A carefully thought-out work-from-home program can help hospitals improve employee satisfaction while boosting productivity.
The workplace is changing rapidly, and telecommuting is no longer a special job perk for a select few. New technology is supporting increased options for telecommuting, along with human resource leaders who are striving to meet millennial demands for more flexibility and a greater work-life balance.
Employers, including hospitals, are rolling out virtual jobs at a fast pace. In fact, the telecommuting population has increased 115 percent since 2005, with more than 3.7 million employees working at least half of the time outside of the office, according to Global Workplace Analytics (GWA). Work-from-home arrangements are advantageous to companies and employees, alike. GWA analysis shows that businesses could save as much as $11,000 a year per employee who works half time at home. Likewise, remote staff can bank $2,000 to $7,000 annually.
For hospitals, a well-executed work-from-home program can help improve staff morale and quality of life as well as attract and retain high performers in competitive markets, especially those who have a long commute or may be moving out of the area.
Allowing staff to work from home also frees up valuable healthcare real estate.
While virtual work programs are a smart move, they also present unique challenges. For starters, not everyone is self-motivated to work alone. These programs also require strategic oversight, superior technology, and productivity strategies as well as ongoing managerial efforts to help keep staff fresh and engaged.
Pilot the Program
Not sure telecommuting is right for your hospital? Start a pilot program and choose job roles ideal for a flexible work environment, such as health information management coders, insurance collectors, financial analysts, billers, appeal nurses, schedulers, customer service reps, and self-pay collections. Prioritize positions as work from home if productivity can be automatically monitored.
Begin with a small test group of your strongest workers and track the program. These are individuals who are motivated, have proven they can work independently, and have been highly productive while working in the office. Separate them from the rest of the staff and mimic a work-from-home environment for several weeks to test technology, understand learning styles, and identify key issues likely to occur in a more isolated environment.
Remember, some employees will not be successful working from home. They will lack the necessary discipline to meet or excel beyond normal productivity standards. Avoid this situation by creating a policy that sets clear parameters around who may telecommute, and only allow staff to transition to a home office when productivity goals are met. Over time, start a virtual training program for employees who move out of the area or will be telecommuting from Day 1.
The following are five steps to take once a revenue cycle department decides to go ahead with a work-from-home program.
Create a Work-from-Home Playbook
Home-based employees are an extension of your business office and must have clear job expectations. Making the right preparations on the front end is key, and this requires a playbook of policies and procedures.
Develop a comprehensive work-from-home policy. The policy should cover everything from workstations and technology to downtime and scheduled work hours. Virtual employees must agree to create an office environment in a separate area of their home as well as sign a work-from-home contract and an attestation that they understand telecommuting is not a substitute for child or elder care.
Require that employees be visible. Virtual staff should clock in on a PC and respond to a manager via instant messaging within a few minutes. Ask staff to periodically turn on their computer’s camera and show they are maintaining a proper work environment. This is also useful in keeping staff engaged through frequent face-to-face interactions.
Expect employees to have high-speed internet. Employees must have access to broadband internet, agree to maintain a specific internet speed in the home, and provide printed-out proof of internet speed periodically.
Provide Technology Built for Speed, Accuracy, and Connectivity
Technology is a main driver of productivity and key to creating a lasting and successful work-from-home program. Prepare the IT team to build a mirror copy of your technology footprint in home-based offices. Workers must be able to provide a fast internet bandwidth with minimum requirements or have an acceptable workaround. This is key for jobs that use IP phones and rely on connected audio and data pathways so that prompt computer screen pop-ups and graphics can be achieved with high quality. Challenge the technical team to offer advanced remote support and teach managers to help employees self-diagnose minor technology issues.
Help Virtual Employees Grow Roots
Show remote team members they are a vital part of the company’s culture by investing the time to know them and build trust. Encourage leaders to have daily interactions with their teams and publicly recognize their individual contributions. Keep at-home staff in the loop, even for last-minute meetings. Help connect to teammates through 15-minute weekly phone meet ups and virtual locations where staff can post vacation and other pictures. Take advantage of instant messaging and video for face-to-face meetings. Also, involve work-from-home employees in extracurricular activities.
Establish a Productivity Plan
Keep staff focused by developing a plan for communicating expectations and tracking their performance.
Work-from-home staff are no different than their office-based peers when it comes to productivity. They are just as capable of reaching key goals when the right plans are activated, staff are well coached, and production is measured against expectation.
Have clear expectations. Set the bar high, and strive for productivity gains. People do better when they know they are being measured. Plan to audit calls and staff activity. Ensure you can produce quality reports that give proper visibility to both staff and leadership.
Automate activity tracking. Have the remote team track their activities through e-mail programs and online calendars.
Focus on what’s really important—don’t be nitpicky. Focus on overall achievements instead of day-to-day goals. That being said, establish a discipline around setting aside a time for regular check-ins and use instant messaging and video conferencing for casual or business conversations. Be sure to schedule in-person meet-ups at least once per quarter.
Finally, allow remote employees to work when they are most productive and to choose their own schedule if it is not a Monday through Friday position. This includes weekends, night shifts, or four-day workweeks. Key caveat: It has to be part of their set schedule. They should pick a schedule and own it.