Sarah Morgan never realized how much time she spent driving to and from work.
She lives about 30 minutes from the office. That is, she used to, before her spare room became her office.
Morgan is one of 1,300 employees who have been working remotely since the start of COVID-19.
Remote work began as a temporary measure to protect staff members, and it has been a hit with staff and leaders. More than 750 employees will continue working from home permanently.
The approach has proven effective for several departments, with satisfied staff members and leaders using technology to stay connected.
With space on our campuses at a premium and more staff seeing firsthand how they can adapt to working remotely, it is a time whose idea has come.
“It has been great,” Morgan says. “When I clock out, I am already home. Not spending an hour a day driving is great.”
We spoke with three departments who are finding work-from-home success – here is what they have learned:
Patient Financial Services
Morgan’s boss, PFS Director Paul Weaver, says the transition to working remotely has been seamless.
“People have been open to the changes. We have never sent anyone home in the history of PFS, but this has gone really well,” he says.
Initially, about 80 PFS staff members started working from home in March. Weaver expects that about 30 percent of the staff will choose the option to work remotely on a permanent basis.
A lot of the PFS work, like insurance billing and claims follow-up, is well suited for remote work.
If staff members have stable, fast internet at home, they can connect to the same systems they would be using on campus. Tech tools like virtual phones allow staffers to use their desk phone lines through their home computers.
“Our systems have productivity tools built into them, and it is just like being in the office,” Weaver says.
The team uses a morning huddle, via conference call, to keep everyone informed. Email and instant messaging keep everyone connected throughout the day.
“I do miss my co-workers,” Morgan says. “We still talk every morning and it is nice to hear everyone’s voices.”
Morgan says there many ways that working remotely is better than being in the office.
She and roughly 100 colleagues worked in cubicles in the past. With the shared space, there were disruptions and background noise with staff members on phones.
“Now, I am the only one here during the day,” she says. “It’s quieter and I am more productive.”
Working from the guest room also has work-life balance advantages.
Her daughter is six, and in the past, she didn’t get to see her in the mornings before work.
“Now, I can wake her up and get her ready for the babysitter. This benefits my family a lot. Without the commute, we eat dinner earlier and have more time in the evening.”
Morgan has been with CoxHealth about 15 years. She loves her job so much that when an opening came up a few years ago, she encouraged her sister, Stephanie Burcham, to apply.
Burcham is now in her fifth year in PFS, and she echoes her sister’s thoughts on remote work.
“I was nervous at first. I am not a huge fan of change. It was a huge cause of anxiety,” she says. “Now, I’ve learned I work better by myself. I’m more self-sufficient than I thought and I love having zero distractions. My productivity is better.”
Burcham is working out of a guest room – with a window. Just like her sister, she enjoys having more time in the evening with no commute.
“It makes me proud to work at CoxHealth. Having this option is huge.”
CoxHealth Business Connections goes remote
In CoxHealth’s Business Connections department, some staff members had begun working from home even before COVID-19. It was a natural transition for a department where staff do a lot of phone-based and virtual visit duties.
“We were already in a good position with our protocols and procedures,” says Heather Swearengin, administrative director of business development. “It’s been a beautiful thing.”
First to go home included staff members who worked in call centers.
Much of the call center work is digital. Calls are recorded and it’s easy to see the work being done. Swearengin says the department was facing space constraints anyway, so finding ways to do their work remotely just made sense.
“Our service metrics are actually better. We are finding that productivity is higher at home,” she says. “People get a false sense of security that people next to you (in an office) are working really hard. We have great people in the organization and they work hard at home, too. They may work harder.
Now, all of the Business Connections team members are working from home. That’s about 75 staff members in either permanent or hybrid work-from-home roles.
That includes the Business Development team, who work around the region and were already accustomed to working from their vehicles; the Wellness team, who work with business clients and manage data; and the virtual visits team, who connect patients and providers online.
The teams are keeping in touch with regular, virtual check-ins.
“We are using technology in a different way. You can’t ask the person next to you, but we use group chats to ask questions,” Swearengin says. “We have moved to a lot of digital processes that replicate what we were doing in person.
“Everyone is very happy. I think the job satisfaction will help us with retention. When something like this is good for the organization and good for the employee, that’s the best mix. I am really excited about it.”
CMG Financial Services
Jason Price, administrative director for CMG Financial Services, says a lot has changed in the year he has been at CoxHealth.
“A year ago, I would have said that CoxHealth wouldn’t be open to remote work at all,” he says. “Now, we are in a paradigm shift. Andy (Hedgpeth) and Steve (Edwards) reacted so quickly. The entire way we do revenue cycle management has changed, and we have adapted.”
Prior to COVID-19, no one in CMG Financial Services was working from home. Now, they have 60 certified coders working remotely full time. Price is looking at ways to roll out remote work to other areas as well.
“Coding is largely self-directed work. It doesn’t require a lot of face-to-face interaction,” he says. “We are so electronic that we can access virtually everything without having any paper records.”
Price says Si3 moved quickly to expand secure remote access (SRA) and they are currently working on virtual private network (VPN) technology.
He says there was some initial hesitation about whether this work could be done remotely.
“Now, we have months of run rates and data to see that it actually can be done. It has been really eye-opening,” Price says.
The revenue cycle industry as a whole has dramatically changed since Price started in the field 15 years ago.
“Back then, no one was anywhere but an office. It was like an assembly line, everyone right beside each other. There was no thought that we could be a virtual workforce.”
Price had worked at systems across the country and he had seen firsthand the value of remote work.
He says remote work is a great tool for retention and it could offer an option in the future to leverage resources outside Springfield, such as recruiting specialized experts who can telecommute from other areas.
“To see it work and work so well. It is exciting to see that change.”