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Finding a new normal: telework Q&A with BlueCross employees

For many Americans, the way we work is drastically different from what it was a few months ago. When COVID-19 arrived in the United States in January, many companies began developing and implementing work-from-home plans for their employees. At BlueCross, nearly all employees across our six offices had moved to teleworking by mid-March.  This allowed us to help keep employees healthy while continuing to serve our members throughout this unusual and uncertain time.

To get an inside perspective on working from home, we spoke to BlueCross employees Ed Ober, Ben Tucker and Sherry Crawford about the transition, their experiences and how they’re maintaining — and establishing — daily routines.

Tell us about yourself. What is your job and how long have you worked for BlueCross?

Ed Ober at work in his home office

Ed: My title is director of application solutions. I work in IT, and my teams support a variety of systems, including portals, the MyBlueTN mobile app, workflows, and sales and quoting systems. I’ve been at BlueCross about four and a half years.

Ben: I’m a principal HR technology consultant, and I’ve been at BlueCross about 12 years. I work in HR technology supporting human resources applications for the enterprise.

Sherry: I’m a software quality assurance analyst, and I support and test software changes for different areas and interfaces across the company, including the myBlueTN mobile app and the BlueAccess consumer portal. I’ve been at BlueCross for 30 years.

Have you ever had to work from home before?

Ed: When I worked at another company, I managed staff in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. I regularly commuted to all three offices to meet on site with those teams. But I would also spend a few days working in my home office every other week and communicating remotely through conference calls like we are doing now.

Ben: I have teleworked 1-2 days a week for the last several years.

Sherry: Yes, I have been working from home one day a week for a couple of years, and I love it!

Did you participate in one of the on-site equipment distributions for employees? If so, how did the process go?

Ed: I did get a monitor and some other equipment, and it took all of five minutes to drive up, check that the connectors were compatible with my laptop and drive off. It was very smooth and easy.

Sherry: No, I already had all the equipment I needed since I was working from home before the move.

Has working from home changed the way you do your job? If so, how?

Ed: The work is basically the same, with lots of meetings, emails and chats. The big difference is not being able to go to meeting rooms and see folks face to face or do “chalk talks” on a white board as easily, but folks are acclimating well and the productivity has been excellent.

Ben: Fundamentally, no. I work on cloud technology, so I access those applications the same way I would from the office.

It has changed the way I communicate and collaborate the most – email and video conferences are taking the place of face-to-face conversations.

Sherry: Not a whole lot, really. We use email, chat apps and phones to keep in touch. We still have daily stand-up and weekly project meetings, and we’re able to use video conferencing to communicate successfully.

Are you facing any challenges with working from home? If so, how are you managing them?

Ed: The biggest challenge is being cooped up all day. I miss being able to do a “walkabout” and talk to the team.  I used to get close to 10,000 steps in a day, but that has been a challenge the last few weeks.

Ben: For me, the biggest challenge has been overcoming the isolation in a job that depends on open lines of communication for collaboration. I’ve learned that over-communicating is helpful.

Sherry: I do miss seeing my team in person, but other than that, there haven’t been any real challenges.

Ben Tucker enjoying working by the pool

Is there anything surprising you’re enjoying about working from home? Anything you didn’t expect? 

Ed: It’s been pretty easy getting from “virtual meeting room” to “virtual meeting room,” but overall it hasn’t been too different other than the lack of face time.

Ben: I miss people… a lot. I enjoy working from home, being around my dogs, saving travel time and working in gym clothes, but I don’t think I’d want to do it every day for the rest of my career. 

Sherry: I’ve adjusted to working from home very well. I have found that I can concentrate better due to fewer interruptions.  My stress level is also lower because I don’t have to get up at 5 a.m. to get my morning chores done around the house and drive into the office.

Describe your work environment – do you have a full home office? What is your setup like?

Ed: I finally got my home office set up a few weekends ago. I have my BlueCross equipment, and I’m working in the room where we keep our elliptical and bike. 

Ben: I have a simple home office I used for teleworking before the current situation. It has a desk, an office chair, a laptop and two monitors. I also enjoy being able to work outside when the weather is nice.

Sherry: I use an extra bedroom with a desk, laptop and extra monitor. I’m able to close the door for privacy if needed. 

Has working from home improved your work-life balance? If so, how?

Ed: Before the recent changes, I had actually separated the two by not having a place to work at home and making sure I was home at a regular time for dinner. I live close to the Chattanooga office and my commute time was usually 10 minutes, so I have to be extra careful to “go home” at the end of the day. I’ve been able to have lunch with my wife occasionally, which has been nice.

Sherry Crawford in her home office

Ben: At first, I was working too much. I was averaging 10-11 hours a day by filling all the extra time I usually spent getting ready and traveling to the office or breaking for lunch. Now I’ve got a better routine. If I start work earlier, I take more breaks or end early.

Overall, I’d say the biggest difference has been the extra time I have in the mornings and the afternoon. I still get up at my regular time, but now I have about two hours before “start time.” 

Sherry: I have tried to stick to the same routine I would have if I were going into the office. I have found, though, that I sometimes forget to take breaks if I get too involved in my work.

Since I don’t have to drive to campus, I’m using that extra time in the morning to mentally prepare for the day and the tasks I need to complete.

How are you staying well while working from home?

Ed: I regularly went to the on-site fitness center at work, and I tracked all my routines in an app. So, I retooled my app workouts for what I can do in my combined home office/workout area, where my wife and I have an elliptical, stationary bike and free weights. I was also able to find a collapsible bench and other items to complete my workout area before they sold out. So far, I’m doing well in continuing my routines.

Besides the home setup, I try to get out and walk or jog around the city whenever I can.

Ben: I’ve had a stationary bike and a small home gym that I rarely used before this, but I’ve been using it daily now for about three weeks. 

Sherry: I try to walk around the neighborhood or use my treadmill to get my steps in each day, just like I would on campus. It’s a habit I want to keep. 

Do you have any advice, tips or tricks for other employees who are working from home? 

Ed: To keep the team engaged, we had a contest for best and worst work from home setups, which had a great response. We’re planning a few more contests over the coming weeks. We also had a full staff video conference and invited business leaders for a panel discussion so everyone could stay current and keep in touch.

Ben: Over-communicate to stay connected with your team. Be available via cell phone in case someone who would normally walk to your desk needs to talk to you. Develop a workout routine to stay active and make sure you take plenty of breaks to walk around and relax your mind.

Sherry: Take your breaks – get up and walk around for a few minutes – drink your water and eat a healthy lunch. It helps keep you in a routine.

And also, I’d like to thank BlueCross for being so supportive through all of this. It’s made the process easier, and I’m very grateful to work for such a great company.

About Amanda Haskew, Senior Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorAmanda joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. Born and raised in Chattanooga, she has a decade of experience in writing for print and the web, as well as digital marketing.

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