This week, we spoke with Tom Whicher, the CEO of DrDoctor, a British healthcare technology firm that specialises in patient-hospital platforms. Mr Whicher is an NHS Innovation Fellow, where he works with the National Innovation Accelerator to advance the adoption of evidence-based healthcare solutions. Given Tom’s expertise, we looked forward to hearing his thoughts about how COVID will impact the world.
Most professional business developers say that the structure of the economy is completely changing. What goes go through your mind when you hear sentences like this?
I believe the structure of the economy is completely changing. And the first thing I think of when I hear that is “opportunity”. Whenever a system changes, it gives rise for people to think and work differently and create new impactful businesses. Structurally speaking, this new working from home thing is huge. I have no doubt that gives more opportunities to both people and businesses because it means we can employ from a far broader set of talent. Because geography doesn’t matter anymore. The other big structural change is where people will spend their money and how. This gives more opportunity for business to think how they’re serving their customers. For example, coffee shops might end up doing delivery because people are not concentrated in office blocks in central London anymore. On the other hand, we can see more local businesses thriving from the back of people working from home. Their clientele being brought back to local venues for their coffee needs.
What is your opinion about 2020 so far?
2020 is the most important year that never happened! There’s been a huge structural change in how we do just about everything, but we’ve all been stuck at home not really being able to enjoy it.
COVID-19 attacked people’s private and professional lives at the same time. How did you feel about this in your area (business-wise and private-wise)?
For us, COVID-19 reinforced what we’d already been thinking for a long time. We have built a business around allowing patients to manage their care remotely. COVID-19 has accelerated other people to share this thinking with us. It has actually validated our business and our ideas.
Privately, I think it has made us learn a lot about ourselves. For example, I could never work from home before. Now I’ve discovered that I am capable of that and there are some real benefits to working from home, like more time with my family and the ability to go for a dog walk at lunch tie. But I’ve also discovered that I love being with my team and going forward for me, it’s about finding the balance between those two things.
Your business has developed robustly in recent years. How has COVID-19 has affected your future development so far?
We’ve had a fantastic couple of years at DrDoctor. COVID-19 is an opportunity to take a market and fundamentally re-imagine it. That happens once in a lifetime.
Of course, 2020 has been a devastating year for many and has put the healthcare system under unprecedented pressure. However, this has also given rise to an opportunity for health-techs like ours, who genuinely want to help the NHS (The National Health Service, the publicly funded healthcare system in England), to be able to do so.
As a result, we’ve continued to grow. At the start of the year, we had 40 employees, 9 products and were helping 6 million patients in the NHS. Fast forward to today; we are a team of 67 people, offer a set of 14 products and help more than 8 million patients.
For us, it’s hugely exciting to see the future that we’ve been talking about for the last few years to finally come to light.
What do you think: what kind of business tasks should good, responsible managers complete right now to prepare their businesses for the near future?
It’s critical that people understand that this COVID era is not a blip and structural changes have happened to the way people are working. Any responsible business owner will be thinking very hard about how they embed process around remote working, support their employees with their mental health, and make sure you take the time to step back and think about what the structural changes to the economy mean to you.
This is because things that were certain six months ago are not certain anymore. So, step back, and re-examine the fundamental axioms you built your business on because they’re changing.
What are your main challenges right now?
Our main challenges right now are the same ones they’ve always been. Executing with a growing team that understands the culture and values of the organisation and is clear on what they need to do. We’re a rapidly growing business with a rapidly growing team. Of course, getting this right remotely is even harder.
In addition to this, it’s challenging to find the balance between execution and finding the time to step back to understand the strategic impact of what’s happening in the economy on the business and the NHS. Because although the digital appetite of the NHS has improved, there’s still a long way to go.
What changes have you already performed regarding your strategy?
We’ve made the business go remote by default and supported the team with all that it entails—all while focusing on maintaining the culture of the company.
In addition, we’ve also really had to step back and think about how we communicate. One of the big challenges of being remote is that all your communication becomes non-verbal, which requires more thought to get the nuance right.
We’ve thought incredibly hard about how we communicate non-verbally, how we make sure everyone in the business has context, and how we’re crystal clear on roles and responsibilities.
If you’re going to make a business work remotely, those are the two things you need to focus on. It’s not just about webcams and screens at home; it’s about how you get the internal communication right to achieve true collaboration.
More and more news is about how the future solvency structure will be about two different, separated poles: premium and mass. What are your thoughts on this subject?
I don’t know if I agree with that; successful businesses will either be high-cost or high volume. Markets were going that way, but what remote working means is that there’s a space in the market for local shops and services that aren’t premium and aren’t trying to serve thousands of people. They serve their local community, and they do it to a high standard, so actually, I think we might end up seeing a reversal of that trend.
What advice/recommendations do you have for other managers all over the world for the next six months?
More than ever before, it’s about finding the balance between looking outside and understanding how the world is changing and focusing internally on making sure that your teams and your staff have the support they need to work in an environment of very high volatility.
The level of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) in the world has massively increased, and that can be really stressful for people because people like certainty. What you need to do is to give your team the skillset to deal with uncertainty, because that is the future.
More than ever, focus on understanding what’s happening externally and translating that internally for your team so they can handle uncertainty. You will build a really robust business that can cope with future shocks, should there be more to come.
Thank you, Tom!