Rethinking the Medical Campus

Three Steps Hospitals Can Take to Better Utilize Their Office Space

January 7, 2021

Healthcare Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s note: Our healthcare clients are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. We seek to support them as they courageously care for the sick. So we’re posting design ideas based on work with them, in the hope that we can contribute from our base of expertise to help combat the epidemic. From all of us at NBBJ to the many doctors, nurses and support staff in hospitals and clinics, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

This post initially appeared on Forbes. It was co-authored by Ryan Hullinger and Sarah Markovitz.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has many industries reevaluating the office needs of employees, and healthcare is no exception. While ICUs are once again seeing surges of Covid-19 patients, not all spaces inside hospitals are being utilized effectively. Roughly one third of academic medical centers is dedicated to non-clinical hospital workspace. By rethinking administrative space, hospitals have an opportunity to elevate the workplace experience and free space for new (and more productive) uses. With this in mind, here are three steps hospitals can take to analyze and then efficiently utilize administrative space.

 

Measure the Current State

To create a more productive and effective workplace, hospitals first need to better understand how existing workspaces are being used. Space utilization studies, employing smart occupancy sensors and staff preference surveys, can help determine how frequently each space is occupied and why. This gives valuable information that can help identify underutilized and high usage spaces and create a data-driven foundation for decision-making. Hospitals also need to evaluate administrative space in terms of adjacencies, function, team dynamics and role requirements in order to understand how effectively space is being used and how it might change to better align with patient care and organizational needs.

This deeper understanding of space usage can then be aligned with current and anticipated workforce trends. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates that many tasks, especially in departments like administration, finance, medical records, case management, support and IT — can be done effectively from home at least part of the time. For some hospitals, it may make sense from a financial and productivity standpoint to enable certain positions to continue working remotely. Such a move could also help with talent attraction and retention, as a 2018 survey from Becker’s Hospital Review finds that 80% of healthcare workers want the ability to work remotely. Yet it’s important to note that there is no one size fits all solution — each hospital needs to weigh the specific costs and benefits of such moves and determine which employees should be on-site, remote, or a mix of both.

 

Rethink Workplace Design

Design can play a fundamental role in creating workspaces that foster a better workplace experience while using space more effectively. For hospitals pursuing a more wide-scale remote work policy, the reduced need for workstations and offices opens a number of possibilities. If remote workers are going to be in the office part-time, shared workstations may be an option which occupies far less space. Staggered shifts could also be implemented, allowing more people to use the same space, and modular furniture and partition systems set up which occupy less space but provide far more flexibility.

Hospital workspace could become more of a hub for project team work, multi-disciplinary consultation and collaboration, and hands-on learning and mentoring and social connection, while concentrated heads-down work happens at home. Hospitals could consider how outdoor space can be used for amenities, informal collaboration and connecting to nature, effectively expanding the usable office without increasing the square footage. With less space dedicated to offices and workstations, more engaging amenity and teaming spaces could also be carved out within the existing footprint.

The private physician offices, which typically range in scale from 80 to 120 square feet or larger for director level positions, are another area for consideration. While recent trends point to smaller offices and increased team space, academic medical centers still offer far more private offices and relatively little meeting space when compared to contemporary high performing corporate workplaces. Yet this is changing as systems begin to reevaluate the return on investment for this space. Some have found that when departments are required to lease space using their own funds, many physicians opt not to have a private office, and choose instead to allocate that funding to other areas of the department.

However, there may be opportunities to retain the prestige and advantages of private offices without needing to dedicate the actual office space — which can be costly to build and maintain. For instance, private offices could be consolidated into shared workspaces, with access to a physicians-only, amenity-focused lounge that encourages new levels of collaboration. Alternately, physicians could be provided resources to outfit their home offices with high-end technology and furniture, freeing office space on campus while still maintaining physicians’ private offices in considerably less expensive residential settings. With the expansion of telehealth and physicians’ ability to work from home, this latter option may become more prevalent.

 

Evaluate New Uses

For some hospitals, the process of understanding space and adopting new workplace design strategies will result in consolidated office footprints or smaller clusters of offices. The question then becomes how to put the newly emptied space to better use. Some hospitals may opt to expand IT, digital and virtual capabilities into the vacated space, creating electronic ICUs, command centers for monitoring patients, or centers for telemedicine.

Other hospitals may look to use the excess space to expand fast-growing service lines into adjacent, previously unavailable workspace. With significant wait times for many key procedures at hospitals, the chance to extend clinical capabilities without building new space is a unique opportunity. Alternately, hospitals may opt to expand staff wellness spaces or services, or services which typically have difficulty finding space such as occupational and physical therapy, holistic and wellness services, community education hubs, or patient support groups. Some of these programs could even be accommodated after hours in hybrid spaces used during the day as offices, amenities or team spaces. Hospitals may also use space to improve safety and infection prevention, such as areas for rapid testing for employees — both now and for potential future pandemics.

With the financial implications of the pandemic still unfolding, there is a heightened need to make better use of existing real estate assets. This is a complex task that will lead to different outcomes for each hospital, but the process can reap significant benefits — both in financial terms, and in the workplace experience and productivity of staff.

 

Banner image courtesy Sean Airhart.

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