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Navigating your Virtual Workplace: Expert Insights from Caroline Carney

Thursday, June 11, 2020  
Posted by: Dave Anderson
As HCAA Members navigate healthcare’s new normal, we interviewed a few experts on how they’ve overcome business challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s feature highlights Dr. Caroline Carney, Chief Medical Officer at Magellan Rx Management, where she discusses the transition from a traditional office to a home office.
 
During the past couple weeks, what were some of your challenges your organization has faced? How did you and your team overcome those challenges?
 
Our challenges were not dissimilar to other organizations, including PBMs and other industries: moving employees to work from home, and ensuring that infrastructure could keep up with the rapidly changing guidance coming from the federal government, state governments, and our clients. Perhaps most importantly, we needed to keep employees in the loop of the rapid changes, and to provide support across many areas.
 
We overcame the challenges largely because of the combination of strong leadership and open-minded employees. Magellan has a long-standing culture of work-from-home. In fact, coming into the pandemic, approximately half of our workforce worked from home. This allowed us to move those workers who were still office based to home more quickly, and to develop protocols designed to protect the others who had to remain onsite for work that simply cannot be done from home. Our employees were terrific in taking on this new reality. 
 
Magellan Health embraced its responsibility to our employees in many ways, including the development of new tools and materials to address COVID-19 and the workplace, emotional, and physical toll that the pandemic has taken. Magellan has offered flexibility in the workspace, ongoing communications, educational webinars, and promotion of EAP services.  
 
What are some of the positive things about our new reality? 
 
From an employment perspective, we have created new ways of communication and expanded our abilities to conduct business outside the office space. We’ve had a tremendous communications and marketing campaign around all things COVID-19. We saw so many people step up and contribute to making all these changes work very seamlessly. 
 
I also think that we’ve learned to work with each other with more understanding and compassion. 
 
On a personal level, I can’t help but think the time we are spending with family, the focus on the importance of health and hygiene, and the reduction in the use of transportation are anything but good. I think as a society, we all understand the need for a strong public health infrastructure as not something that is good, but something that is necessary.
 
 How are you keeping yourself busy in your time away from work?
 
Because I worked from home prior to the pandemic, there hasn't been any acute changes for me, except that the days have become longer because of the need to keep updated and work with teams across Magellan. I love my job, so that has been something I’ve welcomed. There are a few things that are critical to the way I manage—I get up and get ready as if I’m going to work, whether that is in mindset or dressing in business casual, it helps create the workday. I try to stop work at the same time, and immediately do a workout which helps mind and body. I have dinner with the family and try to do something with the kids or my partner, and then get back to work for part of the evening. I try to read a little every night. AND, I’m baking bread and sewing masks, both of which are incredibly therapeutic because I can get creative and get something started and finished in a short period of time.
 
Do you have any tips or tricks for creating an ideal home office?
 
If you have a room in your house that you can carve out, that’s usually the best because it gives you the ability to open the door at the beginning of the day and close it at the end, both physically and metaphorically. I have personalized my desk space with the trinkets that have meaning to me, and the items that I need—my notebook, pens, water bottle, etc. It’s important to look at the ergonomics of your chair, keyboard and desk. During the day, I take a few minutes to stretch, and try to get up every hour. If you don’t have a separate room, try to carve out of piece of your house or apartment—whether that’s a little used dining table, or a spot that becomes “yours” at the kitchen island or table. Keep your tools and papers in a file box, or folders that you can tuck away every night. Use headphones for meetings. And move around—sit outside if you can, or in another room.  
  
What challenges do you see coming up for employees over the next eight weeks? What do you recommend to the members of HCAA as ideas for helping their employees?
 
I see cabin fever and frustration as significant challenge for employees. The novelty of shelter in place has worn off, and we are getting mixed messages from governments and public health officials about when communities and states can re-open. Summer vacations are on hold. Kids will be entering summer, so there will not be schoolwork to keep them engaged. With no camps, sports, etc., I suspect that our children will get restless as well.  I do believe that work from home will have become comfortable for many and switching back to offices may be challenging because of fear, and because some might view the perks of working from home (e.g. no commute) outweighing the office camaraderie. Others will be itching to get back to the office and may have to deal with a gradual rollout.
 
It’s going to be critical to understand that some employees may be fearful about returning to the workplace. So, employers will have to address this by setting up mechanisms to screen for illness, be flexible with persons who have symptoms, encourage testing, and strictly adhere to hygiene and cleaning protocols.
 
A safe environment is a two-way street. Employees will need to make prevention and safety a priority by supporting one another, and in doing their part for maintaining social distancing and hand washing. We’ll need creativity in getting people together, and fostering the social aspects of work, without risking spread of infection—how do we transform the potluck if we must eat at our desks? And speaking of that, how do we make the workspace more fully functional to be a place to eat, stretch, and still get work done? These are important concepts to keep in mind as workplaces re-open. In the circumstance that another wave of COVID occurs in the autumn/winter, I encourage employers to get plans made now. 
 
Finally, I think it is critically important to ensure that employers provide EAP services for stress and anxiety and have sound medical insurance coverage to provide for treatment of behavioral health conditions that may have developed or worsened during the pandemic. These will need to include coverage for telephonic, video, and other digital media.
 
What is the flip side of the challenges? Specifically, what are the opportunities you see as an outcome of the pandemic for how the members of HCAA do business, address culture in their organizations, support employees going forward?
 
One of the great concepts coming out of this have to do with post-traumatic growth. This is a concept that during a time of trauma or adversity, we can develop grit, resiliency, and new skills or habits. While some of these might not be good—like over-eating or spending too much time on Netflix—others will be emotionally or physically healthy. So, in the face of trauma, we can grow. One example I’ve seen in my personal life is that we now rarely eat out, we’re enjoying more family meals at home, and have varied our diet quite a lot in a healthy way. We’re eating more leftovers. These are all upsides that we’ll want to keep. Family game nights, doing puzzles together—the kinds of things that can happen if limits on screen time are put in place—shouldn’t go away in the post-shelter-in-place world. One woman I spoke with has paid off her credit cards, because she isn’t out shopping like she used to—this gave her great insights into her buying habits. 
 
For the workplace, I think that culture will need to be influenced by attention to continuing the kinds of communications from human resources about other areas that affect employee well-being, whether continuing protection from COVID-19, or other health initiatives. It will be important not to make assumptions about whether it’s right to force work at home or allow it to be shaped by workers’ preferences and needs. How can we flexible in working times, place, or spaces? I think it’s a super time for companies to address ongoing behavioral, emotional, and physical health issues—COVID may have brought out conditions that were lurking. Keep resources available.

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