Manage episode 261102955 series 1396528
Jeff Robbins interviews repeat guest Daron Robertson, CEO and Co-Founder of Bhive and CEO of BroadPath Healthcare Solutions, about the shifts that are going on currently around remote work during this Coronavirus pandemic from the perspective of running a large distributed company.
Here’s the transcript:
JEFF ROBBINS: This is Yonder. Hi everyone, it’s Jeff Robbins back with Episode 86 of the Yonder podcast where we talk to company leaders and big thinkers about how to make remote work. We’re focused on expanding the remote work job market and helping listeners to create happy, productive, distributed teams.
This time we talk with Daron Robertson who is the CEO of BroadPath Healthcare Solutions, a company with employees, the majority of which Daron said 99% of which work remotely and currently with the pandemic going on as it is 100% of which are working remotely. BroadPath provides HIPAA compliant customer support and other services for healthcare and health insurance companies and BroadPath has spun off one of their tools into a separate product called Bhive which provides an open office workplace like environment where employees can see each other on camera while they’re working, also providing some level of trust and meeting compliance needs for remote work environments where security is so important as it is in the healthcare and insurance industries, and Daron is CEO of Bhive as well.
Daron’s been with us before, but with the shifts that are going on currently around remote work during this Coronavirus pandemic I thought it’d be a great thing to get him back on and to hear from someone who’s running such a large team with security compliance needs and all that stuff that goes beyond. I think it’s easy to talk to small and medium size businesses about what remote work is like but it’s often, as you get into the thousands of employees realm, how does it work? What works? What’d good and what’s not? A lot of it’s very similar but especially when it comes to all this compliance stuff, things get a little bit different. So, anyways, great conversation with Daron coming up.
JEFF: Hi Daron. Welcome to the Yonder podcast.
DARON ROBERTSON: Hey Jeff, great to be here again.
JEFF: Yeah, man you’re a long-time Yonder alumni [laughing] I guess is what I might call you. You came to the Yonder conference in San Diego when we ran that a few years ago, you’ve been part of the Yonder circle, and we’ve had you on the podcast before. So, I’ve gotten to know you some, but we’ve got you to come back to have a deeper conversation as this pandemic has kind of taken hold here in the United States, taken hold worldwide. But, let’s get you introduced. If anybody hasn’t listened to the previous podcast that you were on, why don’t you introduce yourself to people.
DARON: Good. Daron Robertson, CEO of two companies, BroadPath and Bhive. BroadPath is a services company, aka BPO in the healthcare sector and Bhive is a SaaS Software company with work at home, remote worker focus.
JEFF: And, (5:03) BroadPath is, by remote work company standard, huge. [laughing] You’ve got a huge team.
DARON: And growing pretty rapidly. Unfortunately, in some cases because of this situation we find ourselves in.
JEFF: Because of the healthcare issues, not necessarily because of the remote work options, but because of the healthcare immediacy.
DARON: Yeah, and it turned out that within the healthcare sector most of our clients are health plans, like BlueCross plans, things like that, and when this thing hit in early March there was lot of uncertainty around what was going to happen, and call volume was going on the upswing significantly, and some of them were tracking COVID related calls specifically and those were on the rise, and so, there was a lot of scrambling to get extra capacity lined up so that they wouldn’t leave their customers hanging. That did occur for five or six weeks and now things have settled back to normal levels because a lot of folks aren’t going to see the doctor or go to the hospital for more minor things right now. And, fewer cars on the street so there are fewer car accidents, things like that. So, within the healthcare industry it’s been an interesting thing to witness where in the health plan side, initial uptick and now a down tick in the provider side, with the hospitals and things like that, it’s been a bifurcated impact where direct COVID related care, of course, close to overwhelmed if not overwhelmed, and then in the non-COVID care there’s been furloughs within these providers, where people just don’t have anything to do and they’re trying to cut costs.
JEFF: Yeah, if you do heart transplants as a surgeon, like, not doing that right now. [laughing] I don’t know that the heart transplant doctors are getting laid off but maybe the nurses are.
DARON: Given the cardiac issues that are coming out of COVID, but certainly other practices are.
JEFF: So, (7:34) just to paint the picture, BroadPath provides the call support. They call support people for healthcare companies, particularly healthcare insurance companies. So, if you call up your insurance company you might talk to a BroadPath employee who would help you through the phone tree of whatever your being helped with. Correct?
DARON: [laughing] Exactly. Yes. And us and many, many others.
JEFF: I’m sure I’ve oversimplified it. [laughing]
DARON: No, that’s fine. That’s essentially what we do. There’s a lot of other stuff we do on the backend helping with administration of claims and things like that. But, yes, in the call center space that’s what we do.
JEFF: (8:30) And partly it’s seasonal because things like open enrollment is seasonal.
JEFF: (8:41) And so that happens for a few months when people are calling up to rearrange their healthcare, and then open enrollment closes, and those people aren’t really needed, which is part of the reason that the healthcare companies hire you, rather than just doing that in-house is because they need specialists to handle that ramp up and ramp down stuff? Is that right?
