Epic Heading Back to the Office, Eschewing Remote Work

An article published a few weeks ago is still buzzing around Health IT circles about Epic’s choice to have their 9000 employees return to the office rather than continuing remote work. This is surprising considering how many tech companies are choosing to continue remote work well into the fall or even the end of year. Plus, most are suggesting that a good portion of their work staff are going to remain remote permanently.

While this move by Epic is generally a surprise, it’s not too much of a surprise for those that know Epic. An example of this was Epic’s decision to cancel their UGM 2020 conference with the note that “We truly believe an in-person meeting is irreplaceable.” They are looking at moving some elements of the Epic UGM 2020 online. However, it’s clear that Epic really values the in person meetings including with their own staff.

While most of us can appreciate the value of in person meetings, I think we’re also learning a more nuanced view of this. Personally, when I’m doing something creative, I like to be in person with my team as well. It adds to the energy and creates a free flowing sharing of ideas that’s hard to replicate in the mostly linear online options. However, there are a lot of positions and functions that don’t need to be in person. It’s surprising that Epic doesn’t see this and isn’t reducing the risk to their employees by allowing at least a portion of their workforce to remain remote.

The article does mention that Epic was doing a survey of their employees for “extenuating circumstances, such as if they or a family member had a medical condition or if they were recently exposed to the coronavirus.” However, one employee noted that there was no option for “I am protesting this decision as irresponsible.” Plus, when a company doesn’t embrace remote working as a viable option, it can discriminate against those who need to work remotely because of these extenuating circumstances. One learning from the pandemic is everyone should be on virtually or no one should be on virtually. If you do half in person and half virtual, it ruins the meeting for those virtual.

In a post on LinkedIn, Joe Warbington, Senior Director of Industry Solutions, Qlik Luminary at Vizlib and a former Epic employee offered this observation:

It’s simple. Having worked there for years in a role that could have been 100% remote: they want staff there so they can monitor people and keep the culture in check. They don’t trust the 9000+ young people to work from home “efficiently” and with good “productivity”. Old school tech company.

Joe’s post got 30,000 views already and so it resonated with many and attracted a lot of interesting comments.  Most wondered why Epic would make the choice to not embrace remote work.  One suggested it was because they’ve already invested a lot of money in offices which the NY Times compared to Willy Wonka.  That may be part of it, but those are sunk costs.

Back to Joe’s comment, Epic’s decision to hire staff right out of college that they can pay less and mold into the employees they want is well known in the industry. Joe’s theory that Epic can’t control and monitor these employees remotely is a good one. Sure, maintaining the culture of your company is extremely important, but the choice to not embrace remote work might be highlighting the worst parts of your company culture.

Going to be interesting to see how this evolves.  Will this cause problem for Epic being able to hire people in the future?  Will Epic lose some of its workforce that feels it’s a bad choice by Epic?  Of course, these are all questions that every organization is facing including Epic.  It will be interesting to see which companies embrace remote work and which ones don’t and how that impacts competition for employees.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

3 Comments

  • I mostly agree with Epic on this one. As a former software engineer, I still keep my hand in; but deskwork (for me) is more efficient on the employer’s site than at home.

    Now I live in the D.C. metro area, where travel is a nightmare, and I would fight like hell to have the work-at-home option if I were still employed. But certain things such as meetings (including with your doctor) just aren’t as effective via Zoom or a telecon, so I would make the effort to go on site in those instances.

    And while I am amazed that this relatively-benign Kung Flu has caused such a disruption in the first place, at least it has focused our attention on issues of mass transit vs cars, the value of face-to-face social contact, and the damage local leaders with a Nepolianic complex can do.

  • Thanks for sharing my theory on this, John. I remain a close and interested party in my former employer of Epic, as many of friends continue to work there and I still in live in Madison. Encounters with Epic staff in our community are ever-present as it’s one of the largest employers in the region. No matter how many exceptions they give to staff, they still want people back where things are in a more controlled (and controllable) environment.

    I get it – some people can’t effectively work from home because they haven’t developed those skills yet. The mentality at Epic is that physically close is more productive. What they might not say is that 95% of people stay in their 2 person office with the door closed and blinds drawn so that they can avoid distractions and be on the phone and email for 9 hours a day.

    Hey – but the food is cheap and the artwork/buildings are fun!

  • Nice article John.

    My thoughts are that companies will eventually resolve to leasing conference units in what was office spaces/cubicles for those creative meetings that just work better in person. Some of those are already available. Easy enough to control and keep that environment clean before/after meetings, and apply clean room tech to minimise pathogens.

    As a hybrid model, the majority of the work can be accomplished in whatever work environment the employee finds works best for their productivity.

    In my opinion, models like Epic, who depend on environment to keep the worker bees moving, will eventually have to adapt as workers leave in preference for the hybrid work environment model of mostly personal workspace that exists anywhere, and auxillary conference spaces for in-person collaboration.

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