A CIO's take on open office space for hospital IT shops

open office space IT

There continues to be a lot of focus on telecommuting and open office space for knowledge workers in large organizations. Both are important yet not everyone agrees they are good – a lot depends on the organization and the culture.

But I want to focus on another “space planning” topic: co-location. As healthcare organizations grow, administrative departments including IT often end up being spread out in many office buildings, sometimes at great distances from the hospital with a lot of traffic in between.

The investment needed to centralize all the administrative functions in one building often takes a backseat to investing capital in clinical space. No surprise. Video conferencing is always an option for bridging the miles. This technology continues to advance and become more of a commodity. National and global companies must leverage technology but healthcare systems are mostly local or regional.

In my many years of health IT management, I’ve experienced a variety of space situations:

  • At the system I worked at in Chicago for 12 years, we had a corporate office for all administrative functions including IT. Of course, for some of us, there was a lot of local travel to and from our hospitals and clinics throughout the area.
  • At Partners HealthCare in Boston, we had two main IT locations at least a half hour apart if there was no traffic. Both were separate from other administrative functions which were spread out around Boston. As CIO at Brigham and Women’s Hospital I had an office in the executive area so I benefited from regular contact with my hospital colleagues. But it was a half hour drive or shuttle ride to meet with my IT leadership team and staff.
  • At the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, IT was split between two main locations less than a mile apart but several miles away from the main hospital campus. All the other administrative functions were spread out around town. At least we didn’t have the traffic of a Chicago or Boston but we did have parking challenges at main campus where many meetings were held.
  • At University Hospitals in Cleveland, most of IT and all the administrative functions were in one large building called the Management Services Center – the best in co-location I’ve experienced since the Chicago days.

At UH, the IT VPs are all in the same area on the third floor. Most IT staff are located on one of three floors. The UH executives are in a suite on the second floor. What is possible when you are co-located like this?

  • At the start of the day, it’s easy to check-in and connect on follow-ups from the previous day
  • At the end of the day we can do quick follow-ups before we head home
  • Throughout the day, it’s easy to pop into someone’s office and take care of something quick and in real-time without it getting lost in the email volume
  • It could be checking in on the status of a production problem, answering one of those emails best done in person, checking on a key project, or prepping together for a meeting
  • There are those few minutes before and after meetings where you can get with someone knowing they don’t have to rush to their car to drive to another location for their next meeting
  • And there’s the social and team aspect – it’s a lot easier to get to know people well when you see them in person every day

Technology is great for closing the distance but I can’t say enough positive about being in the same location and making the most of face-to-face opportunities every day.

I finished my interim CIO engagement at University Hospitals in Cleveland in October. For the next several months, I adjusted to not being part of a bigger team and the social aspects that go with that.

As I got my home office set up to do more work from home with my new health IT advisory firm, StarBridge Advisors, my co-location was with my husband. His home office is right next to mine and as a retired minister his projects and writing are far different than my work.

Of course, he doesn’t want me stopping by to check up on him or ask where he’s going when he heads to the kitchen for a snack. We learned to co-locate, respect each other’s space and schedules, and get things done independently. Best of all, we occasionally had lunch dates as we explored our new neighborhood and local eating spots in the Providence area!

And we even jokingly started some days with the question, “Are we ready for the business of the day?” That’s a reference to lean huddles and whether we had any joint tasks such as getting our new driver’s licenses or bank account setup. Word to the wise, spouses aren’t as receptive to lean talk as co-workers!

Now that I have begun another interim engagement, happy to say I’m co-located on the hospital campus with all the executives. About half of my IT team is on the hospital campus with the rest of them a few miles away. Feeling pretty connected so far.

And if you asked my husband, he just might admit he’s happy to have the house to himself for a while. 

This post was first published on Sue Schade's Health IT Connect blog.

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