DARON: Exactly. Yeah, most of the workload in the health payers, it’s called, the health insurance sector, occurs between October and March, and it’s relatively painful to ramp up by thousands of heads and then ramp right back down. Certainly, some of our clients do that themselves, but they in large part offload much of that work to partners like BroadPath.
JEFF: (9:38) And your people all work at home? In fact, that’s pretty safe to say, work at home, because sometimes when we talk about this, they’re like, oh, people work from Starbucks and stuff, but you can’t really do call support from a Starbucks.
DARON: [laughing] No, you couldn’t. But pre-COVID we were about 99% work from home and now we’re 100%. So, didn’t have a lot of transition pain there.
JEFF: (10:10) So, now that we’ve painted that picture and people understand your background here, let’s zoom way back out again and let’s talk some about this COVID situation, and particularly remote work. All these companies including a lot of your competitors, all of your competitors I would argue, in order to stay in business have just sent their people home, and for companies like yours and mine, where we’ve been working remotely for years and feel like this is a competitive advantage, all of a sudden we’re now competing [laughing] with all these other people who are kind of doing the same thing, but I guess in a larger sense, I have this existential question, is this really remote work? Are these companies that have just sent their people home and now they’re “remote working” are they? They are, but what are the missing pieces here? Should those of us that have felt like we’ve had remote work as a competitive advantage be afraid or delighted? I’m trying to get my head around this from somebody who has been talking about remote work for the past 15 years and feeling like, Oh, this is a great thing. Everybody should adopt it, and now everyone has, and I have a mixed [laughing] feeling and I’m trying to unwind that. (11:57) What are your thoughts about all this?
DARON: I have mixed feelings as well. [laughing] It’s sort of like you feel both. You feel fear and delight at the same time. [laughing] I’m personally very excited on that everyone has now ripped the band-aid off, right?
DARON: I think remote work, at least in my industry, fell into the category, there were two things going on. One is, it fell into that quadrant of important but not urgent and so, maybe it was a good idea to do and we’ll dabble in it, but it doesn’t have to be a strategic initiative for us today because it’s not urgent. Then the other thing, I think holding it back was this largely perception that it is not as secure. That, particularly in the healthcare space, you’ve got people working from home dealing with highly sensitive data, medical records, the usual stuff like credit card information, social security numbers, but also medical information, and they’re having very sensitive conversations with people about their health, and there’s nothing really more sensitive than that conversation. That or maybe money. And so, I think that combination of those two is why you just didn’t see remote work take off despite huge advantages to the model. We did this back of the napkin little study internally at BroadPath years ago where we just wanted to see if you put real estate and commercial office, spend as it’s own industry, expenditure and held it next to healthcare expenditures and defense and education and social security, and all the major programs that the government is involved in, it’s up there, number two or three on the list, and so, that alone, the massive potential for organizations to save money on real estate should’ve pushed people firmly into the remote work model. Tons of other reasons, carbon footprint, people on average commute six weeks a year, employees love it, employers can save a lot of money and get access to talent nationwide. All these are really, really powerful things in the pro category, and you have to ask yourself what’s in the con category that’s always been holding it back, and I think it’s trust and that lack of urgency, and so the urgency just got ripped off [laughing], everyone did it.
DARON: They moved out of the important but urgent category into the important and urgent category and it happened. But, the trust hasn’t been addressed, the accountability hasn’t been addressed, nor has the softer stuff like culture, connection, engagement, and so, we have to figure out how to solve those to make the model work long-term, and our concern is that we all declare victory prematurely and then we look back three months from now and we go, Oh man, this isn’t working very well. Let’s all run back to the office as soon as we possibly can.
JEFF: Right. That it can have this hangover effect, that everyone is delighted, Oh, this is so great. Remote work is so great, I feel so free, this is so great, and then the next morning people realize they’ve lost connection, they’ve lost culture, they don’t quite trust people, they’re not being as productive, they’re not being as connected. And they blame remote work rather than the systems and processes that they haven’t really [laughing] thought about, and go back into the office saying, Blah, I thought it was great but apparently not, and that’s that. It seems like an unfortunate conclusion.
DARON: And avoidable. What we’re trying to frame the discussion as is think about it, pick your framework, but our framework is, we view it as a three-stage evolution. So, stage one is the basics and we’re there now. We got into stage one. We got bodies, we got people at home. In our industry we got calls successfully routed to the home agent. Whatever industry you pick people are at home, they’re doing the work, they’re getting the work done, and we all deserve a huge pat on the back for making that happen in a more painless way than we thought it was going to happen. Stage two we think the focus of people that are trying to make work at homework and stick, we think that the next focus will be stage two is sort of, how do we get good productivity and performance and accountability within that remote work model now. So, everyone would admit they probably sent people to work from home that might not be set up for success there, and so, putting the processes and other programs in place, not just the technology but the processes layered around that technology, to make sure that they get good performance, productivity out of their work at home employees. And then Stage three is more of a shift into culture and connection and engagement and social isolation, and the more soft stuff around making work at home successful.
JEFF: Maslow’s hierarchy of remote work. You got the basics, just get people working at home, next on top of that is productivity, maybe you want people to be productive, and then the higher level stuff is, which is important I think because people expect that in an office environment is, those more squishy things like connection, culture, morale.
