How will the NHS adapt to flexible working?
For many businesses, flexibility was already a key consideration before the pandemic. In 2019, 8.7 million people said they had the option to work remotely, almost a third of the working population. Yet even the most flexible of organisations were challenged as the UK went into lockdown.
In April 2020, almost half of the UK worked from home, 86% doing so as a direct result of COVID-19, whilst others adapted to flexible shift working. This included doctors, nurses, care workers and the incredible NHS staff who despite being on the front line, adapted their working conditions to comply with the new restrictions.
Within weeks one to eight of the UK lockdown, virtual meetings within the NHS experienced more than a six-fold increase following the rollout of Microsoft Teams. Almost 500,000 messages were sent per day between the 1.3 million NHS employees using instant messaging, direct audio and video call technology. This not only helped to counter the increased risks associated with Covid-19 but also enabled a simplified way of presenting team meetings, handovers and teaching sessions.
Whilst it was no easy feat to implement these sudden changes, organisations including the NHS are already reaping the benefits of flexible working.
Improved productivity is a direct benefit of flexibility
Flexible working is considered to be one of the biggest influencers on employee happiness. With increased autonomy and a less structured approach to working comes improved job satisfaction and reduced work-related stress. This has a direct impact on productivity, therefore improving retention rates and absence.
During the pandemic, NHS workers reported higher productivity levels and a better turnout at meetings following the introduction of virtual technology. With less time spent travelling came an improved work-life balance - particularly crucial in balancing some of the immense added pressures as a result of beating the virus.
This data is drastically important in solving the NHS’s ongoing difficulty to retain healthcare talent. Over 56,000 people left their role within the NHS during 2011 to 2018 solely due to a poor work-life balance.
Flexible working could be an immediate solution to tackling workforce shortages and compensating for the ongoing strain on our NHS.
The question now lies in how organisations, including our healthcare, will adapt to this new normal and whether such practices will remain a permanent feature.
Flexible working at the front of the NHS People Plan
Before the Covid-19 outbreak, the NHS recognised the importance of flexibility within their Interim People Plan which introduced the prospect of improved flexible working patterns. Following the pandemic, this was recognised with greater consideration within the NHS People Plan 2020-21; a detailed response outlining what the future holds for the wellbeing of our healthcare workers. Acting as a continuation of the drive shown by NHS employees during Covid-19, the plan endeavours to act upon their ambition for a well looked after workforce.
Image from the NHS Employers Paper on How to Employ Flexible Working for Nurses 2020
Flexibility in the workplace is a topline solution for transforming the NHS into a modern and model employer. The People Plan expands on this, with a goal to improve the below areas:
- Flexibility by default
From January 2021, all jobs within NHS England and NHS Improvement will be advertised as flexible whilst all former staff will be encouraged to return with the promise of a better working pattern.
- Normalise conversations about flexible working
Current employees can expect personalised health and wellbeing plans, with room to discuss flexible working requirements. These conversations will be normalised throughout the health service with no justifications required for flexible requests.
- Flexibility from day one
Recognising that individual circumstances can change without warning and that flexible working eases such complications.
- Role modelling from the top
A key performance indicator will be implemented within the oversight and performance frameworks regarding the number of roles advertised as flexible.
Organisations will be given full support when implementing e-rostering systems that promote continuity of care, advance annual leave requests and preferred working patterns.
- Management support
Online training and guidance on flexible working will be provided by the end of 2020 for staff and managers. This will reinforce benefits and provide tools for assessing applications.
- Flexibility in general practice
GP practices and primary care will be encouraged to offer more flexible roles and to support GPs working in locum.
- Flexibility for junior doctors
An increased flexibility of training for junior doctors will continue to grow throughout 2021 with full roll-out by 2022/23.
- Supporting people with caring responsibilities
The new working carers passport will be rolled out to establish and protect flexible working with compassion.
Innovations in rostering for better flexibility
Whilst these initiatives have been tried and tested during the pandemic, being able to implement them on a nationwide scale as a permanent solution doesn’t come without complications.
Successful flexible working practices depend on a greater understanding of forecasting and the ability to produce accurate scheduling. Each individual organisation within the NHS has a different set of required skills, responsibilities and environments that must be matched accordingly. However, with a data-driven solution, this complex task can be revolutionised.
Smart scheduling overcomes the time consuming, complicated nature of rostering by predicting accurate labour demand. Rotageek is a current innovation in place within the NHS that uses an AI-driven engine to produce automatic, optimised schedules.
Combining historical data, individual preferences and trends, the technology is able to immediately create compliant rotas that not only save organisations time and money, but have a direct impact on employee wellbeing too. NHS employees can submit their preferred shift patterns and availability directly onto the platform for better flexibility and an improved work-life balance.
Rotageek’s solution works hand in hand with the NHS’s commitment to flexible working, contributing to the reduction of doctors’ burnout and better staff retention.
Automatic scheduling software is just one digital innovation helping the NHS to support their healthcare workers. Read more about how technology solutions can support the delivery of the NHS People Plan in our latest report.