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Michigan Medicine

A Minute with Marschall

Building our Workplace of the Future

November 2nd, 2021

Back in June, I invited you to look at your workplace through a new lens – to imagine how you could improve your work environment. So many of you provided insightful comments, I thought now would be a good time to look at the innovative arrangements teams have developed to help us not only remain flexible during the remainder of the pandemic, but also prepare for our new future.

The Flexible First Workforce and Workplace Team informed me that 80 teams (ranging in size from 5 to 150+ employees) have already developed new workplace arrangements, varying schedules and shared workspace plans.  It is projected that these early adjustments to our lease strategy will provide Michigan Medicine with an annual savings of $4.6 million.

The Flexible First concept of customizing work environments based on specific unit/department needs and guided by business necessity makes sense…and it is working. As we define these workplace models, I’ve noticed that teams are considering new arrangements in a very innovative and meaningful way.

Take, for example, the Office of Surgery Education. This five-member team rotates working one day a week onsite, with the remainder working from home. Each member documented the daily foot traffic to see if they could efficiently meet the needs of the surgical team under this hybrid model. They also surveyed their customers to ensure they were happy with the new arrangements.

This analytical approach proved this hybrid model worked for the team, their customers and Michigan Medicine. According to Education Director, Janice Davis, the new arrangement also provides a better work/life balance while increasing work productivity, reducing stress (parking, traffic), and saving money for both the team members and the organization.

Of course, moving to hybrid work environments are much more complex and time consuming for larger teams, but many large administrative teams found that, with the help of technology and collaborative brainstorming, they could quickly establish hybrid workplaces.  

The 125-member Office of Development moved from a 24,000-square-foot leased space to a planned 13,000 square-foot space, after getting staff input through surveys and committee groups. Team members sign up for cube space when needed and share conference rooms with the other functional areas in the building and even use nearby restaurants for team meetings. 

Chief Development Officer, Eric Barritt, has crunched the numbers and discovered that productivity and the team’s overall philanthropic gifts exceeded FY21 year-end budget.

The 115-member Patient Experience Team went from having 100% of its workforce onsite to 40% using a part-time hybrid model, while others work remotely. The team moved from various offices around Ann Arbor to one space in the NCAC, where team members use an online tool to schedule a desk for the day, when needed.  Similar to the Development Team, productivity did not suffer, and they even found that more patients were willing to participate in Patient and Family Advisory Councils when done virtually.

While it’s understandable that many frontline staff can’t adjust their workplace to accommodate hybrid solutions, the Flexible First Team has noticed more flexibility within clinical departments, among faculty, administrators and in the computational/dry research areas.

Nurse Leader Tonie Owens is not always able to work remotely but due to COVID-19, it made sense to stay home to work whenever possible. In an earlier blog comment, she shared, “Working remotely gives me the space to dig deeper into understanding and maintaining implementation processes. Trying to do this deep work in a busy clinical setting with many interruptions distracts from the detailed work that in the long run will improve patient care.”

Hybrid Workplaces as a Solution to Staffing Shortages

Providing flexible options to employees can also be a strong recruitment and retention tool. If we want the best talent – and we do – we must think about work differently. It’s a new world and we must allow our employees to flex their work schedules to accommodate their personal lives.

As Chief Development Officer Eric Barritt explained it, “We want the best talent to want to be here, so if an employee has to pick their kids up at 3:45, we need to accept and embrace it. This builds trust, shows that we are making an investment in them and makes us a sought after, competitive employer.”

I couldn’t agree more.

One final point: As we move forward in this hybrid/remote environment, we will be challenged to find a delicate balance between work and home life. The challenge for many of our hard-working, dedicated staff members will be to remember when your workday ends. Individuals need to find moments to pause throughout their day and leaders need to support the well-being of their teams by avoiding work overload and stress.

We are living in a time of change and uncertainty, which can leave many of us feeling a bit uneasy. Remember these wellness resources are available if needed.

