Seven Tips on Working from Home

BBG has a long history of many of its employees working from home. Recently, the rest of the team has joined in this practice. As a result, some of the newbie home workers needed tips from our more veteran home workers!

This blog post is a compilation of advice from the BBG workers who have been working from home for years. I was actually surprised by some of these suggestions but as I’ve transitioned myself into this world of remote work, I’m appreciating and embracing the tips. We hope you find these useful as we all do our part to flatten the curve of this COVID-19 pandemic!

BBG’s Best Tips on Working from Home

#1 Create a Healthy Workspace at Home

This is the number one suggestion when working from home. If possible, it’s advisable that your home workspace be separate from other spaces that you typically use for relaxing. Additionally, you want it to be one that is free of distractions so that you can stay on task. Ideally, a room created as an office will provide this. However, if that’s not possible consider creating a separate space in a corner of a room.

A particular co-worker said that keeping your personal phone away from your workspace will aid in limiting distractions. While this may not be possible if you need to make work calls from your cellphone, we do advise turning off notifications from social media, email and other phone apps that may be a distraction.

Obviously, you’ll want your home workspace to be comfortable and well-lit so here are a few resources we’ve found.

A BBG colleague who has been doing this for years, recommended this large electric foot warmer heated mat if your space is cold and/or you have the tendency to be cold. This is a nice way to experience mild radiating heat.

Working in a well-lit area, especially one with natural light is helpful for mood. When natural light is not possible, having lights that are easy on the eyes and can be adjusted for brightness is useful. Many of us use this lamp we found on Amazon.

#2 Dress for Work

Working in pajamas and bathrobes is oh so tempting!! I may or may not be guilty of doing this myself.  😉

However, our colleagues with veteran experience of working from home recommend starting the morning out by getting dressed just as you would if you were going into the office. One colleague said, “yes it’s nice to be comfortable but it may also affect your work.”

If your normal office attire is highly professional such as suits and ties, you probably would want to relax it to a more business casual attire at home.

Maybe you can even relax from business casual to something a bit more comfortable but the point is to get out of those PJs, shower and get dressed!

#3 Keep Communicating with Colleagues

It’s easy to feel isolated from your co-workers while working at home. That’s why it’s more important than ever to stay in touch with them when you work remotely. One colleague said, “sometimes you get the feeling ‘they already know what I am doing.’ But, in fact, they just need to hear from you to confirm that.”

At BBG many of us have started using Microsoft teams as a way to stay in touch.

There is no water cooler talk while working remotely so it’s important to create a space for open communication. Another option, which BBG uses for client interaction, is Zoom video conferencing. Amazingly they are offering expanded support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

#4 Take Breaks & Stock up on Healthy Snacks

Long periods of sitting still and working at a desk can produce lethargic feelings. Take appropriate breaks to get up to stretch and move.

A couple of colleagues mentioned that they are snacking more while working from home because it’s available. A colleague who has been doing this for some time gave a great suggestion of stocking up on healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables. Fuel your brain rather than draining it!

Another colleague suggested drinking more water. It’s easy to sit at a desk and not be thirsty so proactively drinking water is a good habit to build.

#5 Boundaries

Well, this one could overlap with the suggestion to not work in your PJs but BBG’s main concern here is that our remote workers actually work too much. Dedicated workers who have home offices need to practice boundaries and know when to turn off work for the day. It’s advisable to still keep normal working hours when working at home. Actually, it becomes even more important because the separation from home and office is a short walk.

One colleague stressed this point by saying, “DON’T think that just because you are home you need to work 24/7.”

Healthy boundaries between work and home life become even more important working remotely so setting up strick hours from the start is the way to build this habit.

#6 Have a Good Co-Worker

This my favorite tip and unfortunately one that I cannot embrace in my apartment, but…how precious is that face?!

The BBG colleague who made this suggestion was kind enough to supply a picture of his co-worker.

Um. if I had this face looking up at me during the day, I would be greatly comforted.

BBG wrote a post in the past about how dogs can play a role in healthcare but how about them playing a role in creating a healthy office environment?

