Why do modern hospitals still suffer from underperforming workspaces?

Why do modern hospitals still suffer from underperforming workspaces?

In my more than 25 years as a healthcare planner and workplace consultant, I’ve helped multiple healthcare organizations plan and program new hospitals. With each new project, I’m amazed and inspired by the attention given to patient care and clinical delivery. At the same time, something is often missing in these planning sessions. For all the time devoted to clinical planning, comparatively little is given to the needs of the people who staff our hospitals. It’s as though we are focused on optimizing only a portion of the building for its users and not on the effectiveness of the parts of the hospital set aside for staff to complete their administrative work, collaborate and—especially important today—recuperate.

The Impact of Poor Workplace Planning in Hospitals

This lack of attention can have real consequences. Burnout is already tremendously high in the healthcare sector. Space designed to support the whole health and wellbeing of staff is one way hospitals can address their current recruitment and retention challenges.

Inattention to staff work needs and styles also makes for inefficient use of space and resources. Many hospitals continue to follow outdated workplace formulas that assign staff a set amount of space based on their title and not their true work needs. For example, healthcare staff often are allocated private offices and other dedicated spaces that can go unused for up to six to 10 hours a day (30-50 hours a week!) as they fulfill their essential clinical roles and other non-administrative work. While these spaces sit unused, there is a lack of other types of spaces hospital staff can use to collaborate or decompress. Further, individually allocated spaces tend to be much larger than is necessary in today’s modern world of workplace planning where technology and newer furniture design make for greater efficiencies in smaller spaces. My clients outside of healthcare would be shocked by this inefficient use of real estate and resources. Yet, in hospitals, this type of wastefulness is all too common.

So, what can we do about it? How can we make hospital workspaces more efficient, productive, supportive and responsive to staff needs? The answer, I believe, lies in drawing lessons from workplace planning in the corporate and business world. That planning begins with understanding the “Three P’s.”

A Solution in the Three P’s: People, Process, Placemaking

As a workplace consultant, one of the first things I do with a new client is to get a sense of the different people within an organization and the processes in which they work. With that understanding, I can then work with the client on placemaking, or creating the space types that meet the needs of an organization and its people. Here’s how the Three P’s could be applied to hospital workplace strategy:

People – What are the divergent staff needs that the workplace must support? The initial stages of planning and ideation in healthcare spaces should encompass engaging with a hospital’s staff to explore who they are, what will help them thrive, and what kinds of choices will relieve their anxieties and support their wellbeing in the workplace.

Process – What do people require to do their best work? Once we have a good understanding of the hospital staff, we can look at what they need to complete their work within their non-clinical workspaces. By looking at people’s work process and preferences—such as independent vs. collaborative work; in-person vs. remote work; patient-facing vs. administrative work; desk-based vs. mobile work—we begin to get a sense of space needs and function. For example, after two years at home during the pandemic, who and how many staff are coming back to the office? Will in-person staff need their own desk, or can they share a workstation? What types of amenities or collaboration spaces do they require? What technology? Answers to these questions create a clearer picture of the workplace needs of an organization.

Placemaking – How can we create spaces that show we value employees? The final step is to take the data and stories collected from our people and process research and use it to define the types and amount of space required. The goal here is to create a variety of space choices—from open to private—that enable people to not just complete their jobs but to do so in a way that helps them thrive personally and professionally.  

Results and Next Steps

By applying the Three P’s to their staff workspaces, hospitals can cater to the whole health and needs of their employees just as they do for their patients. I have seen this result in hospital employees who are happier in their work, more appreciative of their employer and better caregivers to their patients.

The Three P’s can also make hospital workplaces more efficient by cutting down on underutilized spaces and freeing up valuable real estate for clinical services. Going back to the example of the individually allocated spaces, smart workplace planning is not only about how much workspace you provide employees. It’s ensuring the space you do provide fully addresses employees’ personal and professional needs. The business case is that this approach can also be less expensive and require less real estate, making it a win-win for both staff and employers.

Want additional information on the Three P’s or how workplace planning can apply to hospitals? Connect with me on LinkedIn or shoot me an email at susan.chang@hok.com.

This article is re-published from HOK with permission. It previously appeared on LinkedIn

Susan Chang

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