DARON: Yeah, exactly. So, we all love working from home now, but for some people in particular it’s got to be a pretty isolating experience and they’re feeling out there on their own, maybe they don’t even have the communication patterns established yet. Initially, four weeks ago when we would have that framework discussion people were like, whatever. Yeah fine. We’ll talk about culture later, we’re just trying to keep the lights on right now, thank you very much. But now we’re getting a lot of traction with that model, and we’re just trying to frame the discussion there and get people to buy into. One of the larger organizations that we work with, a senior leader said something to the effect of, Hey, what’s so hard about this? We’re all working from home now. Heck, our partners are at home, and this is the more interesting thing then to is, We’re at home offshore. So, this is something that is brand new to my industry. When you think about in the healthcare sector there always has been a lot of offshore support to that model, right? Folks in the Philippines, in the Caribbean, in India. Thousands and thousands of workers, right, in those countries, and work from home was completely unheard of.
JEFF: Huge call centers in particularly the Philippines but also India, other places, but these were call centers. People went into work often at odd hours in order to work the American workday, but yeah.
DARON: And not only that, but the benefits of work from home are even greater there. It’s not uncommon in the Philippines for instance, for people to commute two hours, three hours, each way to get to work. Every call center there, for the most part of any size, has sleeping quarters where people can take naps during the day. In some cases, spend the night there. Maybe you have workers come in at four a.m. for a seven a.m. shift, they come in early just to avoid traffic and then they need a place to nap. So, there’s all this friction in the model that work at home addresses but due to concerns about infrastructure and the basic trust, accountability question, security, it’s been completely unheard of, and now everyone’s doing it, and many organizations are considering keeping 20-30% of their headcount at home, even offshore. Again, it’s hard to overstate how big of a change this is virtually overnight.
JEFF: (21:50) Yeah, are there security concerns? This has been a main focus of BroadPath. Do you need to be HIPAA compliant or is that outside the purview of the work that BroadPath is doing?
DARON: No, very much HIPAA compliant is part of it. There’s another certification called HITRUST which we’re a HITRUST certified organization.
JEFF: Right. (22:20) So, you’ve got people working at home, they’re dealing with sensitive data, certainly sensitive conversations, any conversations around peoples’ health is sensitive and probably people don’t [laughing] want that getting out. How do you handle that? How is that being handled by people working at remote villages in the Philippines?
DARON: We’re handling it in two ways. The first way is the same way that everyone else is handling it which is a significant lever that you pull. Number one is technology, and not our technology but just straight up stuff everyone uses; VDI infrastructure, virtual desktop infrastructure, lock down PCs, all the frontend table stakes technology controls that everyone has in place which are arguably 80% of the security posture that you get is from these things that everyone does, right? The second is, of course, training, making sure people understand things like fishing. All the table stake stuff that everyone does is still really important and arguably responsible for the majority of protection that you get. Then the remaining stuff, the things that made people uncomfortable with the work at home model, that’s what we’re trying to solve for in addition to the connection, engagement, and social isolation piece. And so, we do that through technology we developed called Bhive as well as the programs that we’ve developed around Bhive. So, when you think about the remaining security gaps, and with any at home worker, it’s what’s going on in their office. Is an unauthorized third party looking at their screens? Are they perhaps working on their computer? Does the person say, I’m going to split my shift with my wife or son, I’ll take the morning shift, they’ll take the afternoon shift, and it’s like a different human being sharing the work.
JEFF: Right. These are interesting things that you could never do in a collocated office, but, ways that people might take advantage of a remote working situation. Similar to, you hear about people sharing; your Uber shows up and the driver who’s driving, it’s the car you ordered, but it’s a different person at the wheel, because they’re sharing, or somebody’s filling in and stuff that’s not supposed to happen, right? This is not the vetted person. This is not the person who was hired for this job.
DARON: That’s right, and then other areas are, okay are you writing down protected health information? Are you taking pictures of screens? Things like that, and you could never control for those at 100%. But with Bhive and some of the other programs we have in place, you can begin to get closer, and that helps a lot, to take it as far as you can take it in the at home environment, and it’s enough that it’s made our clients comfortable using BroadPath agents working from home, and it’s got a huge potential benefit in the offshore model because it’s largely perception again that home office work in the Philippines is less secure than home office work in the U.S. It’s not fair, but that perception just exists.
JEFF: Right. (26:28) So, Bhive. You’re solving these difficult problems; jobs where security was an issue paramount. People had to be in the office and they’d oftentimes get padded down before and after they leave [laughing], and there would be someone closely looking over their shoulder. Bhive has a camera that people have on them while they work. And, I mentioned this the last time you were on the podcast, and I’ll probably say a pretty similar thing like, part of the thing with remote work for a lot of companies has been that it’s just about trust, and that there’s no such thing as micromanagement in remote work and stuff. This isn’t for the purpose of micromanagement. This is more about security, accountability and building the trust from end to end between the people who are answering the phone and doing the work, and not only you, but your security conscious clients as well, right?
DARON: Yeah. The starting point for Bhive is really the premise that you feel closer to, and you trust more people that you can see, than those you can’t.