I’m certain that pets all across the world are happy that their masters are now working from home. After all, they are pack animals and thrive when they are with people of other pets. Additionally, humans thrive in a community so enjoy this time of sharing offices.

We would love to see pictures of your office companions so please share them with us!!

#7 Practice Safety with Your Devices

Here is a great article from the Tampa Day Times about how to keep your devices safe. The number of people now working from home has grown exponentially which means we all may be vulnerable to attackers who want to take advantage of this. As this article outlines here are some ways to stay safe:

  • Update your software
  • Check your router password
  • Use strong passwords
  • Beware of Coronavirus-themed phishing emails

Again, check out this article to read more about this.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, we are discovering this takes some self-discipline. The key to building healthy habits is to start implementing them form the beginning. Stay in touch and encourage one another; we are all in this together!

Here are some other great articles we’ve read around the web on this topic:

Lastly, if BBG can further assist you with more granular details on the following, please reach out:

  • Communication software (phones, extensions, instant messaging)
  • Habits (how we keep in touch deliberately)
  • How our “work from home colleagues” set up their lives to remain engaged
  • How to be attentive to separating work/home-worlds and be able both to “plug-in” and “un-plug”
  • We can share limitations and potential pitfalls that we work to eliminate.
  • How we train our dogs not to bark while we are on the phone…just kidding on that one 😉

 

FSA and HSA Contribution Limits for 2020

Every year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announces new contribution limits for tax-advantaged accounts. Many of these accounts are indexed for inflation so the limits rise year over year. This article is geared at educating you about the new contribution limits for two tax-advantaged accounts in relation to healthcare.

Flex Spending Account (FSA) 2020 Limits:

FSA limits have been announced for 2020. If you have health insurance through your job, you can utilize an FSA for using pre-tax money to cover your out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. FSAs are more of a use it or lose it type of account so it’s best to estimate the amount of healthcare you typically consume before making your elections.

The IRS announced on October 31, 2013, that employers would be allowed to either offer a carryover or a grace period for FSAs effective in 2014. If you have access to an FSA through your employer we advise you check with them on whether or not they offer one of the following options:

  1. Two and a half months grace period in the new year to use up the previous year’s dollars
  2. $500 carryover to use in the new year

Here are the health FSA contribution limits for 2020 compared to 2019 and 2018:

Dependent care FSA limits are not indexed for inflation and so they remain at:

Health Savings Account (HSA) 2020 Limits:

If you are on an HSA qualified plan you are able to contribute to an HSA. If you qualify, HSAs have several benefits over FSAs:

  1. The contribution limits are higher
  2. You never lose the money
  3. You can invest HSA funds in mutual funds

Here are the HSA contribution limits for 2020 in comparison to 2019 and 2018:

Closing Thoughts

We realize healthcare costs continue to increase so any opportunity to save on taxes should be considered. Please check with your employer’s human resource department to confirm which of these accounts you may be eligible for.

Theme pic by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

Open Enrollment

How to Prepare for Group Health Open Enrollment

‘Tis the season for open enrollment in the world of health insurance! Open enrollment for Medicare 2020 has already begun (October 15th – December 7th, 2019). Additionally, individual open enrollment is underway (November 1st – December 15, 2019). Lastly and most important to this article is the fact that many employers are in the midst of their group health plan open enrollment. Many group plans renew January 1st so it’s a busy time of year for employers, brokers, and insurance carriers.

This article is designed to assist employers in knowing what to focus on during this busy season.

Renewals

The most important thing we need to focus on is the premiums that you pay to the insurance carriers. We know this is a huge expense and we work with you to keep this competitive to what’s available in the marketplace.

