Dartmouth-Hitchcock to keep remote work for as many as 2,000 employees

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/5/2021 9:05:33 PM
Modified: 7/5/2021 9:05:36 PM

LEBANON — As many as 2,000 Dartmouth-Hitchcock employees will continue to work remotely at least part of the time on a permanent basis after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to officials with the Lebanon-based health system.

That total includes about 13% of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s employees overall and almost 20% of workers at the system’s academic hub, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, said Brenda Blair, D-H’s vice president of total rewards.

The positions include those in human resources, information technology, finance and some clinical secretaries, she said.

“It is increasing our ability to recruit and retain our staff,” Blair said of the remote work format. “We are employing workers outside of Vermont and New Hampshire.”

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.

“(It’s) not just ‘go do it and good luck,’ ” Blair said.

D-H put together a task force in June 2020. Over the course of the past year, that group clarified expectations for remote workers and their managers and provided training to help leaders improve engagement and communication. It also conducted ergonomic assessments of what employees needed in order to work comfortably and determined what they needed for technology, both software and hardware, in order to be “efficient and effective in their jobs remotely,” Blair said.

Though about 5,000 D-H workers were initially sent home in March 2020 amid the lockdowns early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the health system has averaged about 2,600 remote workers through most of the pandemic, Blair said.

In addition to helping with recruitment in a tight labor market, the decision to continue having some workers remain off-site is partly because internal surveys show that workers like it, Blair said.

Some employees will work from home full time, while others will rotate in-person days with other co-workers, she said.

For her part, Blair, who was working from her West Fairlee home office during a phone interview last week, said working from home allows her to skip the 45-minute commute to Lebanon.

“I personally enjoy it,” Blair said. “I am much more efficient.”

While Blair has both air conditioning and a good internet connection in her home, she said “a handful” of workers without reliable internet necessary to do their jobs have been allowed to work on-site amid the pandemic.

Some D-H jobs are now being advertised as remote-only, which helps expand the pool of candidates from which D-H can recruit, Blair said. D-H currently has more than 800 open positions, including 635 in Lebanon, listed on its website.

Having remote workers also alleviates the need to relocate new employees to the Upper Valley amid a housing crunch, freeing up rentals for others, she said. With fewer workers on-site, office space on the D-H campus is available for other purposes such as clinical use, she said.

“That’s a very large part of our work right now; redesigning the use of our space,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth College in Hanover is approaching this fiscal year, which began Thursday, as “an experimental period designed to offer flexibility to our staff and managers,” said Diana Lawrence, a college spokeswoman.

As of April, about 75% of Dartmouth’s nearly 4,000 employees were working entirely remotely or only coming to campus occasionally amid the pandemic, but the college is slated to open for a normal, in-person term in the fall and has recently lifted most COVID-19 restrictions.

“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.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com.

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