As revenue cycle teams confront space constraints and tight budgets, many are allowing employees to work from home. However, experts say a successful work-from-home program does more than free up office space: It does wonders for job retention.
"In the last two years, technological advances, and people's ability to do things anytime, anywhere have just become so ingrained in our culture that it's become a natural progression -- to be able to work from home and have a little flexibility," said Lynne Hildreth, director of patient access at the Florida-based Moffitt Cancer Center, which has seen its work-from-home program become popular among its employees during the first year of implementation.
Those in management had been working from home from time to time, and what they found was that if something came up in their lives -- if a child was sick, for instance -- they could tend to that while still putting in a full day's work, which benefitted not just them but Moffitt itself. The cancer center didn't have to worry about any lost work or decreased productivity.
Seeing those benefits, Moffitt wanted to expand the work-from-home offering to its team members. Revenue cycle operations, which are largely based on call center work, seemed a natural fit. Sure enough, employees were freed from worrying about potential unforeseen snags, such as traffic accidents or family issues, and that cut down on the department's rate of absenteeism.
From a business standpoint, Moffitt has been able to expand its staff without expanding its space, which made it easier for the center to save money.
"Where we really see the payback is in terms of base," said Hildreth. "We haven't had to expand our footprint. If someone told me we had to bring all of our employees back tomorrow, I wouldn't know what to do with them. There's a lot of cost avoidance when it comes to overhead."
It has also reduced turnover, she said.
"There's always a business case that can be made for that. People have said, 'I can't continue in this job anymore,' but then we've said to people, 'Hey, if you work in the call center you can work from home,' and we've had some retention because of that."
The Mayo Clinic in Arizona has offered a work-from-home option to its revenue cycle employees for roughly the same amount of time and has done so for more or less the same reasons: space and job retention.
Yvonne Chase, Mayo's director of patient access and business services, said many of the clinic's employees live an hour or more away from work. They wanted to telecommute, and with an inability to expand its physical presence, Mayo was happy to oblige.
"We have a lot of space constraints in our building, and we need that space for our providers," said Chase. "We've always been very successful doing it in other areas, the support areas. This was a good fit."
To make sure the transition to a work-from-home model was a smooth one, the Mayo Clinic first developed a set of standards. Employees eligible for the program had to have worked on-site for at least a year, and they made to meet certain performance requirements.
Once standards were developed, the clinic worked with its IT partners to provide its work-from-home employees with the proper technology, allowing them to build a home office similar to what they would find at the office.
So far, the effort has been worth it. Employees have taken to the new system, particularly those who live far away and no longer pay so much to gas up their cars.
"It's definitely the number one thing that increases our engagement," said Chase. "You pretty much give someone a raise without giving them a raise. They don't have to buy work clothes. They can work if they're sick when otherwise they might not."
Mayo, like Moffitt, has seen a higher rate of retention, and that results in cost savings simply due to reducing the amount of time training new employees, said Chase.
"Every time you hire a new person, you have to train them," she said. "It's a vicious cycle."
When Moffitt was going through its own transition, pains were taken to set expectations for quality and productivity, and methods were put in place to be able to measure that consistently.
"You don't want to have lower or more forgiving standards for your work-from-home employees," said Hildreth. "For example, before we had people working from home, we made sure we had robust quality assurance. We wanted to make sure that was done consistently for both at-home people and on-site people, just to make sure we were maintaining the integrity of the program."
Both Hildreth and Chase have found that productivity among employees has increased. Chase said that the lowest productivity increase has been 8 percent; the highest has been more than 20 percent.
"They are definitely more focused," said Chase. "And if you have 10 people with a 10 percent increase in productivity, that's like having another FTE."
"There are fewer interruptions, and distractions are less common in a work-from-home environment," said Hildreth. "People are able to focus and have a single task at hand when they're working alone. The hours, and the employees sticking to their hours, has helped their productivity."
But the program does have challenges. Both Mayo and Moffitt are paperless, and so work-from-home employees are not allowed to print anything. A business implementing a similar program should also make sure that each work-from-home site is HIPAA compliant, which may mean site visits or having employees send pictures of their workspaces.
The benefits far outweigh the downsides, though, and operating departments remotely may just be the way of the future.
"If we're able to let patients do more of their financial registration and paperwork at home, jobs of the future may be ones that work remotely," said Hildreth.