ and companies’ best interests? Our Health and Life Sciences team is working with different kinds of healthcare companies and leaders to define the right strategic response to these questions. When we asked Chief Medical Officers, Chief Human Resources Officers, and Chief Financial Officers at a number of healthcare companies these exact questions, what we discovered is the conditions for an all-out talent war are here. This should scare you. 

Most healthcare organizations expect to continue with remote work and are increasingly okay sourcing that talent from anywhere in the US (or abroad). While this was long true for national organizations, regional players are also joining the fray. Fifty percent of organizations said they were changing their hiring policies to source talent (and importantly, let talent stay) outside of their typical geographic footprint. That means top talent is that much more mobile  – not a privilege of concentrated geographic talent pools. You can no longer rely on the fact that just because an office is located down the street, your Information Technology talent will also be local.

94 percent of employers say productivity is the same (67 percent) or higher (27 percent) than before the pandemic hit – even with a remote workforce. 

Talent pools will look different in merely a few years. The best talent is out there for healthcare companies, and they now have new expectations for optionality in how and where they work. Leaders must now focus more on building a new talent value proposition to attract and retain top talent.

Three Things to Know

The rapid shift to remote work was generally smoother than many executive teams anticipated. Although announcements of remote and flex working have been fast and furious in the technology industry, in healthcare, they were somewhat quieter. To learn more, we fielded a survey. Here, we confirmed healthcare companies are also eyeing a permanent shift to more flexible work.

Here are three key takeaways from our research:

1. All — 100 percent — of companies surveyed said were either considering or already announced changes to their working model. Those changes showed a strong shift to a more flexible and remote working model.

2. All — 100 percent — of the providers we surveyed have already announced their future work model, versus only 60 percent of payers and innovators (such as those in retail and tech). This is not surprising given the pressure and strain on providers in 2020 necessitating a faster response. More change is still to come. It's not too late to get ahead of your competitors in thinking about, and announcing, your future work model.

3. There’s a disconnect. Employee-centricity and employee choice was the most cited reason for making workforce changes, but only 40 percent of companies said they were including employee input in which future work model they would implement.

Managing a workforce that deploys a mix of work-from-home, onsite, and hybrid models can be done right but doing so requires new ways of managing talent, cultivating culture, and enabling teams with tools to work productively. New forms of technological offerings mean the virtual office is mainstream and the future of work will be different. But the right workforce model is different for each company.  What does your ideal workforce breakdown look like?

While the future of work carries the promise of flexibility, not all leaders or employees will embrace change. Leaders must take a nuanced approach, segmenting the workforce to determine the right model for different job categories, roles, and for the overall culture and future way of working. We see a major blind spot in this area right now. Employers are being short-sighted in moving to a flexible model, without incorporating employee input on what flexibility they would like.  While that optimizes for the short-term, it comes at the risk of employee turnover.

We’ve found an approach that starts with analytics but is topped up such that employee and manager input strikes the right balance. Those who take a top-down approach versus doing the hard work to balance company preference with employee input will dictate the net talent winners, versus those that end up alienating their employees with flexibility that exists only on paper.

Designing your Future Workforce

Designing a fit-for-future workforce model requires re-thinking organization dynamics across five key dimensions:

1. Don’t ignore employee engagement and cultural development.

When you peel back the “culture” onion, you may see sub-categories emerge, like personal connections, principles, management expectations, workforce norms, and leaders’ actions and behaviors. In a hybrid environment with some employees in person and some virtual, there will be less opportunity for daily connections and observed leadership norms that must be addressed early in the process.

Think about what your organization might hold dear and true (for example, if your workplace is metric-oriented, versus highly analytical, versus conservative, versus one where people bring their whole selves to work), and how you reinforce, change, or leave behind cultural touchstones in your new model. Thoughtfully engage employees with messages that go beyond the transactional and involve them in helping define the future culture — thereby creating a culture “community”. Culture was built around how you used to work. How will you carry that “egg” (your culture) through this transition egg race without dropping and breaking it?

2. Career path management requires networking and collaborating differently.

Historically speaking, work that’s typically performed remotely has been more transactional or operational-centric. Picture, for example, a call center representative with a given target to meet. Healthcare organizations are already experienced with these kinds of workers. We see a second blind spot in not thinking about how you develop more collaborative working arrangements that replicate the quick “hallway touchpoints'', impromptu watercooler brainstorms, and real apprenticeships of the prior working model. Healthcare organizations (compared to our banking and other industry clients) have the most work to do here in defining the new path for cross-functional roles in the context of a hybrid work environment.

3. Get creative with productivity management.

In terms of things like workplace productivity, employee engagement, and greater operational excellence, creativity must be a common thread. As more workers go remote, think differently about how to optimize workers’ performance levels. Consider where new metrics and supports are needed most to create the most effective and engaged workforce possible. Global re-thinking of metrics and ways you collect and track them is needed to truly be successful in gathering information to make future decisions.

4. Reconsider your real estate.

Many companies have hard real estate targets in place, such as a 50 percent reduction in the next few years – meaning more permanence and less flexibility may follow. As organizations think about their workforce, they will naturally be faced with important real estate questions – namely: Do we really need all this space?

In our client work, we tend to find organizations that approach this question through a real estate-first orientation generally aren’t thinking about how to optimize the organization for success long-term. We recommend instead focusing on developing the right workforce strategy for your organization’s success going forward. And, considering how to update space for the new kinds of working with as much attention as footprint reductions (such as repurposing into showrooms, collaboration spaces, community connection hubs, and the like). Surprisingly, focusing first on talent and employee working needs often leads to larger real-estate reductions than a real estate-first approach.

5. Prioritize talent.

Give employees some input into the future of your work model. Focusing simply on average employee preferences toward remote work will miss the edge cases of those with valid needs or preferences for a different working model. Taking into account manager, team, and employee preferences will be a huge factor in the war for talent in the future as well as productivity and engagement. Companies who short-cut this opportunity to figure out how to balance employee input with company preference will find themselves losing the talent war that’s brewing in healthcare.  

Ten years from now, we’ll look at the current crop of virtual office, focus group, and collaboration tools with the same disdain we now have for crackly phone calls.”

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, more change is coming. The bid for talent will only increase as healthcare companies are expected to continue making changes in their working model throughout the next 12 to 18 months. Don’t be left behind in creating an environment your employees want to remain in. This is the challenge ahead of all healthcare companies – to capture opportunity, you must capture talent.