UPDATED 12:29 EDT / NOVEMBER 11 2020


Q&A: Kraft Heinz, Sutter Health and HPE execs reveal how their organizations quickly adapted to COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed how every business operates. And while every company’s situation is unique, some similarities span across industries.

Providing first-person perspectives on how manufacturing, healthcare and technology workplaces have adapted under COVID-19 are Jennifer Brent (pictured, lower left), director of business operations and strategic planning for global real estate at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.; Albert Chan (pictured, upper left), enterprise vice president and chief of digital patient experience at Sutter Health; and Shaun Flaharty (pictured, upper right), head of technical services at The Kraft Heinz Co.

Brent, Chan and Flaharty joined moderator Maribel Lopez (pictured, lower right), founder and principle analyst at Lopez Research LLC, for a panel discussion during the Workplace Next event. (* Disclosure below.)

[Editor’s note: The following content has been condensed for clarity.]

When COVID-19 first hit, no one could continue with business as usual. How did your company adapt? 

Chan: Sutter Health is an integrated delivery network in Northern California. We serve over 100 diverse communities with 14,000 clinicians and 53,000 employees. In late February, I saw two patients who drove straight from the airport to my clinic. They had respiratory symptoms, and I’d been reading about this thing called COVID. So, I had to wear a mask, gown, face shield, you name it. I realized then and there that we had a unique challenge that was confronting us here at Sutter Health, which was how do we protect not just the patients, but our clinicians as well?

We designed a telehealth strategy to rapidly respond. In four weeks, we trained over 4,700 clinicians to deliver care virtually to meet the challenge. Before COVID-19, we had 20 video visits per day on average, and after COVID-19, we saw up to 7,000 video visits per day. So the ramp-up was tremendous.

Flaharty: At Kraft Heinz, we make some of people’s most beloved products and own major brands, such as Oscar Meyer, Planter’s Nuts, Maxwell House and Philadelphia Cream Cheese. In my current role, I’m in charge of technical services, which includes engineering, manufacturing, maintenance, and all the productivity pipeline that goes with those. Manufacturing is something that’s not very easily done remotely. So, we had to quickly address the pandemic and make sure that our operation could stay intact and make our employees feel safe and stay healthy. Across our manufacturing facilities, we put in measures to require face masks, health check assessments, and temperature checks before anybody enters.

We put digital signage across the facility to encourage social distancing, and we’ve taken our break rooms and redone them so there’s social distance inside with plexiglass. We staggered our break hours and lunch hours so that people don’t congregate inside the break areas. And then we also have mailed newsletters to every employee’s home in both English and Spanish to promote social distancing and wearing face masks outside of work so that they can protect their communities and their families.

Brent: At Hewlett Packard Enterprise, our main mission is to advance the way that people live and work through technology. What we’re focused on right now is how do we take what’s happening with COVID-19 and advance the way that our employees or team members live and work? How do we capitalize on this particular situation and think about what the future of work looks like and how we start to design for and deliver that now?

We’ve got a blend in terms of our workforce. We have knowledge-based workers, as well as manufacturing-based workers and also essential IT support workers. And those latter two categories have continued to use their offices as part of the essential workforce throughout COVID-19, so we’ve implemented very similar safety measures to Heinz Kraft — social distancing, personal protective equipment use, and the like.

But as we’re thinking about what the future of work looks like and wanting to re-conceptualize or re-imagine the future of the office, we’re thinking a bit more broadly. As a company, we are in the midst of a strategy transformation to become the edge to cloud platform-as-a-service company that is the leader in the industry. We wanted to think about our strategy in terms of our workplace in a similar way, so we’re framing it as the edge to office experience. By the edge we mean anything that is outside of the office. So that might be your home office, that might be a customer site, that might be working on the train on your way to the office or at a café. We’re trying to think of workplaces everywhere and how do we design for that? How do we design for the flow of a workforce that’s moving and working in a space that at that particular time or moment or day best suits their work?

Right now we’re looking at what is that experience at the edge. What do we need to make people feel comfortable and for people to feel safe and connected? How are we then adapting our offices, pivoting so that they foster use by a much more fluid workforce and fostering collaboration and social connection? Then we’re looking at the digital experience being that bridge between spaces; that equalizer where everyone has a similar kind of experience. It’s that piece that is critical to ensuring that we continue to have the strong cultural element that is core to HPE.

I think what’s most exciting for us as a technology company is the key part that technology plays in that. In the past, workplace technology and collaboration technology may have been seen as more of a “nice to have,” whereas now it’s imperative to support the future workplace.

Did you experience any other changes or challenges as a result of these adaptations?

Chan: I think the biggest change was our belief in what we could get done. There’s always a fundamental belief in what you can achieve, and we’ve pushed the limits and we keep pushing it. For example, I diagnosed a hernia via video, which was an incredible feat and something I never thought in my career that I would be able to do. We had a physician who had a family who was concerned about their baby, and that physician diagnosed a neurologic disorder via video.

This “you-can” attitude has changed our culture. One of our doctors was quoted as saying, “You know, life has changed so much from COVID-19; we’re seeing this differentiation between B.C. — before coronavirus — and A.C. — after coronavirus. And care will never be the same again.”

Flaharty: As people started to eat more at home, we had to change and retool our whole manufacturing network to make the products that people wanted. There are four key things that we’ve learned during this: speed, agility, adaptability and repeatability. Through those four things, we have come to better ways of working to increase efficiency, have greater flexibility, and better focus on what the customer wants.

Brent: I think that people are becoming exposed far more than they have been in the past to the power of technology. From an employee-engagement perspective, what we’ve been shown through the past six to seven months is how much connection you can establish virtually. We’re seeing a lot of adaptation, a lot of efficiency gains.

Relying more on technology is showing us that we can do things in a way that allows people to work a lot more flexibly in ways that suit their personal style and without any kind of negative impact on output but the reverse, seeing an accelerated positive impact.

What’s the number one thing you’ve learned from adapting your business to COVID-19? And how do you think you can use that learning going forward?

Flaharty: I have had to change my leadership style from one of a servant leader, because we’re not in the plants now to be able to mentor and coach people hands-on, to intentional leadership. Intentional leadership to me is visibility. You’ve still got to be seen; you’ve still got to be able to do things. So you’ve got to do something to make people feel engaged. You have to build trust. You have to have clarity. Before COVID, we set goals at one to three years. Now it’s 30, 60, 90 days because the environment keeps changing around us so fast.

You need diversity. You have to be very intentional about who you select on your team. You need courage. It takes courage to speak up. It takes courage to create clarity. It takes courage to create a diverse team. It takes courage to lead in these chaotic times.

Brent: I love everything that you just said. In so many ways, it mirrors all of our key themes that we’re thinking about in terms of the goodness that we want to take from the past few months. The one that I would add is to believe in bold moves.

What’s been so exciting at HPE is that we had this bold idea of moving to the future as a hybrid workplace. And pretty early on the company was developing that strategy. Now a lot of our competitors and peers are coming out with very similar vision statements. So that’s been a key learning — the power of that kind of vision is having a bold idea and going for it.

Chan: For me, it’s an affirmation. If I think about health care, we have this unique responsibility and opportunity, the privilege of being involved in the most intimate times of patients’ lives. And I have been so heartened by the commitment of our teams and our clinicians to be approachable and reachable even in the face of the pandemic.

It’s an affirmation that we are committed to helping people in their daily lives, and it’s an affirmation of the power of people in relationships.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the Workplace Next event. (* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for the Workplace Next event. Neither Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., the sponsor for theCUBE’s event coverage, nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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