JEFF: That’s why in the general [laughing] population people didn’t really know what Zoom was until the pandemic, and now everyone’s talking about it everywhere because it’s how people are connecting.
DARON: Yeah. It is funny this awakening that people have to Zoom. For us and a lot of other people it’s been just one of many tools.
JEFF: Right. It happened to be the one that happened to be at the top of the pile when all of this hit. There have been others over time. I remember Skype. Everyone was excited about Google, what was it called, Google Meeting?
JEFF: Hangouts, that’s right. And then Zoom floated to the top and then all of a sudden everybody needed something, and Zoom was the most popular one. Certainly not the only game in town.
DARON: Yeah, and it’s free and it’s super easy to use and it works, so everyone’s using it.
JEFF: (29:00) But what you’ve got is a different technology. It probably does similar kinds of things, but this is more about ongoing monitoring, I guess is what I’d call it. Yes?
DARON: It’s not monitoring. There’s certainly part of it that is monitoring. But in our view it’s no more monitoring or scary than you would have working in an office with people where you could see each other working, like an open floor. Bhive is basically creating an open office environment virtually, where your CEO is sitting next to you at a desk, all your coworkers are sitting next to you at a desk, and you all work together and see each other. And it’s simply no more scary than that is.
JEFF: Than an open office.
DARON: Than an open office.
JEFF: Any San Francisco startup will tell you exactly what this is like. [laughing] That’s how all the startups start.
DARON: That’s right and it has similar benefits and drawbacks to an open office, right. In an open office you don’t have a lot privacy to take a call from your wife unless you step out into the little phonebooth. In Bhive we’ve got a mechanism to do that as well; it’s called shutting off your camera, and we don’t have audio. It’s just recreating that visual open office space. And so, it’s interesting to see peoples reactions. The people that have worked from home forever and are kind of digital nomads look at me and they’re like, Well, we don’t need that, that’s Big Brother, and okay fine, but people who haven’t worked from home before and maybe aren’t built for it, or more social and want to feel more connected, they like being able to see their coworkers working just at a glance like left and right. Now, there’s a key distinction I have to make with Bhive, and that is, we don’t do a front facing, high definition camera always on kind of thing. That is uncomfortable, and you don’t get that in an open office where you have three peoples faces six inches from yours just staring at you [laughing] continuously. We’ve deliberately tried to recreate the experience of looking to your left or looking to your right, people positioned 10 feet away, what would that look like on camera, and that’s what we’ve done. So, we take a wide-angled webcam, we put it to the side of the person. The view you see is a fairly low resolution view of them working kind of far away in their home office. So, you see their desk, you see the side of their monitors, you see the cool stuff they have on the wall, in my case it’s a bunch of guitars, that prides some talking opportunity, but it’s not like you’re sitting there altogether, all day long, like in a Zoom meeting. That’s not the experience that we go for. It’s more like sitting in a coffee shop next to your coworkers, virtual.
JEFF: So, this fills in a piece, right? One of the things I worry about with this podcast is that it can become a bit of an echo chamber, that there’s a certain amount of pattern matching that I only end up talking to web development companies because web development companies work really well in remote work, and we talk about the world of remote work, but really what we’re just talking about is a subset of web development companies [laughing], but the question I’ve asked and the reason that I started Yonder was, how can I harness what I learned in my web development company and seem to be this magical thing around remote work. Is this something that translates? How can it translate? Who can I talk to, to start to understand and ultimately create a modellable behavior for other companies around what are the lessons that we can bring out there into the world and what works? And, a missing piece historically has been this security, monitorable work. The kind of work where that security is a concern and we need to translate that trust. (33:47) I’m sure that there are probably also other pieces that this starts to bring in. talk to me a little about that. What am I missing about what are the cultural advantages? Are there other pieces that start to fill in when you’re doing this? Or maybe there are other things that you’re doing that start to bring culture in, especially at scale where you’ve got 2500, 3000 people all working like this.
DARON: That brings us to where we’re taking the Bhive platform. Really we’re envisioning Bhive as a platform purpose built for the remote work experience. It has functionality in really three boxes. It has functionality that enhances connection and engagement, one. Two, it has functionality that enhances performance and accountability. And then, three, it has functionality that enhances security. And so, we’re building functionality along all three swim lanes, and again, it’s nothing more than replicating things that exist in the office experience today.
