OhioHealth rethinking administrative buildings opened shortly before the pandemic

Columbus Business First

Photo by CARRIE GHOSE | CBF: OhioHealth Corp. headquarters: View of the two-story atrium from the mezzanine.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–OhioHealth Corp. is rethinking the use of its headquarters and a large Dublin office – both opened about a year before the coronavirus pandemic combined capacity for nearly 2,400 employees.

Central Ohio’s largest hospital system sent its total of 4,200 administrative workers home from various offices in spring 2020, just as other employers did.

And as with other workplaces, the return strategy is flexible and evolving, said Shereen Solaiman, OhioHealth senior vice president and chief human resources officer.

About half have shifted to work-from-home permanently, citing improved productivity and financial savings with no commute.

For now, headquarters is at one-third of its 1,600-person capacity. The system is evaluating its entire real estate footprint, including the Dublin building that can house about 750.

“One thing this period has taught us is, never say ‘never,'” said Solaiman, promoted to the role in September after 11 years with the system.

“We have to be very flexible,” she said. “We have to be willing to change and we have to be willing to learn.”

OhioHealth opened the $90 million Blom Administrative Campus, at North Broadway and Olentangy River Road just outside Clintonville, in May 2019 after two years of construction.

A few months earlier it bought the building at 6805 Perimeter Dr. next to OhioHealth Dublin Methodist Hospital for $9.25 million. Building permits indicate a $4.5 million renovation in 2019. The city of Dublin approved job creation incentives for administrative workers there and in other spaces.

So far, about 520 people are working on a typical day in the 270,000-square-foot main building in Columbus, Solaiman said.

“It’s a beautiful space; it’s multifunctional,” Solaiman said. “The future is TBD.”

Vice presidents and above are in-person full-time because of the collaborative nature of the work. Others can choose a hybrid rotation of office and remote work, with no permanent assigned desk. The huge cafeteria now serves only grab-and-go meals.

“Culture is so important here,” she said. “We have a remote engagement strategy so those working from home and those who are hybrid are still completely engaged.”

The Dublin building housed financial and other jobs that make up the bulk of those opting for full-time remote work. The system declined to specify how many have returned to the 130,000-square-foot building.

“We’re just considering options,” Solaiman said.

Other changes that appear permanent include conducting more virtual meetings, instead of making employees drive from distant hospitals such as Athens, Mansfield, or Marion.

The headquarters was not completely empty for the past year. Executives rotated shifts in a command center, there’s some clinical space, and the first-floor training center was converted to a Covid-19 vaccine clinic through the end of June. The system also ran a drive-thru testing clinic in the parking lot.

OhioHealth had leased other offices in Central Ohio while it was transitioning employees to the new buildings. Where possible it has ended leases earlier than planned, Solaiman said.

Clinical and other frontline workers, of course, reported in person throughout the pandemic. Some employees were reassigned to essential work like helping clean buildings to avoid furloughs, and the system doubled bonuses for certain hazardous jobs.

OhioHealth has 12 hospitals and a growing outpatient network. The system reported a 1% operating margin for the year ended June 30, 2020: $56.5 million operating income on $4.4 billion revenue, helped by federal pandemic aid, according to its audit.

For more business headlines, go to ColumbusBusinessFirst.com.

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