How COVID has affected our sense of belonging in healthcare
Our healthcare workplace is a community. It has its own hierarchy, social norms and expectations. Healthcare design company Evoke Projects examines how the physical environment has changed during the COVID pandemic and how this has affected our sense of community and belonging.
The importance of belonging
When we feel connected with our healthcare workplace community, we feel safe and accepted. Our mental health and well-being are improved, and we are engaged and motivated to give the best of ourselves to our workplace. At a management level, businesses recognise that talent is valuable, and staff are more likely to remain with a firm if they feel a strong sense of community and belonging. This has led to an increased focus on improving the employee experience in recent years.
Physical environment before and after COVID
Before COVID, the physical workplace was the hub of our work community. It was the place to catch up on gossip, and its inhabitants often departed en masse for after-work drinks. In the pre-COVID world, our contentment with the physical environment was simply determined by the quality of our medical fit-out.
And then came COVID. Millions of people worked from home. Even though many healthcare workers continued to physically attend work, patients were more likely to be screened at home through a Telehealth consultation prior to attending the healthcare practice. Fewer patients meant less movement around medical centres and less face-to-face interaction between staff. Social contact was limited. In the latter half of 2020, more patients returned to healthcare practices but strict health protocols have changed the physical environment in these settings.
Community and belonging in the COVID-safe healthcare practice
Healthcare workplace solutions for a COVID-safe practice have undoubtedly affected community and belonging. Increased physical distancing and mask-wearing provide barriers to “togetherness” in more ways than one. For example:
- People raise their voices to communicate.
- Small talk and private conversations are difficult from 1.5 metres away or when wearing masks.
- Masks tend to be worn for long periods in medical centres which can be uncomfortable and draining.
- Staff go home to shower and change rather than socialising after their shift.
- Subtle facial expressions are missed under masks.
- Etiquette and safety makes the workplace feel more formal, less fun.
- It can be uncomfortable asking others to observe social distancing.
- The use of breakout areas may be restricted.
Creating a safe physical environment at work
The outdoor risk is lower than inside so expanding outdoor interaction is a great way to regenerate the workplace community. Look at how you can adapt your healthcare design and the physical environment to make the most of outdoor spaces. Courtyards, rooftops and balconies all provide safer ways to mingle at work. People will feel more comfortable in this lower risk environment which helps their sense of community.
Most healthcare fit-outs have acrylic dividers and screens in patient-facing areas. It may help staff to interact more easily if screens are installed in other areas.
Communication is vital. If everybody understands the guidelines, there need not be awkward requests to socially distance. Reminding people that everyone is in this situation together can also help cohesion and a sense of community.
Please call Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692 to find out more about healthcare designs that support community and belonging.