Remote Operations: Supporting Staff and Clients Before, During, and After Pandemic Conditions

Remote Operations Author Steve Whitehurst, CEO, Health Fidelity

While some states are already discussing re-opening processes, decentralized businesses are likely to become much more common going forward, especially over the next year or so as we continue to work together to address COVID-19 and its ancillary impacts. Health Fidelity has been very fortunate in that a large portion of our staff already worked remotely full-time. Today, I’d like to share what’s worked best for us, as well as what we’ve learned about rapid mobilization during a crisis, with a goal of helping other organizations survive (even thrive) for their clients, their staff, and the long-term prospects for both.

In addition to bi-coastal offices, (San Mateo, CA and Pittsburgh, PA), Health Fidelity also operated at just under 50% remote FTEs (as well as a team of contractors working abroad) prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic. This meant we already had mechanisms, both as infrastructure and company culture, in place to keep operations moving with a geographically diverse team. A few of the most important components of our remote operations foundation included a robust communication cadence with regular 1:1 meetings with supervisors, a weekly all-hands standup, department syncs, and a culture that promoted camera-on video conferencing. Even our hiring policies centered around finding the personalities who could thrive working alone but were also eager and ready to come together with colleagues across a variety of channels. This kept our team connected and familiar, while still allowing for a high level of autonomy. In addition, our organizational goals were clear and connected, from top to bottom, with a number of different tools in place to monitor, measure, and update as needed.

As a result, even before Governors Newsom and Wolf (CA. and PA. respectively), issued the first stay-at-home guidelines, Health Fidelity had already transitioned to completely remote operations. It was relatively straightforward, since we just needed to shift the balance of the company to the remote foundation already in place, effectively allowing us to say, “Everyone grab your laptops,” and we were done. Leadership was already adept at managing at a distance. We also already had half the company ready to be examples and offer support for their colleagues as they adjusted to working from home. It was particularly heartening to see how our team came together so fast to help everyone settle in. We added more weekly standups for the entire organization and created new slack channels to share COVID-19 communications. Even data security, while paramount for any organization, let alone a tech company with access to protected health information (PHI), was able to fully decentralize. All of our data is stored in a virtual private cloud (VPC) and is encrypted at rest and during transfer. Access to PHI is protected by multiple layers of security virtual private networks, multi-factor authentication, and demilitarized zones (DMZs). All activity in the secured environment is closely monitored with data loss prevention and anomaly detection tools. Finally, our team goes through regular HIPAA and infosec trainings.

From a scale perspective, this taught me that the size of an organization is irrelevant for remote operations if you have the right systems, technological or otherwise, in place to support the team. We effectively could just flip the switch with no interruption to productivity or operations. That said, as well as we were positioned to make the switch, going forward, we’ve still learned a lot. I can say already that as Health Fidelity continues to grow, we’re going to strongly prioritize remote team members. It dramatically opens up the supply of experts for those hard-to-fill roles, and with less office space required, no moving expenses, etc., overhead is reduced as well. Similarly, we will likely reduce interoffice travel long term; the way I’ve seen my team adapt has been great. I watched something recently that I previously considered intrinsically difficult to pull off via teleconferencing go off without a hitch: a roadmap brainstorming session with over twenty participants rapidly developing a new solution that addressed problems created by the current circumstances.

It’s worth noting that everything I covered today was how to keep operating through the lens of Health Fidelity’s own experience. Business is more than maintaining a status quo, though. It’s about supporting your team, partners, and customers by also continuing to grow to face the needs of the market. That’s where I’ll pick up next time in my next post.