The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.
Office Without Walls
I remember looking out the window of my 1,500 square foot, extraordinary office in Cleveland, Ohio and thinking, This is the life. To the north, I beheld Lake Erie. To the east, our vast academic medical center campus — a doubly breathtaking view. Behind me was an expansive work area, ample space for my wall of self-adoration, and a private conference room. But more crucial for a workout fanatic like me, I had a full bath. These luxuries helped take the edge off the intolerable winters.
I’ve arrived! So I thought.
My soul couldn’t reconcile with the setting. On one hand, I loved it. On the other hand, I hated it. Too remote. Pathetically rich. Overindulgent. Excessively comfortable. I found myself increasingly disconnected from those whom I had pledged to serve. It is not about you.
While serving as an army combat engineer officer, I learned that the best place to command on the battle pitch was wherever my people were fighting — the front lines, on the flank, from the rear, or from the air. But never could I lead troops from some corporate office. Lessons learned from this experience transferred to my civilian career.
A resolve to lead by example, coupled with the advances in collaborative technologies, I adopted the borderless office. This is not a new concept to those outside of healthcare providers. Many progressive companies embrace this concept, and telework has taken off. Study after study has proved the plethora of benefits generated by this approach despite its manageable downsides. Interestingly, most who disparage teleworking have actually never teleworked.
Two years ago, I sacrificed my office phone. I haven’t had an office in eighteen months — and the view still rocks. I’ve traveled the DFW Metroplex and beyond, yet don’t waste my organization’s funds by requiring or demanding multiple offices. I’ve typed e-mails from cubicles at one of our fourteen facilities.
I’ve met with hospital presidents on their turf and often surprised the local IT staff with a personalized word of encouragement. Clinicians share their gratitude when I engage with them i2i. I’ve set up conference calls in Panera and taken calls on the road. And occasionally, my wife lets me set up shop in her kitchen where the coffee is free. (Thanks, honey!)
How is this accomplished? My office is my laptop. It goes where I go. A soft phone, video, and built-in wireless network have liberated me from the confines of four walls. With fourteen hospitals to serve, I embrace mobility. If it makes sense for me to begin or end my day at home or at Starbucks, I do so.
Some of my direct reports have followed my lead and done the same. We do have a collaboration center, which we use for vendor meetings and team meetings when face-to-face interaction is necessary.
As of May 2010, well over 50% of our IT team telework a minimum of four days per week. They may be at a hospital or their home — anywhere they can best serve the customer. I expect this number to rise to 80% as more people choose to this option. The vacated space will generate material revenue for our health system, which can be reinvested into patient care, not cube farms.
For the past three years, we’ve been recognized in the Computerworld 100 Best Places to Work. (Actually, in the top 50.) I firmly believe our office-without-walls approach to operations was a key factor in this recognition. And I perceive a direct line between this award and the external recognition and accolades we receive as a healthcare system for the quality of care delivered. To boot, the borderless office helps us recruit and retain top talent.
Sadly, healthcare provider organizations in particular struggle with this concept; hence the low adoption levels. We acknowledge that we must change and transform, and yet when opportunity presents, we resist and find reasons not to embrace. We deem telework OK for the analyst but not the manager since they need to be visible. Visible to whom? Their analysts are all virtual. This is one example of the false perceptions yet to overcome before we see widespread adoption.
After experiencing the value it adds to our customers and ultimately our patients, I’ll continue evangelizing this work style and its benefits. With the pace of today’s society, if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. I’ll never go backwards.
And I’ll take the view from my virtual office over a lake or artifact any day.
Explaining the BlackBerry functions to Marlon Brando. It was a casual day for me.
I appreciate the comments, pro and con, on “office without walls”. A few answers/comments.
Managing remote workers is fundamentally a leadership question. If you need to physically see employees to manage them, than your leadership approach might need tweaking or you have the wrong employee. With knowledge workers, I believe a leaders job is to set the vision and then allow the expert employee to figure out the best way to get there. You can help by removing obstacles and then staying out of the way. We do have a policy around remote working and it includes an “agreement” completed by employee and manager to set expectations.
We have deployed VPN and other similar solutions that provide secure tunneling on remote networks. I can’t share specifics lest someone tries to hack me. LOL. Seriously, we believe our tools and policies meet or exceed industry standards for responsible computing.
Dr. Know, it is lame that this concept would be considered provocative. It is a sad reality. If we do not write about it and lead by example, nothing would change. We are behind. We need courageous leaders in medicine, healthcare, IT, medical staff, etc. Encourage, don’t discourage, and we will get there faster.
As Lacey pointed out, you can have an office and be transparent, and at the same time, you can have a borderless office yet be hidden. That said, these are not mutually exclusive. You can have the best of both worlds, being transparent and out there with your customers. That is certainly my objective, albeit I have work to do.
Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”