“I would’ve gotten a printer,” said Greg Mathis, Senior Policy Advisor to U.S. Senator Mark Warner, when asked what he would’ve done differently had he known Covid-19 was going to change the way we work for over a year. Last week, he met with Greg Baxtrom, chef and owner of Olmsted and Maison Yaki, and Jazmin Hughes, reporter at the New York Times, during Workato’s first annual user conference to discuss how Covid forced organizations to embrace digital solutions.
As someone whose work revolves around healthcare policy, Mathis had a sense that Covid-19’s presence would linger far past the initially projected two weeks of remote working. Nevertheless, that knowledge didn’t prepare him for the sudden shift that increased the world’s reliance on technology significantly. “I had to get a whole home office set up. Simple things like printing and scanning documents became not so simple all of a sudden,” said Mathis.
Not only did employees and office workers have to weather significant changes in work environment and processes, the pandemic also forced millions of business owners to make some really difficult decisions, including Baxtrom. “It’s just sort of been a fight for survival. In the very beginning, we were forced to lay off all of our staff,” Baxtrom stated.
Without a doubt, many businesses—small, big, private, and public—had to change the way they operated and adapt as fast as they could when Covid-19 hit. Hughes, Mathis, and Baxtrom sat down together (virtually, of course) to discuss the role of technology in their lives when the pandemic took the world by surprise.
Proliferation of tech-focused solutions
“It was tough—we had 60 employees at our peak and on March 16, everyone was laid off,” admitted Baxtrom. Luckily, he was able to turn to technology to help with crowdsourcing and building a relationship with the surrounding community. Baxtrom created a GoFundMe page to raise an employee relief fund, and with the help of his community, was able to gather over $100,000 which provided him with a couple weeks worth of payroll—“It was a lifesaver, quite literally,” said Baxtrom.
GoFundMe wasn’t the only online platform Baxtrom leveraged during this time. When Baxtrom turned the restaurant into a food bank for hospitality workers who had gotten laid off, shortly after opening up the space more broadly to those in need, he used both his personal and business Instagram accounts to spread the news. He also brought the restaurants onto food delivery platforms which he didn’t rely on pre-pandemic.
Just like Baxtrom, Mathis found technology to be the solution to a challenging situation, specifically for fast-tracking a project he had been working on for a while: advancing telehealth offerings and accessibility. “The pandemic has brought the use of telehealth really in the 21st century. It’s really gotten us light years beyond where we were to about where we need to be. It makes sense to allow folks to access their physicians from home—it can be cheaper in many situations, it can encourage people who might put off longer-term issues to get that preventative care up front.”
The rapid advancements seen in the telehealth industry during the last year will continue to better support a variety of folks who have been in need of more robust telehealth offerings for a long time. Telehealth is a helpful alternative to traditional in-office visits for those who may have difficulty traveling, people who live in rural communities and may not have access to a wide variety of specialists, and those who need their medications but can’t always leave the house, among many others.
Changes in communication strategy
“The U.S. Senate, and probably a lot of government agencies and congress in general, is a very archaic institution in many ways,” said Mathis. “One of our biggest responsibilities is to be responsive to the people we represent. You want to be able to meet the people who you’re working for,” he continued. Typically, those meetings would be in-person. People would have to travel all the way to Washington D.C. from their homes to meet with members of the senate office.
When Covid-19 hit, Mathis saw a major shift in the way they communicated at his office, specifically how they communicated with constituents. His team became “more accessible and functional from a staff perspective but also from a public-facing perspective.” Mathis and his whole office successfully transitioned from doing everything—from conducting meetings with voters to signing papers or talking to HR about one’s benefit plan—in person, to having those things done virtually with remote work apps like Zoom.