We’ve launched a program called Hive Life, played on the Bhive term, and it’s focused on directly addressing some of the gaps that exist with remote work relative to social isolation and wellness.
when you think about wellness offerings that employers provide for employees, that’s a b to b product, there’s a lot of interesting things being done. By and large historically if you’re a remote worker in some cases you could access to a coach, you could do virtual telehealth, things like that which is great. But if you want to learn more about restful sleep or nutrition or whatever, you’re typically going to be watching some prerecorded content, consuming it On Demand by yourself. And so, that fills its space. It’s incredibly convenient because you can do it on your own schedule, but it misses two things. One is, it doesn’t really connect you with coworkers, per se, so it doesn’t really solve the social isolation issue. There’s a lot of research being done on social isolation and directly tying it to health impact, and that is very real. The second thing is that it’s not a live experience. There’s something about live that makes people feel more engaged. So, what you see with those programs traditionally, wellness programs, are relatively low participation, especially from remote workers. And they’ve got a ton of other options available, just online. You can just go online. Now that’s changed a lot in the recent three or four weeks where everyone’s on Zoom and the live thing is not an issue anymore; everyone’s live. My wife dances with 5,000 people everyday for an hour, which is awesome, and I love to see the creativity that’s coming out now in society. It’s a whole new world going forward. But, still, in my mind, one of the missing components there is, there’s not an avenue directly for connecting while you’re doing that live 5,000 person thing. If you could combine that large massive online format with a small group intimacy, that to me has a lot of potential, and that’s what we’re trying to do with Hive Life. So, what we’re doing there is saying, Okay, let’s say we’ll offer a six week stress management and mindfulness workshop. It’s an hour a week for six weeks and you meet with eight to 10 of your coworkers who share that common interest and throughout the process you support each other on that journey dealing with stress which is through the roof for our employees now. Cause not only are they taking calls all day long but now they’re taking calls from more stressed out customers and they have their kids on their lap. Our employees don’t have a lot of available time or the tools to deal with some of these issues. So, because we’re a service provider we can’t change a lot, but we can offer the tools to deal with stress. So, you’re in that six week class, you meet for an hour a week, you are both learning practical tools to manage stress but you’re also making friends in the process. And so, when you exit that six week class, hopefully two things have occurred; you’re better at meditating, one, but two, you’ve made two or three friends that you wouldn’t have had opportunity to otherwise. So that dual purpose of wellness and connection is where our focus is with this Hive Life program, and it’s been incredibly successful so far in our pilot stage, in our bootup stage with employees just raving. They’re like, Please don’t stop because I want to keep going to these classes. Now our challenge is how do we scale it.
JEFF: Interesting. Yeah, I mean there’s a whole lot of value. Well these layers of value, right. You can watch anything on YouTube, it’s just a matter of actually getting around to doing it, so when something is live and especially when you’re doing it with other people, there’s some urgency isn’t quite exactly the right word, I mean it’s urgent at the moment, right? You need to be there Monday at 10:00 when the thing is happening and you know it’s going to happen, right? I’ve realized during these past six [laughing] weeks or whatever it’s been, I can do workouts on YouTube. I wasn’t going to my trainer because she would walk me through the workout, or because she knew what the workout was, I was going there because it was an appointment, so I would actually do it and I was beholden to her and all that kind of stuff. So, there’s value to that. And then another layer on top of that is this social aspect, which is a really interesting thing, and provides some interesting clues, especially as we’re potentially looking at the next year without things like conferences, and places that people oftentimes go for that social aspect of things. And a piece that gets missed on online interactions, either it’s a one to many like a webinar kind of thing where you don’t have any idea who you’re attending with, or it tends to be more of work based, purpose built groups that meet online in a small group. (42:00) But I’m curious how we can start to replicate these more serendipitous relationships that happen through meeting with things, and it seems like this has some of that right? That it’s the people that are taking the mindfulness class together out of the 3,000 people that work at your company [laughing] get to know each other, which is an interesting aspect.
DARON: Yeah, and it does have potential benefit in the consumer space, we’re just trying to solve for the employee sector first.
DARON: Another thing that we’re going to be doing is monthly, and this is not particularly unique, but it is a little unique, we’re doing monthly livestream events. We hired a local band here in Tucson called Ryanhood to do a private BroadPath performance for us for 40 minutes, and that was special because employees, it was for them. It wasn’t like, Hey, let’s all watch a livestream together.
JEFF: This isn’t Lady Gaga that’s putting this together.
DARON: Exactly. And so that right there helps because the 200 or so people that chose to attend, we offered it after hours so not everyone could fit it into their schedule, but the couple hundred people that attended, that was already a safer group to share with. We did a little happy hour before the event where it was even smaller groups of eight to 10 people on Skype or Zoom, tool of their choice [laughing], just drinking cocktails and hanging out; everyone’s doing happy hours, but then when you piggyback that happy hour with this company private livestream, it was really cool. What we’re trying to either build or buy is, can we seamlessly shift people to the large group event, but preserve the small group interactions that you had in that happy hour, so that you’re watching that livestream event both with your small group that you just got drunk with, and with the larger group. What happened during the livestream concert was that a smaller group of people that I was part of, we were on WhatsApp posting pictures of us and our families sitting in front of the livestream screen, and so it was like a bunch of people just snapshotting themselves while they were watching and that added a whole new level of we’re in this together. So, what we’re building is a mockup or a prototype where you’re in a small eight to 10 person group, then you all jump into a large, could be thousands of people watching, livestream event, but that eight to 10 people are still visible, right there in video and posting pictures of each other and chatting and that to me is like, that’s the special sauce there, because then you get both. You can scale it, but you still get that small group experience. It’s kind of like some things that they’re doing with Twitch, the Netflix watch together kind of thing. A lot of those are just like chat based. We want to be able to see the people that we’re watching with, while we’re watching, in a not distracting way [laughing].
JEFF: Right. Yeah. It’s a fascinating user experience issue. To some extent it’s a technology problem, but I feel like the technology’s mostly there it’s just a matter of figuring out how to arrange the technology [laughing] so that it kind of replicates real life, but maybe even better than real life, because if you’re going to a concert together oftentimes if it’s a quiet concert you can hear each other talking, but then it’s rude to talk [laughing] or it’s a loud concert and you can’t talk because it’s so loud, you know, to try and find that balance. (46:28) So, again, I want to zoom back out again. What advice can we give for companies that have gone remote? I feel there’s this potential for them to do it wrong, not knowing what doing it well looks like, and that we end this whole this with remote work in a worse place than it was when it started. I don’t think that’s a likely scenario, I’m being a little bit hyperbolic, but what advice do you have for these companies maybe as they’re going through these stages as you put them, the one, two, three? Because at any point, they get the basics down, but they never quite get productivity. They assume that productivity is just not a thing that happens with remote work, they go back into the office and say, Well, we would never do remote work again because it’s so much less productive. Or they never get culture and they go back into the office and say, Well, you can’t replicate culture in remote work. What advice do you have? What’s missing?
DARON: Kind of just plan for the breakage and commit to the long haul. It’s all of these gaps that are going to show up, or these weaknesses that are going to occur. The other shoes going to drop, plan for it. So, we know there are people that have been sent home to work remotely now that have no business working remotely, right? Maybe it’s the simple stuff like their home office isn’t set up for it, or their bandwidth isn’t quite where it needs to be. But it also could be they don’t work well in that kind of environment where there’s low accountability or there’s no connection and they’re just off on their own as a single producer. So, if we understand those issues are going to come up and commit to solving them, they are all solvable. It’s not just one answer. Our technology and the way we approach it, there’s no one size fits all anymore than there is in the brick and mortar environment. There’s a million different ways to skin a cat and arrive at the same finish line, so to speak. But we’ve all ripped the band-aid off now, so look at this as an opportunity to permanently optimize yourself, to set yourself up as a forward thinking company versus a maybe, in some cases, middle of the pack or even a follower. Take advantage of it. The other thing is why it’s an opportunity is that, it’s new. You can do anything. There’s no burn in that’s occurred for the most part, especially if you’re new to this where your employees are used to working in environment A and you’re trying to change manage them into environment B.
JEFF: Right. Sending them home for seemingly no reason, and there’s a reason now, above, and beyond “company optimism” or we’re going to try a new thing, or I’ve got a brainwave.
DARON: Yeah and even with a technology like Bhive which requires some change management along with it, if your workforce has not been used to something else, then it’s not as challenging because the change isn’t as large. So, it’s just an opportunity to really take a step back once we’ve ripped the band-aid off and get more strategic and see what do we want the longer term to look like, even if COVID were to evaporate tomorrow by some miracle cure, there is an opportunity there to permanently transition your model in a more future forward way, like future is today. [laughing] However, if you don’t take a look more toward the long-term and how we can optimize and make the remote model more sticky, then we know in a lot of cases it’s going to be more painful and you might end up just out of sheer frustration, like, Whatever, everyone just go back to the office. We’ve got the real estate. We’ve got the cafeterias. We know how that works. Everyone just come back in.
JEFF: (51:38) So when you say plan for the breakage, you mean it’s not going to work perfectly the first time and maybe not the second time. There’s going to be a little bit of stuff that falls apart, but it’s worth sticking in.
DARON: Let’s say you’re a Fortune 500 company and you’ve had a remote work program but number one, it’s been hub and spoke, so you’ve kept everyone within a 50 mile radius of an office so they can come in for training and corporate events and things like that, if that’s been your approach, one. Two, if you’ve also, which a lot of enterprises have done, use remote work as a reward system where only your top performing employees get to work from home, then you got a whole different paradigm right now that you have to get in front of, where maybe it’s not hub and spoke anymore, or maybe it is but you just don’t have the office to go to so you don’t have that benefit. Number two, you’ve got people working from home that aren’t your top performers and aren’t self-driven, high performing [laughing]. How do you make work at homework for the masses, just like you made brick and mortar work for the masses? Again, they’re solvable problems but if you’re approaching it in exactly the same way you did before, or worse, approaching work at home exactly like brick and mortar, then there’s going to be some significant breakage, I think. And what we don’t want to have is any organization just go, Oh, that sucked. That didn’t work. Let’s all go back to the office.
JEFF: (53:30) Do you think that there are certain people who won’t work well remotely or is this more a problem of management and company and culture. Are there tricks that you found for helping people to work remotely that might not be so self-directed?
DARON: Well, yeah.
Bhive helps a lot. If you can see your team members, just forget your boss, but if you can just see one another working throughout the day, you right away feel more accountable to your team members. It’s interesting.
We’ve also seen patterns of communication change when you’re in Bhive versus out. We had some far flung developers, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Philippines, where we weren’t as deliberate about getting everyone in the same room together in Bhive, and everyone needs a nudge Jeff. Everyone needs a nudge to get on video in Zoom, everyone needs a nudge to get on video in Bhive. It’s the same thing. But once you’re there you go, Oh, that’s kind of cool now.