As teams continue to redefine their workspaces, please know that the Flexible First Workforce and Workplace team has many resources available and will continue to share information and guidance as needed. For more information visit the Flexible First website.

Share your suggestions or your own team’s experience with defining the workplace of the future, using the discussion box below.


  • The Quality Department (~150 staff) also transitioned to a remote first work situation. I think we were the first department to do so. The leadership did a great job getting input from staff at all levels and accommodating special needs of employees with unique circumstances.

    • Thank you, Tom for sharing this. In my short blog, I tried to highlight several examples of remote/hybrid work arrangements, but there is never enough room to share all the great workplace arrangements throughout our organization. I’m sure there will be future opportunities to spotlight Quality’s great plan. A special thanks to the Quality Team for their flexible approach to their workplace.

  • I really appreciate all of the inputs and perspectives. I, myself really wish my unit or my particular position could transition to a remote or hybrid position. However, I think that is not possible. However, what I do wish it will be more enforcement of our covid protocol and we finally rid these covid outbreaks. I do like what I do and our team, but it’s not fun working with a team who lacks concern or compassion for my well being. Therefore, It would really be nice if departments are held accountable for multiple outbreaks and surveyed as well as audited concerning unit compliance. If they are found non compliant, maybe forced into training or to restructure how the department is ran, so that those who are compliant get to have a more flexible and stress free work environment.

    • I appreciate your understanding and tolerance for other arrangements, as someone who cannot work remotely or in a hybrid situation. It is disappointing to hear that you are working in an area where COVID protocol may not be consistently followed. We have a set of protocols and enforcement policies to ensure compliance, but we need people to speak out when they see infractions. I can suggest that you share your concerns with your leaders, and if necessary, escalate your issues by following your department’s chain of command. You can also talk to your HR business partner for support or call the compliance hotline. I hope for the best resolution for you.

  • Tamara Havermahl

    An annual saving for $4.6 M, a safer environment, and reduced burnout. Win-win. I am pleased to be a member of a hybrid/remote environment. In my department, we continue to monitor the balance of workplace needs with home life. I am so grateful that I work within a culture that supports our well-being. Thank you, Dr. Runge for sharing examples of our evolving U-M work environment.

    • Thank you for sharing your example, as well, Tamara. I am glad you are finding the arrangement (and the well-being culture it provides) helpful for you.

  • As I watched the national news report on the horrible famine attributed to Climate Change in Madagascar, it made me realize Michigan Medicine’s flexible workforce plan has already made a significant contribution to reducing carbon emissions by taking literally thousands of cars off the roads. While I am grateful for the productivity boost working from home has offered, it is good to know this work approach is also helping with the climate change issue.

    • I agree that one of the great benefits of this new arrangement is reducing our global footprint. I’m also happy to hear that it gives you a productivity boost. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Margaret.

  • Michigan Medicine has lost its way.
    The pride and sense of community I used to feel being an employee of Michigan Medicine is gone. We are not in this together, we don’t have shared norms or expectations for our professions- we’re all just now doing work from various islands and completing tasks in isolation from one another.
    Not even for a second would I disagree that more flexibility in the workplace is warranted and welcomed- but leaving it up to each individual unit leaves so many people behind. Michigan Medicine needs to establish a shared set of values for the workplace- that honors and recognizes the value and importance that people bring not only to the work place but to one another- in person. Michigan Medicine is leaving people behind when it’s units leave people behind- but in its move to allow units the autonomy to make the rules, Michigan Medicine seems to be absolving itself from its responsibility to ALL it’s employees. Inequities are created when staff no longer have a common place from which to do their work. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion suffers when we aren’t sharing place, time, purpose, and experiences with others, and learning the world through another lens, building shared understanding and increased tolerance.
    My unit now has 1/4 the space, with twice as many employees as pre-pandemic. With the addition of needing space to accommodate hybrid work models (technology, private rooms, etc), our limited office space is a detriment to our success. Work is more than a series of tasks being completed- it is a shared social environment, an identity, and a community. This has all been lost. For some, the workplace is their sanctuary, their haven in a life of chaos. The inequities created by allowing units to ‘flex-first’- but to chose to become ‘remote first’ – which is NOT AT ALL ‘FLEXIBLE’- leaves behind the people that need a professional home to thrive as a person. Michigan Medicine MUST provide equitable professional spaces for it’s staff, or have a mechanism to ensure it’s units are doing so. How are you holding units accountable to meet the needs of ALL their staff, and not just the needs of the staff who will save you money by working remotely?
    Michigan Medicine MUST DO BETTER for ALL it’s employees- not just the ones that are inexpensive to provide a workplace for. There must be a standard set across units that not only needed space be provided, but a professional home be provided that facilitates professional relationships and community for employees who need that, too.

