Flexibility — People want more control over their work lives. Maybe it’s feeling out of control with so much of what’s going on in the world or maybe it’s a desire for a better work/life balance, but people want to be able to choose when and where they work. A recent LinkedIn survey found that 70 percent of employees want flexibility and 71 percent of leaders feel pressure to change working models and adapt workplace policies, so it’s not just the healthcare industry that recognizes the need to evolve.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Craig Ahrens.

Craig Ahrens, Co-Founder of the Center for Health Workforce Innovation and Technology, is an innovative voice in a traditional industry. His background and vision offer a fresh perspective on the relationship between the healthcare sector and technology investment. He’s worked with large health systems as well as academic institutions and resource providers to facilitate physician/hospital relations, develop strategy, and transform operations that resulted in tangible benefits to both providers and patients.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

Professionally, I’ve been fortunate enough to work in both healthcare startups and digital health so I can see the full spectrum of possibilities. Working with academia and resource providers enables me to facilitate physician/hospital relations, develop strategy, and transform operations to benefit the overall system, including both the providers and patients.

Personally, I’ve experienced how the provider shortage impacts patients and their families. My father was in a quality nursing home with supervised care and an involved family advocating for him, yet when he had COVID. I couldn’t visit him or deal with the staff in person. When his oxygen level dropped, he was gone. Would my father, a part of the vulnerable population, have survived COVID if there had been more staff available to assist him? Like so many others, I don’t know. But what I do know is that he would have had a fighting chance if the nursing home had been properly staffed to provide the critical care that he needed.

The situation has to improve — for providers and for patients. I know there are better labor solutions available and have spent 20 years trying to bring about change.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

We never know what the future holds — in 2019 we didn’t know a global pandemic would change almost everything about our lives. But, there are some constants. Healthcare systems need qualified professionals, people need jobs, and patients require care. Even as the pandemic ebbs and flows, healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic are especially susceptible to burnout, inevitably leading to labor shortages. In this industry, patients continue to want to feel a connection with their caregivers, but there will always be a need for verification and qualification to ensure quality care. There’s a challenge with complicated onboarding, long orientations, low pay, and limited scheduling options that create an inflexible staffing structure. In industries across the board, the workforce has been fundamentally changed by technology building direct access to local resources, creating a labor ecosystem that is sustainable and more attractive to professionals who want to choose how, when, and where they work. Healthcare is no different. Staffing models with 100 percent full-time employees simply don’t work anymore. Care facilities that choose to adopt a flexible model with the rest of the world’s employers can begin to regain the respect and happiness of those they employ.

The challenges we’ll face a decade from now cover a broad spectrum from training to technology. The perception of working in the industry has to change from a public face of an overworked, stressed out, burnt out caregiver to one who is engaged and satisfied with the career. Marketplace platforms can use technology to facilitate a staffing model that benefits the healthcare system by reducing turnover by balancing full-time and on-demand staff.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Reduce barriers to creating a satisfied workforce. Focus on a strategy that identifies the right mix of full-time and per diem staffing options. Offering flexibility is key, especially as people are more cognizant of creating a work-life balance than ever.

An executive sponsor can help engage a workforce to drive change across the organization. Work with a qualified change management professional to handle the transition so all parties are included and engaged. It helps smooth transitions for everyone involved.

Implement a technology platform providing a staffing solution that can meet the fluid demands for workers in a way that benefits both the employer and the employees. Workers will be more satisfied and the organization will gain a cost-effective means to attract and retain quality caregivers.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

The healthcare industry has traditionally been slow to change when it comes to some of the most basic tenets of business. Many organizations and administrators cling to the standard full-time labor model with well-defined, static roles as well as standard credentialing and onboarding procedures that can be both time consuming and tedious. Those can be tough barriers to break down. But, it simply doesn’t work anymore given contemporary patient loads. It’s cumbersome and expensive.

Employees want to be able to choose a more flexible schedule and the ability to work in multiple organizations without extended onboarding processes that keep them from getting down to work. Obviously, pay is a large component of this and everyone wants to feel valued, but empowerment is also crucial. Being able to smoothly come into an organization and be recognized as a valued professional is critical to both morale and retention.

Incorporating a marketplace technology platform to curate a pool of local labor resources helps meet the needs of healthcare systems trying to juggle evolving patient loads and it provides options for healthcare professionals to choose when and where they want to work. For this all to work, organizations must use existing services such as HR, legal, etc. to streamline as many procedures as possible to facilitate onboarding.

Bringing in qualified change management resources to support the shift from the beginning helps ensure everyone buys in and supports the change instead of looking at it as a threat or burden. By presenting the benefits at the onset using tested strategies and tactics, the changes aren’t as intimidating and have a much better chance to succeed.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

In healthcare, many professionals can’t actually work from home, but they do need to provide care to those who are more comfortable accessing information and services from home. Virtual care requires qualified providers and delivery platforms.

Employers as a whole must be more open to flexible scheduling and non-traditional workforces. Everyone doesn’t want to work full-time, while some want to take on extra shifts. We need labor management models that accommodate a range of preferences and facilitate procedures to let people get to work with minimal bureaucracy.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

Facilitating any substantive change to a process requires a shift in perspective, as well. As we’ve become more comfortable interacting with colleagues online and working around non-traditional schedules, we’ve also become increasingly open to incorporating technology into our daily lives. Using an online platform to help find and navigate opportunities for work can be as common as using a phone to shop or a car navigation system for directions.

