Christian Williams, co-founder and chief operating officer of telemedicine startup OpenLoop, led a breakout session at the Iowa Technology Summit Tuesday on how the company has developed its hybrid work environment.

Founded in 2020 by Williams and Dr. Jon Lensing, OpenLoop started as a service placing available physicians in rural hospitals that needed shifts covered and pivoted to a telemedicine platform when the pandemic began. Now the platform connects physicians to telemedicine roles for 40 clients, and 50 employees make it happen.

Half of the team is based in Des Moines and the other half is spread across 14 different states. Williams is currently pursuing a master’s degree in positive coaching, which he said has helped guide OpenLoop in building a hybrid workplace that strives to support both remote and in-person workers.

Here are some of Williams’ insights from the session:

The challenge: Communicating the company’s mission and vision to a hybrid team. 
“When we started out in 2020, we came up with our mission … but it wasn’t something we talked a lot about. And I think early on, this was probably the thing that was inhibiting our business most because we hired maybe people that weren’t aligned with the vision when we really needed them to be. Otherwise how are you going to manage them remotely? How are you going to drive the company forward? And how are they going to talk about your business when you’re not in the room with them?

“This is part of the challenge with the hybrid model. You don’t have the day-to-day interactions and then if you aren’t living your vision and people aren’t seeing you live your vision, it’s a challenge for everyone to connect with you. That’s not just the remote folks, but even in person people can sense that.”

OpenLoop’s approach: 
“Bringing value and vision together, establishing a way to communicate with our team members, fulfilling those basic needs and then tying that back to the mission of the business all culminated in [our recent activity]. I’ve been trying to change the narrative on vision all year long, been trying to talk about it more often, and then when we got into the due diligence process with [our investors] we started talking about vision day one. … What had changed between 2020 and 2021 was that we had committed to that vision and were actually believing it, and [it was] showing results.”

The challenge: Motivating a hybrid team. 
“There are no techniques that can motivate people. You actually can’t have a ton of control over people’s motivation but what you can do is you can influence the environment that they work in and you can help them … become more intrinsically motivated to fulfill whatever mission you’re working with together.”

OpenLoop’s approach: 
“These three fundamentals — autonomy, [meaning] you have the free will to do something; belonging, [meaning] you want to do it because you’re with others; and competence, because you have the knowledge and capacity to make your own decisions — are values that we started out with in early 2020 and these are the things that I believe helped us to get where we are now. … Fulfilling these needs help people be more self-determined and more intrinsically motivated so that any of us aren’t having to ask someone to do all the things that we need to do with the business. They want to be proactive searching out the opportunities, and it’s less task-oriented. It’s more goal-oriented, and then the outcomes are being intrinsically changed by the teammates.”

The challenge: Integrating technology that works for in-person and remote employees. 
Of the workflow technologies OpenLoop uses, Williams said some areas where the company has adapted its strategy are in company communications and meetings. “One of the biggest pieces of dissatisfaction from our remote team was when we would all be in a conference room, and we would all have our laptops open and we didn’t have a webcam. So everyone was muting, unmuting, re-muting.”

OpenLoop’s approach: 
Williams said they invested in webcams to resolve the meeting issue, allowing remote participants to see everyone in the conference room at one time. They also found a balance on the communications side. “The biggest transition between us going from 25 to 50 [employees] has been the switch back to email. We were finding that Slack was getting too cluttered. … [Slack] has been really good for us but we’ve tried containing it to if you would text it, it will be a Slack. But if it needs a thread, if it’s really more something that’s going to have a conversation over a week, two weeks, a month, we go back to email. It sounds simple, but we actually had to talk about this often over the course of the last three months because we’re using so much in the communication stream. It’s just so easy to send a Slack. Usually when you are creating an email, I think that there’s a little more thought put into it, which is helpful.”