Most of the January 1st group health insurance renewals are out. Perhaps your increase is palatable enough to forgo shopping and just renew as is. However, that is more the outlier than the norm. Typically, it’s best to assist us with the necessary data needed in order to shop your policy with the competing carriers in the marketplace. By now, your account managers at BBG have been working hard to gather the necessary data for shopping. These items include:

  • Current Census
  • Average Total Number of Employees (ATNE). This is based on how many total employees you employed each month and dividing by 12. Estimates are used for the remaining months of the year.
  • Names of your employees who are eligible but waive off the plan
    • The reason they are waiving
  • If you are a 51+ group we’ll need what is called an Employer Risk Assessment Form (ERAF)

The above will allow us to obtain street rates in the small group market place and potentially underwritten rates in the 51+ marketplace. Street rates are off the shelf rates that are based on your group’s census alone. They are still subject to underwriting but give us a good benchmark to know if we should pursue underwritten rates

Medical Health Questionnaires (MHQs)

The dreaded MHQs need not be so dreaded anymore! Most insurance carriers prefer to receive electronic MHQs via programs like FormFire. Some carriers now require FormFire MHQs. BBG has dedicated team members who can assist your employees in completing this process. We’ve worked hard this year to streamline the process to allow us to help a larger number of you in a shorter amount of time.

So when are MHQs needed? This answer is different depending upon what market segment you are in…

1-50 Small Groups

If you have 50 and under total employees, FormFire MHQs will be needed to obtain underwritten rates from any competing carriers. However, BBG is all about efficiency so we first obtain street rates to determine if this is even worthy of your time. If we determine that it is then we highly suggest proceeding with FormFire.

The only exception here is when we obtain community rates. Community rates are different from underwritten rates and are typically more expensive than their underwritten counterparts.  We’ve been finding that mostly micro groups and other groups with certain characteristics that may adversely impact underwriting are served best by community rates.

51-99 Mid-Size Groups

If you have between 51-99 total employees some carriers require MHQs to release any underwritten rates. However, there are a few carriers who will release underwritten rates if your renewal is <25% and you’ve completed an ERAF.

100+ Large Groups

Typically MHQs are not needed in the 100+ market segment; although, there are exceptions where MHQs can be helpful. Your account manager will assist to know when this applies to you.

When Not to Shop the Market

There are only two instances when it makes sense to not shop the market. 1.) If you are in the 51-99 market and your incumbent carrier asks for your “no shop” number. A no shop number is an increase you are willing to accept in agreement for not shopping.

In our experience, if a carrier is asking for your “no shop” number, they are willing to play ball and negotiate. If you are not sure what a reasonable no shop number is, talk to your account manager and they can assist you with this. However, you can always be aggressive and ask for a flat increase. What’s the worst they can say? No? If the carrier cannot meet it, we can always shop your policy.

2.) Or if you are in the 1-50 market your incumbent carrier may be able to provide some rate relief in an agreement to not shop your policy. The amount of rate relief available in the small group market is much smaller but if you received a favorable renewal a few points of rate relief may be enough for you to decide to stay put. Your account manager and BBG will let you know if this is a feasible option for your specific group.

Closing Thoughts

At BBG, we are fully aware that the most important work we do is to assist the employers we work for in keeping healthcare costs and the coverage your employees receive competitive to what’s in the marketplace. The most important benchmark number we look at is your average cost per employee per year. This number is found by taking your total costs and dividing by your total employees enrolled in the health plan. We realize your enrollment can fluctuate and by looking at this number we are looking at a comparable number year over year.

Open enrollment is always a busy time of the year but the exercise of shopping, completing FormFire, and allowing BBG to negotiate with the carriers on your behalf is the important work. This work allows you to maintain strong benefits year after year.

 

 

How Dogs Can Play a Role in Healthcare

A dog’s sense of smell can be 10,000+ times more powerful than humans. It’s no surprise that we ingenious humans have figured out how to train these loving creatures with their amazing sniffing abilities.

We’ve all seen dogs at the airport and/or in cop cars. These dogs are particularly trained to sniff out illegal drugs. However, dogs can also be an effective solution in some healthcare situations.

Disclaimer: All dogs featured in this post belong to (or previously belonged) a BBG team member. The theme photo may just happen to be the president’s dog…or should I say the dog who owns the president may just happen to be featured in the theme. 😉

Life is good!

Wait, you want me to work??

