Why organizations need to consider remote work for frontline workers in a tight labor market

Find out why, in a competitive job market, health organizations need to look at benefits like remote work to attract frontline workers.

The unemployment rate is surprisingly low, at 3.7%, shocking economists who expected a slowdown in hiring and rising unemployment rate. This job growth has been led by frontline work.

Frontline workers are in high demand, and the competition for their services is fierce. Yet wage growth cooled to .3%, the smallest rise since August 2021. That means employers are offering more jobs, but not offering higher wages to attract staff, likely due to fears of a recession, or at least an economic slowdown.

In this setting, non-wage benefits make a crucial differentiator in recruiting and retaining frontline workers. And there’s a surprising benefit that’s cheap to offer, yet incredibly desirable: remote work.

In fact, a survey of 1,500 US workers by benefits provider Unum found that after health insurance, flexible/remote work represented the most highly desired benefit. Having consulted for 22 organizations on hybrid and remote work, I’ve seen these benefits boost retention and recruitment, improve productivity and engagement, and cut costs.

You might be surprised to hear that my experience applies to frontline settings as well, such as in two hospitals where I helped establish hybrid work programs for frontline healthcare staff.

Frontline workers in healthcare don’t spend all their time on patient care

You might be surprised at the amount of time frontline healthcare workers spend on non-patient work, such as documentation and communication.

In a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found that physicians spent 27% directly in the examination room with patients, while spending half their time – 49% – on electronic health records and other desk work, such as emails and other communication tasks. And that’s during their day at the workplace: many also spend one to two hours filling out electronic health records after work.

What about nurses? A study of hospital nurses by Jackson Healthcare in Alpharetta, Georgia found that nurses reported dedicating a substantial portion of their 12-hour shifts, approximately a quarter, to patient care tasks; much of the rest of the time was spent on documentation tasks.

That includes documenting patient care information in multiple locations, completing logs, checklists, and other paperwork, as well as trying to acquire essential equipment and supplies.

Case studies of remote work for healthcare frontline workers

The same dynamics apply to other healthcare workers, such as nurse practitioners and physician associates (formerly known as physician assistants). This is where remote work can make a significant impact.

 By allowing healthcare workers to complete their paperwork from home, they can save time and energy that would have been spent commuting and completing administrative tasks in the hospital. This results in better job satisfaction and a reduction in stress levels, leading to higher retention rates and improved recruitment efforts.

I helped two of my hospital clients understand this issue and make the transition to allowing remote work for their doctors and nurses when it made sense for them to do so in filling out records and doing other desk work. Moreover, for telehealth follow-up visits, the hospitals traditionally require their healthcare workers to be in the hospital when taking the calls; we arranged for them to take telehealth visits at home.

Doing so took some effort. It involved shifting some scheduling and allowing more flexibility for staff, trusting them to complete their tasks at home. It also involved setting up appropriate privacy protections for the home offices of healthcare workers, especially nurses, who did not previously have the habit of taking their work home. However, with some creativity and experimentation, we managed to overcome these challenges. 

Four important benefits of remote work for frontline workers

The result was outstanding, and the hospitals quickly became the employers of choice in their respective areas, outpacing their competitors in terms of both retention and recruitment. It shows how remote work offers a multitude of benefits for frontline workers, including these four:

  1. Increased flexibility: By allowing workers to complete their tasks from home, they have greater flexibility to balance their work and personal life.
  2. Improved job satisfaction: Reduced stress levels and a better work-life balance lead to higher job satisfaction, which in turn leads to improved retention rates.
  3. Increased productivity: By eliminating the need to commute, workers can focus more of their energy on patient care, leading to increased productivity.
  4. Better recruitment efforts: An organization that offers remote work options is more likely to attract top talent, as it is seen as a desirable employer.

That’s especially important given that nearly 20% of healthcare workers have left their job since the pandemic started; 49% of those individuals cited burnout or stress as their top reason for leaving the healthcare field. Given how remote work reduces burnout and stress, it’s irresponsible to not offer it to healthcare frontline staff.

Why do other hospitals fail to follow this model?

While this model makes dollars and sense, it’s hard to change people’s mindsets due to cognitive biases, unconscious thought patterns that shape our perceptions and decision-making, leading to negative consequences in the workplace.

For instance, the status quo bias, or the tendency to maintain the current state of affairs, prevents hospital leaders from exploring alternative work arrangements that would alleviate the administrative burden on their staff. This leads to healthcare workers spending more hours commuting than they need just to do paperwork and emails, resulting in burnout and decreased job satisfaction.

The empathy gap, or the difficulty in imagining and feeling another person’s emotions, also plays a role. Without appreciating the opportunity for remote work to decrease the difficulties and stress experienced by these frontline workers, leaders have trouble recognizing the need to implement changes that would improve the work environment.

The healthcare industry has a crucial role in providing quality patient care, and it’s essential for employers to acknowledge and address the impact of cognitive biases on their staff. Implementing flexible work arrangements, such as allowing remote work for administrative tasks and telehealth, can help to reduce the administrative burden and improve job satisfaction for nurses and other healthcare professionals.

By recognizing and mitigating the impact of these biases, employers can create a more supportive and efficient work environment, leading to improved patient care and outcomes.

Healthcare organizations need to find ways to attract top talent

In a tight labor market, healthcare organizations must find ways to stand out and attract top talent. Allowing staff to complete their work from home results in improvements in job satisfaction, increased productivity, and ability to attract and retain top talent.

As technology continues to advance and remote work becomes increasingly prevalent, healthcare organizations must embrace this trend to stay ahead of the competition and reap the benefits it offers.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps tech and finance industry executives drive collaboration, innovation, and retention in hybrid work. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts

He is the best-selling author of seven books, including Never Go With Your Gut and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams. His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles in prominent venues such asHarvard Business Review, Fortune, and Forbes

His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio.