COVID-19 hit so quickly, U.S. corporations didn’t have much time to come up with a back-up plan, including Net Health. How could we suddenly start running our business and supporting our clients remotely? How could our staff collaborate and stay connected?
We found a way to keep flourishing.
Within the first month of the crisis, the entire client support organization was able to go completely remote for all seven product lines. Forty-two new clients were implemented virtually. A UCasS (Unified Communication as a Service) system was rolled out to support the new remote workplace. Product teams began rolling out weekly webinars to help clients and healthcare organizations. And the Engineering team immediately began building a telehealth service for its EHR clients, which it rolled out in April.
How was Net Health able to accomplish such a seamless transition to remote working conditions and contribute a solution to help our clients within weeks? We had always used hip technologies to keep our people connected; now, we just ramped it up to a high-decibel level, and we’re finding ourselves more connected and more productive than ever before.
We thought we’d share what we’ve been doing to help others.
Here’s What We Did….
When Net Health went remote, senior leaders encouraged employees to leverage online collaboration tools to have fun and promote deeper connectivity to make up for not being in the office, and productivity soared, according to CIO Jason James, who writes for technology magazines about a variety of topics, including the benefits of working from home. Check out his article on “How to Lead in the Age of Newly Remote Teams.”
Team leaders immediately came up with creative ideas to bring their teams together for frivolity, laughter and shared activities that promoted personal connections and bonding. Here are some examples:
- Pet sharing during meetings – When Net Health’s headquarters in Pittsburgh had to close, Chief Human Resources Officer Linda Kricher realized that some of her team members felt self-conscious about suddenly having to appear on video during online meetings. She encouraged them to share their pets as a way to break through the ice and get people laughing and having fun together.
- Question of the day via inter-office social tool – To keep her team connected, Kricher also leveraged the company’s inter-office chat system to start a private #question-of-the-day channel just for her team members. Every day, there’s a new question like “What’s your favorite movie?’” or “If you could have lunch with anybody, living or dead, who would it be?” It keeps a dialogue going among her staff who are used to seeing each other on site. She said, “I felt like we needed to connect personally because it’s such a crazy time. People are so unsettled. It’s a way to keep people’s spirits up.”
- Biweekly dress-up challenges – Chief Client Officer Christine Jones started coming up with dress-up challenges for her leadership team meetings like “Wear your best vacation wear” or “Wear your favorite hat”. Some employees got really creative. One made a hat out of coveted toilet paper rolls and another came with her pet parrot on her head.
- #TeammateTuesdays – To boost her client support team of 50 people, Rebecca Claus, vice president of client support launched a private weekly chat on the inter-office system called #TeammateTuesdays, in which team members take turns answering questions about themselves and their interests. “This has been a way for us to gel as a team and share information,” she said. “We also use the channel to talk about our stats every day, how well we did on the phones, events coming up and fun stuff.”
- JackBox Games – VP of Engineering David Wyman is part of a group of brainstormers who are always coming up with ideas to bring the company together. After everyone started working from home, they thought of hosting games. Wyman began coordinating game nights to play JackBox Games like the popular Settlers of Catan. Wyman has had as many as 25 people attend. The games were so popular, they went viral with other employees organizing their own games, with some shorter-length games happening over lunch.
- Local pizza deliveries – When the crisis hit, many Product and Engineering team members had to work long hours and weekends to help get the new COVID-19-related products to market. To substitute for not being able to reward his employees by taking them out to lunch, Wyman ordered pizzas from their local pizza delivery companies to be delivered to their homes.
- Virtual backgrounds – Many people across the organization started designing virtual backgrounds for their online meetings. “A lot of us have our kids design our virtual backgrounds,” Wyman says. “It gives us something to talk about at the beginning of the meeting so that we can connect around something fun instead of work all the time. We have support for these activities all the way up to our CEO Josh Pickus. We’re lucky that our leaders believe that spending time on this stuff is valuable and it’s OK to take time off work to have fun.”
- Virtual happy hours – Wyman’s gang of brainstormers also came up with the idea of having group Happy Hours, in which employees BYOB to the videoconferencing meetings at the end of the day. “They’ve been a real hit and a great way to blow off steam,” Wyman says.
- Line dancing – Product Specialist Bill Blansett, a regular line dancer who had to suspend his hobby after businesses shut down in Pennsylvania, got the idea to offer half-hour line dancing lessons to Net Health employees. He has a dance room set up in his living room and plays assorted music through his laptop. He teaches the moves for 15 minutes and then the group practices the rest of the time. “Cameras are not required, though they are recommended,” he says. “It’s nice that the company allows us to have these activities. People are really having a lot of fun with it.”
- Virtual Field Trip Series – Employees have been offered the opportunity to volunteer to share their skills by teaching classes. So far, Paul Schillinger is offering guitar lessons, Tom Trice is showing employees how to catch Mahi Mahi in South Florida and Sarah Holt has taught how to make pasta carbonara. “This has been a great way to stay connected and keep our culture alive,” says Office Manager and HR Assistant Heather Groomes.
- Share Your Chair Challenge – After more than a month of everyone working from home, the HR department came up with the idea to have a “crappy chair” challenge. Employees are sharing photos of their home office chairs, and new chairs will be shipped to randomly chosen winners.
- New social media channels – Groomes, along with Bethany Kaplan, started a handful of new public hashtag chat channels on the inter-office social media platform starting with the acronym wfh for “working from home”. The new channels have started conversations about wfh-related topics like:
- #wfh-creativechallenges to share creative projects employees are working on at home to pass the time in quarantine
- #wfh-nhquarantunes to share favorite songs that are helping employees to get through the quarantine
- #wfh-nhsharedgroupevents to announce and talk about group activities being organized such as watching a Netflix movie together, playing games or yoga
- #wfh-stircrazykids to share ideas on keeping kids sane throughout the quarantine
- Established chat channels – Also, established chats have really heated up, according to Groomes. The #random channel has become the main hub for anyone who wants to connect while everyone is WFH, she says. Currently there are 503 users who follow that channel. In the description, it states: A place for non-work-related flimflam, faffing, hodge-podge or jibber-jabber you’d prefer to keep out of more focused work-related channels – for Non-work banter and water cooler conversation. CIO Jason James is a frequent contributor on that channel. Others include #furbabies for sharing pics of pets and #ask-josh-anything for connecting with CEO Josh Pickus.
Net Health has always leveraged enterprise technology, not just to drive business, but to connect at a cultural level, which has helped the company be successful, according to James.
“COVID-19 hasn’t slowed us; if anything, it’s focused us,” he says. “We mobilized to create a virtual water cooler that allowed people not in the same location to connect and have a shared experience. Now, we have groups of people coming together across the company that didn’t know each other because they didn’t work in the same office that are starting to bond and connect.”