Living large

Detecting Seizures

Did you know there are seizure alert dogs? That’s right if you have a loved one who is challenged with epilepsy, there are organizations who can pair them with a trained seizure alert dog.

Here are several such organizations that we’ve come across in our research on the internet:

Ready to please!

According to Canine Partners for Life these dogs can do the following:

  • Alert its partner of an oncoming seizure
  • Stay close to its partner in the event of a seizure to prevent injury
  • Alert a caretaker
  • Fetch an alert device
  • Open a door and/or turn on a light

The Epilepsy Foundation states that “dogs can be trained as service animals for people with seizures, just like they can be trained to serve people with other disabilities. The law protects a person’s right to use a service animal in any public place.”

It’s quite amazing that these fuzzy, friendly creatures can not only be our best friend but also provide a valuable service.

Diabetic Alert

Everyone needs a best friend.

Diabetes is another health condition for which dogs can be trained to detect. The key with many medical conditions is early detection. Blood sugar levels which go too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia) pose serious health risks.

Diabetic alert dogs are trained to alert their partner in advance of levels becoming dangerous.

According to the American Kennel Club, “diabetic alert dogs can function as blood sugar level detectors.” While dogs cannot give exact measurements of blood sugar levels, like a blood glucose meter, they can preemptively alert their partners when levels are out of range.

If you are looking for organizations to pair you or your loved one with a diabetic alert dog, here are several organizations and resources:

Early Cancer Detection

Did you know I have 220 million smell receptors?

So if a dog’s sniffing ability is so phenomenal at early detection of certain health conditions, what about cancer? If so, wouldn’t it seem like a grand solution to have dogs in our primary care physicians waiting room? Well, we are probably a long way from that ever happening but there are dogs being trained.

However, no one can deny that some dogs are already being credited with life-saving abilities. This article from American Veterinarian has some great stories of normal dogs alerting their owners in creative ways about cancer. Many of the owners have good reason to believe their dogs saved their lives!

According to Medical News Today, dogs can detect certain cancers in a person’s:

  • Skin
  • Breath
  • Urine
  • Feces
  • Sweat

This seems like a no brainer, right? It’s a low-risk, noninvasive method; however, there are still many inconsistencies.

The Challenges

Who me? I’d never present a challenge.

The first double-blinded studies were published in 2006. Dr. Klaus Hackner, a pulmonary physician at Krems University Hospital in Austria reports in this article on Scientific American.

First, let’s look at why/how dogs can detect cancers. Cells give off volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. According to Hackner, each type of cancer would have a distinct smell and it would be different from a normal cell.

“Given that dogs have more than 220 million smell receptors in their noses, they’re excellent animals for sniffing out disease,” Hackner said. “In comparison, humans have a ‘mere’ 5 million smell receptors in their noses,” he said.

Most dogs can be trained, in about 6 months, to detect the odors associated with certain cancers. However, the study failed due to the lab environment being set up in a way that neither dog nor handler knew if samples selected by the dogs were actually cancerous. Dogs will lose interest without positive reinforcement.

In this same article from Scientific American, Dr. Hilary Brodie, a professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of California, expounds on some arguments of why dog detection of cancer is not ideal even if the lab situation was different:

  • It would take an immense amount of time and energy to train dogs on the many types of cancer.
  • Dogs can have a bad day and misdiagnose.
  • No test is perfect but doctors know the accuracy of certain tests such as mammograms while rates would vary from dog to dog.

Both Hackner and Brodie believe it may be more feasible to think that dogs will be aiding researchers in the creation of biochemical “nose” machines, known as e-noses.

The nose knows.

Closing Thoughts

Dogs make wonderful companions and very apparently aid in improving our lives in various ways and especially with those who are challenged with health conditions. Dogs are already making a positive impact in the world of healthcare in regards to seizure and diabetic alert.

There is more research needed before dogs can be of assistance in the detection of certain cancers. However, the good news is that they possess a valuable key component (amazing sniffing abilities) and now it’s up to us to figure out how to best train and utilize them.

We are capable of more than just looking cute.

 

 

 

 

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