Pete Trainor HeadshotPete Trainor is a man on a mission to bring design, data, AI and technology together to empower humans to be happier and do more of what they’re good at. Pete is the bestselling author of “Human-Focused Digital” and the CEO of international healthcare provider Vala Health, an online medical consultation service headquartered in London.

The service connects its members to General Medical Council-registered general practitioners for a secure online video consultation for as little as £15 a month. Pete Trainor took over as CEO in November 2019 after exiting his own Ai Design Consultancy.

He has a very simple philosophy: Don’t do things better, do better things.

For our FFS series, we spoke to Pete about the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on his company and how they have adapted their hiring and operational processes in response.

 

Tell us about the impact that Covid-19 and the lockdown measures have had on your business?

We provide appointments with doctors and physician associates online — So for us, Covid-19 Coronavirus has shot the business into the stratosphere. We’re currently fielding almost 5x our normal appointments. I’m still a designer at heart, even if I wear a CEO badge now, so it’s actually been really exciting having to solve a lot of really wicked, complex problems, at scale, at speed, and with ethics driving every decision. I feel really proud of the way the entire team, both clinical and operational,  stepped up to what has been an unprecedented situation.

All our clinicians are remote workers anyway, so they’re used to working online, and video consultation is our platform, so they’re pretty well drilled in the new-normal by our co-founder and clinical director Niall Aye Maung.

But for the rest of the team (design, development, finance etc) I think people have been finding this level of isolation really tough mentally and physically. I try and encourage them to book regular appointments with the clinical team to check in on their health and wellbeing. This much isolation and anxiety isn’t good for anybody, and especially when you couple it with how busy we’ve got after the lock-down.

Nobody really worked 5 days a week IN the office, we all have home days, but I know the team is missing the space we have, and human contact with people outside of their housemates or families. Collaborating is key to any good business, and we’ve definitely felt the pinch there.

It sounds a bit cheesy, but I’ve found Vala to have a genuine family feel to it, so I think people are just worried about each other, and eager for this to be over so we can go back to interacting with each other in the real world again.

We’re obviously really nervous and scared for our staff getting sick now too. Nobody is immune, not even doctors. So I just hope they all stay safe and healthy.

 

How have you adapted your operational and hiring practices?

Definitely. As I mentioned previously, the GPs and Physicians are all used to working in remote ways, that’s what Shellane Crisostomo one of our co-founders has trained them well to do. But we’ve had to adopt a lot of those practices in the rest of the business now. Make better use of the very technology we sell.

Hiring is a new challenge because I do like to ‘meet’ people before we hire them. Especially for a business like Vala where our culture, ways-of-working, thinking and ethics are so core to what we do and our identity. It’s never the same speaking or interviewing people over screens. I’ve always felt the same regardless of the business I’ve been in — You can have all the scale and all the scope. You can have the best designers and the best coders. You can have all the technical genius that you want — But that doesn’t mean anything if it’s not something you care about, because if you don’t care it doesn’t matter. You really need to meet someone face-to-face to sense how much they care.

 

What are your top tips for successfully managing a remote recruitment process?

Taking your time — you can’t rush a remote hire because you really need to make sure the person you’re hiring is going to fit into the culture of the business when you all eventually come back together as a team.

It’s probably wise to get the people who’ll eventually be working closely with the new hire to meet them for a virtual coffee and a chat. Onboarding a new hire into a business like Vala is really tough for some who’s been hired remotely. They’ve got to have the right attitude as well as the right skills. EQ is as important as IQ more than ever.

Set some remote challenges for them. See how they operate independently. Manage expectations that things might take longer. Don’t rush anything.

 

Has this crisis made you look at your business differently or consider changes moving forwards?

I think so — it’s certainly given us all a very steep learning curve, but it’s also shown us our strengths. We’ve been able to find the weaknesses quite quickly and try and innovate around them. We’re putting in a lot of new processes that will help us in the future.

We’re a regulated, ethics-driven business, we can’t afford to make even the tiniest mistake with our audience. This crisis has definitely made us appreciate that even more.

 

What advice would you give to anyone in a similar position to you at the moment?

Keep calm. Take your time. Think like a designer as much as you can, because solving problems methodically, and trying to find new ways to solve old challenges is potentially the biggest obligation you have right now. There’s never been a moment in time like this, so don’t be too harsh on yourself if things go wrong.

Every company leader needs to do the deepest dive they can, and lead the business from where we are at this place in time. I’ve said it time and time again; it always comes back to the same idea — get personal, not more professional.

Go deeper inside, more interior, and express what it is you’re all going through that makes you connect to the current issue. Translate that into your product, and instil that into the team. That’s our obligation; that’s our only obligation.

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