JEFF: Well, and it’s an even playing field too. That’s been one of my sayings around remote work. It’s important that whatever you do it’s an even playing field, right? It feels uncomfortable when most people in the room are on video in Zoom and a few people aren’t. Why? What’s going on? And likewise, maybe nobody’s on video and that also feels okay. And likewise, hybrid teams are really difficult where some people are in the office and some people are not. But whatever it is, once you’ve got an even playing field everybody’s on video. Okay, this is just what we’re doing. We’re all in this together.
DARON: And there’s this, lack of a better term, I call it Zoom prairie dogging, that we’ve seen with some companies. It’s really interesting to watch where you’ll be in a Zoom meeting and people only go on video when they have something to say, and they’ll say their two or three sentences and then they’ll go black again. So, it’s like pop in the video, go black, pop in the video, go black, and it’s weird because you’ll be one of two or three people whose on video the whole time and it’s like Whoa, what’s going on and why are we doing that? [laughing] It’s got no brick and mortar precedent really.
JEFF: Yeah, it’s funny. As the leader of a company, or even a manager, I think we don’t even ask for as much empathy as we might. But oftentimes that means that you, or me, are the people who are on video [laughing] talking to a blank room of nobody and then somebody pops up and has a question, and it’s weird [laughing], it’s really frustrating.
DARON: [laughing] It’s really weird. It is really weird. What you said is right, if everyone’s doing it everyone should do it. If no one’s doing it, no one does it. Either one is fine. It’s the hybrid ground that’s uncomfortable for both parties. The other thing that we really try to do is give people a hall pass, number one. Some people just have Zoom fatigue these days, like, I can’t stare at myself on Zoom anymore. I just need a mental break from that like looking at you, looking at me, talking to one another and part of it is self-conscious and part of it is trying to focus on you, it’s just a weird experience to have for eight hours a day. When we were showing Bhive to an organization a couple of years ago, one of the developers, he was leading a development team, he said, “You know, it’s interesting because when you think about it, Bhive is really the ultimate opportunity to show vulnerability and promote connection because you’re making yourself vulnerable by allowing people to see you all day long working from home”, and that’s a powerful way to promote connection. And we’re trying to do that here at BroadPath too, where it’s okay if your four year old jumps on your lap in the middle of a meeting. It’s okay to show up with a baseball cap because your hairs a mess, or whatever, you haven’t shaved for two weeks. It’s okay, let’s have fun with it. I think it’s a beautiful opportunity to show the more human side. The prairie dogging effect is really people that are really afraid to show that other side, and it’s such an opportunity. So, you’re eating a carrot right now, who cares.
JEFF: Right. That’s what I was going to say. They’re prairie dogging because they’re eating their lunch. It’s like, just eat your lunch, it’s fine. [laughing] And to have that kind of built into your culture I think is important. My saying around it is we are being invited into peoples homes. If people are working at home they’re inviting our company into their home. Let’s be respectful and treat them like a human and allow them to be human and not require them to do the Kabuki theater that is professionalism. I joke like, most people are able to pull off professionalism about eight hours a day, and then, it’s just [laughing] okay, I gotta go home because I just need to put on some sweatpants or I can’t wear a necktie anymore, or whatever those things. I don’t know any company that requires people to wear suits and ties when they work from home. Where does that go. Likewise, you can’t really control what your pet is doing. Likewise, you can’t really control what your kids are doing. Let that be okay.
DARON: Yeah, it’s a great equalizer and humanizer to be able to have that window. [laughing] I think some people when they think about a Bhive environment they think, Oh man, will I be micromanaged, and this could be such a powerful tool and so misused and that’s right. We don’t think it’s appropriate for some cultures [laughing] where it wouldn’t be used appropriately and respectfully like you said. There’s no predefined outcome. It could be a connecting tool and it could be a micromanaging tool.
JEFF: You could use a hammer for all sorts of different things as well.
DARON: [laughing] That’s right. Exactly.
JEFF: It’s just the tool, you know. You could build a house or go on a killing spree. [laughing] One is ill-advised.
DARON: We’re doing our first BroadPath’s Got Talent Show in two weeks where it’s going to be interesting. People are auditioning for a two to three minute chance to be famous [laughing] amongst their coworkers.
JEFF: (1:01:23) Are there other cultural things? I’m curious just that the scale that you have, what it looks like to connect people, because I think for people that have had remote work experience maybe they’ve got a team within their larger company and teams are usually in that range of five to 15 people that need to connect or you’ve got a larger company that’s 50 to 75 people and there are ways you can kind of connect. You know everybody’s names at the company and stuff like that. I guess there’s probably a lot of stuff [laughing] that translates from having a 3,000 person collocated company because they’re the same problems, but what does it look like to handle such a large remote team like that?
DARON: Some things are done at the team level organically and other things are done more enterprise wide.
JEFF: (1:02:25) So you are split up into teams? How large are your teams?