We also have to become comfortable with incorporating virtual technology into our personal healthcare. As healthcare providers opt to work in non-traditional environments, it will be possible to access quality care from highly trained professionals online and at home. We can’t expect all our caregivers to continue working in standard facilities with archaic schedules.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

People are resilient and open to change when it’s properly presented and shepherded through an organization. And, there’s a wealth of technology resources to help solve existing challenges. It’s a matter of matching the issue with the best solution for all parties.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Like so many industries such as education, childcare, and even transportation, it’s no secret that healthcare has a problem with burnout. The World Health Organization estimates the cost of depression and anxiety to the global economy as 1 trillion dollars in lost productivity. Using available technology resources to create a positive work structure and environment is one way to address both the needs of the healthcare system and its workforce.

Creating an on-demand labor model helps professionals find flexible opportunities to provide quality service. This alleviates some of the pressures on healthcare systems to meet the rollercoaster of patient demand and creates opportunities for workers to take on part-time shifts or floating positions when it suits their lifestyle. The flexibility extends to training opportunities offered through a technology platform. The ability to learn and even to move into a new professional environment aids in overall job satisfaction and keeps healthcare professionals more engaged. Outside healthcare, industries such as food delivery, transportation, and warehousing are seeing success with this marketplace model already.

It shouldn’t be a logistical nightmare to move between departments and facilities. Employers who streamline regulatory and licensing processes through a viable technology platform see the benefit of workers who are more interested in improving and growing by broadening their prospects. It also enables caregivers to more efficiently get to their primary goal — caring for patients.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

En masse, workers have spoken loud and clear that they want flexibility, empowerment, and influence. They want more control over how and when they work. And, they want to be fulfilled by their jobs. The healthcare world is known for overworked caregivers, especially in recent years. Yet, healthcare remains an archaic labor model. That has to change. From the top down, it’s necessary for healthcare systems to engage and embrace technology platforms that can provide a more flexible, streamlined labor model. Finding a way for qualified professionals to work with an organization instead of just working for an organization ultimately benefits everyone.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Flexibility — People want more control over their work lives. Maybe it’s feeling out of control with so much of what’s going on in the world or maybe it’s a desire for a better work/life balance, but people want to be able to choose when and where they work. A recent LinkedIn survey found that 70 percent of employees want flexibility and 71 percent of leaders feel pressure to change working models and adapt workplace policies, so it’s not just the healthcare industry that recognizes the need to evolve.
  2. Part-time Opportunities — Whether it’s childcare needs at one end of the spectrum or early retirement at the other, more people are exploring opportunities to work part time. The traditional full-time job model doesn’t have to be the standard anymore. Offering positions that fulfill the needs of the organization while providing a way for employees to maintain some independence can create a dynamic workplace.
  3. Marketplace Labor Platforms — While some industries are super specialized others that support replicable tasks are viable candidates to use a technology platform to locate and rotate employees. Obviously, the position of CEO in a hospital isn’t something where people can move in and out. However, those working in some industries can move between companies and locations and do an equally good job. Veryable for manufacturing, logistics, and warehousing is one example. Pared for restaurants and hospitality is another. And CareRev provides a staffing solution platform to connect pre-qualified professionals and facilities in the healthcare industry.
  4. Telework — Companies and employees were thrust into the remote work model by the pandemic, but it only emphasized the viability of the opportunity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that at least 44 percent of American workers are in jobs where telework is feasible. The practice can add to an organization’s inclusivity and worker satisfaction, and some report greater productivity. We have the technology and the tools to improve the practice but to maintain success, companies must revise corporate managerial practices and improve self-management training to maintain productivity. We have to be cognizant of the potential challenges to both innovation and team-building. And, there has to be additional investment in reliable broadband access infrastructure in some parts of the country.
  5. Boomeranging — After employees resign for a wide variety of reasons there will be an inevitable wave of people who eventually want to go back to their old jobs. An obvious cause and effect, right? As their circumstances change, some will conclude that they were actually in the right situation after all. Some might have needed time to recharge and recalibrate, and some might determine they are in a position to return — if they are granted provisions such as a higher salary, increased time off, or other perks. The Wall Street Journal cited the LinkedIn example of 4.5 percent in 2021 of re-hires versus 3.9 percent in 2019. It can be a cost-effective move with reduced time for onboarding plus an influx of new knowledge if the person worked at another company in the interim.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

My favorite quote comes from Goethe, which reads “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” I attempt to bring this quote into everything that I do in both my personal and professional lives. It is simply not enough to be a learner and a knower, what matters is taking what you are learning and turning it into action. I also think that this can be applied to learning something new and applying these findings to a behavior that I already have in order to improve and grow.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

I would have to say Michael Seibel, the CEO of Y Combinator. I admire his journey and growth since he first joined Y Combinator in 2013. I have a strong interest in Michael’s passion for creating diversity among startup founders and would be interested in hearing more about his experience at Y Combinator and how his life experiences have brought him to where he is today.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

I try to stay active and engaged through trade publications, industry events and social media. It’s easy to connect with me on LinkedIn — My profile is Craig Allan Ahrens. I am also active on Twitter at @CraigAhrens_ and on Medium.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.