    • Karin – I am sorry to hear that you and others on your team may be uncomfortable with your new hybrid/remote arrangements. If you or others do not have the professional space you need to complete your work onsite, I encourage you to share your concerns with your leaders, using your chain of command, or talk to your HR business partner.

      Today, there is an incredible amount of technology that can help bring us together as teams even if we are working in different locations. It may take a different mindset, and more deliberate intention, but I have seen and talked to many groups who feel very connected to each other despite remote and hybrid arrangements.

      Regarding your concerns about allowing units the autonomy to make their own decisions about their workplace, we did not make this decision lightly. We made this decision because we have such a diverse workforce and workplace. If we made one set of rules for everyone, we would not be meeting the needs of many of our employees who all have a unique set of requirements. In addition, the pandemic has changed our industry, as well as the work world, immensely. We cannot remain competitive, especially with the staff shortages we are experiencing, if we continue to work primarily onsite. Employees across the country now have a choice to work remotely or in hybrid environments. If we do not offer these options, we will be left behind, as many faculty and staff will find alternate employers who offer greater flexibility.

  • I’m surprised the Revenue Cycle staff of over 500 at KMS missed kudos. Thank you, Benjie Johnson for the expert work-at-home deployment. Saved so many of us from COVID!

    • Thank you, Terry, for pointing this out. I wanted to highlight a few examples of remote/hybrid work arrangements, but there are so many great examples that I couldn’t share them all here on my blog. We will share more examples in future communications. Kudos to Benjie and the revenue cycle team!

  • I couldn’t agree more. I find working from home, I spend more time, digging into my patients history and have zero distractions which makes me a better nurse using my listening and empathy skills. I take the time to follow up on a patient I sent to the ER last week. I check on them and report to my docs I work with. Even if it wasn’t our ED they came to. I get to know the patients and care deeply about there pain and recurrent pancreatic problems. In the beginning of covid, my patients were so afraid to come to the ER, in fear of catching this virus, that some died at home. This was really hard on days where I felt I wasn’t doing enough. I reached out to management multiple times with this struggle and talked to my peers.
    Marschall, you have done an amazing job with what’s been handed to you. Thank you for your leadership during this trying time. God has guided you through all this I know. We appreciate your strength and calmness through it all.
    April Duda RN GI TC

    • Thank you for your kind words, April. Thank you, also, for all you do for our patients, their families and our physicians. You truly represent our core value of caring. I’m glad the work from home arrangement has worked so well for you.

  • Ruth M Scheller RN

    I am an RN, Clinical Care Coordinatory with Electrophysiology. Our team of nurses had begun adopting a work-from-home and possible shared working space plan about 2 months before COVID shut everyone down.

    Our team of 8 nurses make sure one person is in-house for emergencies but otherwise we work at home or at the office based on the needs of the unit and our physicians.

    This has made a big difference in home-work balance and (speaking for myself) has made a decrease in stress for many reasons.

    While I am pleased with how this has worked for us the whole thing has come with challenges. I feel our group has risen to these challenges and is a better group of nurses for it.

    • Thank you, Ruth, for sharing your story with us. I appreciate all you do, and the teamwork your group is exhibiting, allowing all of you to meet the needs of our patients and the physicians. I’m happy to hear that your work environment is working out well for all of you.

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