Home > Essays > What MIGHT Have Happened But Didn’t: COVID Closures of Necessity Failed to Promote Changes by Design

What MIGHT Have Happened But Didn’t: COVID Closures of Necessity Failed to Promote Changes by Design

July 27, 2021

A recent article in our local newspaper described some significant changes in the operations of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) where 13% of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s employees overall and almost 20% of workers at the system’s academic hub will continue to work remotely at least part of the time on a permanent basis after the COVID-19 pandemic. The article described the decision in this paragraph: 

(VP) Blair characterized the current shift as one from “remote by necessity,” which the health system adopted in March 2020, to “remote by design.” The difference between the two approaches is that D-H now has taken the time to think through how best to approach remote work, she said.

And the design for the new work format came about as a result of a year-long study of how working from home affected the work flow and effectiveness at the hospital. DHMC includes over 8,000 employees at 5 sites and was clearly as overwhelmed by COVID as public schools. But unlike public education, where local school boards operated independently and the State leadership was lacking, DHMC was able to seize a rare opportunity to examine how the necessary change to providing remote health services might change the existing paradigm in a positive fashion. And the change to remote work might be permanent if it can be accomplished without compromise. 

“Dartmouth employees whose jobs can be performed off-site have been encouraged to discuss their preferences for remote or in-person work with their supervisors,” Lawrence said. “The one-year time frame will give us an opportunity to assess the new work arrangements to see whether they are productive and should become permanent.”

While schools viewed COVID solely as a crisis, DHMC viewed it as a possible means for change… an “opportunity to assess new work arrangements”. And DHMC is not alone. Some workplaces are considering 4-day work weeks and alternative schedules as a result of what they learned from COVID. Meanwhile, schools will go back to normal: age-based cohorts of students passing through “grade-levels” based on norm-referenced standards. The one-year time frame offering no opportunity for self-reflection or consideration of change.  

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