Shannon Bowers has been processing claims for Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas from a call center in Wichita Falls, Texas, for the last three years. It’s a workplace she calls “vibrant, beautiful.”
“Everyone has pictures of family, kids, animals in our own little cubicle,” she said. “I love dragons, so of course I had a couple dragons on my desk.”
But as the COVID-19 crisis escalated, the nation’s working patterns changed. Following expert guidance, Plan leadership started implementing an alternative work location strategy for most of its employees — sending the majority from their office buildings and call centers to working remotely.
In less than two weeks, the Blues Plans moved the majority of their employees to remote work locations to do their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring little to no disruption in service to members, employer customers or health care providers.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure questions can be answered, claims can be paid, and people understand how to access their care. We take that responsibility very seriously,” said Katie Rossi, senior manager of divisional strategy and planning.
Many employees already had the means to work from home. Bowers was one of roughly 7,000 customer service team members across 23 locations who had never done so.
She said one of her first thoughts was how they were going to get all the equipment needed in a short amount of time. “It seemed like a logistical nightmare,” Bowers said.
Rossi was an integral part of the team tasked with organizing the big move to get the customer service team set up to work from home after Plan leadership made the call.
“In a matter of 48 hours, we were taking the first steps to make it happen,” Rossi said. “It was an impressive effort that took a lot of people across the division to execute. We forgot about reporting lines and focused on one shared goal.”
For employees who already had laptops and remote access, the move wasn’t that difficult — they just went home for the foreseeable future. But roughly 7,000 customer service employees did their work on desktops and secure phones in service centers, so getting them operational at home took a little more effort.
“It’s really a 10 to 15 step process to get one person from point A to point B,” said Seonaid Acevedo, a senior manager on Rossi’s team.
"Providers and hospitals are still working. And we’re still here.”
It started with sending surveys out to every employee on what equipment they had at home and their current remote access capabilities. They got instructions on how to set up their phone to enable remote access as well.
Leaders at each service center then scheduled times for employees to come pick up their work from home kit. On-site IT professionals verified that everyone who came in had set up the computer and phone correctly.
The IT team built databases to track each piece of equipment that left the office. They also staffed up a dedicated help desk to guide teams that were logging in remotely for the first time, shipped necessary equipment to employees, and increased internet capacity for employees.
“It was a well-orchestrated dance,” said Acevedo. “It was different based on who was involved, but it was very orchestrated and amazing to see how everything is coming together.”
In less than two weeks, the workforce was fully deployed to alternative workspaces.
Now, Bowers — along with thousands of her colleagues — is fully connected and is settling into her new temporary office.
“Not much has changed other than the fact that I’m sitting at home loving cats while I’m processing claims,” Bowers said. She even brought home her office dragons to adorn her work from home space.
Rossi called the enterprise-wide effort “herculean,” but she and Acevedo knew it was worth it to make sure members and providers got the same level of service they were used to.
“People don’t stop getting sick," Acevedo said. "Providers and hospitals are still working. And we’re still here.”