DARON: 10 to 15 typically, sometimes 20. So, the people that have a lot of fun with Bhive, and you could do everything you could do in a brick and mortar center now, because you can see each other. So, you can wear purple hair for a day, or you can put your favorite stuffed animal in front of the camera, or you can do where’s waldo. The limit is human creativity there and teams just do that organically and we take pictures [laughing] of it when they do it.
JEFF: Yeah, there’s some of that on the Bhive homepage which we should mention the URL here. It’s go.inbhive.com, and as I’m watching these photos cycle through there’s people wearing crazy hats in one picture and everyone wearing orange in another picture [laughing]. These are interesting and people start using these things in interesting and kind of fun ways that ultimately start to express culture.
DARON: There’s one person, John, in our accounting department that everyday usually he does something subtle and interesting in front of his Bhive cam, and so people go, What is John doing today? And we got a little bit of a photo montage going. [laughing] And then you could do corporate wide things that are more structured like the livestream that we’re going to be doing monthly. The Hive Life classes, things like that. So, it’s kind of a combination of both. Like you said, it’s just a tool, and it can be either neutral, game changing positively or game changing negatively, depending on the programs that you wrap around it. So, we’re focusing obviously on the connection and engagement piece and taking that to the next level of what does Bhive enable you to do that you couldn’t do before and lets run with that.
JEFF: Yeah. Cool. Well Daron this is a fascinating conversation as usual. (1:04:59) Is there anything you wanted to touch on that we zoomed by that you want to revisit?
DARON: The last thing I was going to say is what we’ve noticed is that patterns of communication change. For example, in our software development team, when they all got deliberate about being on Bhive for more hours of the day, you know you can’t do it eight hours a day if you’re in all different time zones, we saw the patterns of communication change a lot where, people were much less hesitant to ask a question. They would always assume if you couldn’t see the person they would be more leery about am I going to interrupt that person by asking them a question? And so, you would see less collaboration and people wouldn’t be as aligned, and just strictly patterns of communication change when you’re in Bhive you see a higher frequency of email and chat on the other tools that we have. There’s more Slack chatter, more Slack communication, there’s more phone calling going on when they’re in Bhive than when they’re not. And that’s really cool to see, because it means that it’s working to help bring people together and make them feel like they can collaborate. One of the main complaints is that presence is not always real, [laughing], so you might see the green dot but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get back to you anytime soon.
JEFF: Right. Yeah. This line of keeping an open line of communication is one of those phrases that goes around in the corporate environment, but, what we’re really talking about is just knowing that we can reach out and being able to see people, see your coworkers is a reminder that they are there, and they’re in fact not talking to anybody else on the phone right now. Just that reminder. I do think the presence and this peripheral information, one of the things that I advise around remote work is that people need to understand their context. They need to understand their purpose, but ultimately they need to understand where they sit. Who are they working with? Everything from what does this company do to how this company does it. I find that in remote working environments companies tend to be much more transparent. They need to be in order to provide that context to people so when they sit down at their laptop, they sit down at their computer at home, that they know what they’re doing. And it seems like Bhive is just another way of giving that context.
DARON: It is. Some visual context. We started developing a prototype that we still want to move forward with where, and this skirts interesting territory but, where Bhive would pick up audio of the user, not to hear the conversation or transcribe it or record it or anything, but strictly to do pattern analysis on the wave form, and indicate with a greater confidence level whether the user was available to talk to or not. Were they in a conversation on their cell phone? Were they in a conversation in person? Because you can get some of that stuff from your integrations. So, if you’ve had a Skype integration you know if they’re on a Skype call, great. But that doesn’t help you with an in person conversation nor a cell phone conversation. And so, could you do reliable audio analysis to say, Okay, when you have these kind of patterns it indicates a person is not available because they’re in a conversation of some sort, and then how much silence do you listen for before you say, hey, they’re available now. So, if you combine something like that with integrating with coms applications, with also having the ability to put yourself in a do not disturb or a focus time, you got a really kickass way to really hone in on those times when a person might be with a high confidence, I can reach out to them now and I’m going to be able to go synchronous with them. When you do that in an office, if a person is working two doors down, you typically would say, okay do I have a green dot? Yes. Okay, now I’m going to walk over to their office, I’m going to glance in, and I’m going to see are they on a call, are they talking to someone, and then do they look like their heads down, and if the answer to all three of those is no, you might knock on their door. So, can we replicate that virtually to get the same effect.
JEFF: Well, a better effect ultimately. How many times in an office environment have you walked all the way down to the bosses door only to look through it and realize, Oh, they look like they’re busy, and then later on, two hours later you’re like, Oh, I came down and you looked busy. Oh no, no I wasn’t busy. [laughing] Like that conversation, it didn’t even need to not happen you know.
DARON: And the hard thing is you want to automate it for people cause the focus time capability is cool but then the user has to remember to put themselves in and out of focus time, and they’ll forget going in or they’ll forget going out. [laughing] So, if you could do that sort of automagically that would be really cool.
JEFF: Well, great. So, Daron if anybody wanted to follow-up with you about Bhive or any of your stuff, BroadPath, where should they get in touch with you?
JEFF: Yeah, great. Well thanks Daron.
DARON: Thanks Jeff. Pleasure, as always.
JEFF: Always an interesting conversation. Take care.