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When COVID-19 hit, Forward Health Group was left with a unique storm of compiling issues: a complex industry, a sophisticated software solution, a growing new company, and a global pandemic.
CEO Michael Barbouche founded the company in 2009 to solve complex healthcare challenges with better data management. The company ran well, with a team operating out of their Wisconsin office. Going remote threw off the team’s rhythms. They struggled with communication and time management. Michael couldn’t focus on growth or new clients in uncertain times.
He knew he needed someone to take work off his plate so he could focus on running his company, and he partnered with Delegated to make that happen.
The pandemic shifted the way that Michael ran his business, forcing him into more internal meetings rather than external ones. “I don’t get on planes anymore,” he says. “I get on Zooms.” With that came additional challenges in terms of managing his schedule. Things became really chaotic, really quickly. Michael was bogged down with company meetings when he should have been meeting with clients. He needed to free up his schedule and focus on growing the business. He needed a virtual assistant who could solve this problem, fast.
This was a large adjustment for him and the team. It required a level of experience and professionalism that they’d not needed from previous assistants. Before the pandemic, Michael had what he calls a “ride-along assistant” who went with him to meetings, handled scheduling, and stayed in the office. The employee moved on. When the pandemic hit, Michael realized the new role would require someone he could partner with to create a better system, not just accomplish tasks. He wanted a college-educated, well-trained member of his team that could work remotely. His search led him to Delegated.
Forward’s Senior Leadership team received his idea of a virtual assistant with skepticism. The pandemic had just begun, and he joked about how the team would often ask themselves what new crazy adventure he’d bring them on next. However, as the pandemic continued, remote and hybrid work began to feel less novel. Long-term adjustments proved necessary, and the team agreed that a remote virtual assistant would help.
Michael was impressed with how the Delegated team worked with him to find a strong fit. The first VA they assigned worked great but left after having a baby. From there, they rotated through two others before landing at Nita, Michael’s current VA who has worked with him since October 2020. The two immediately connected, forming what both describe as a partnership.
“I look for a partner that can really be my equal,” says Michael. He wants a VA that does more than just complete tasks. He wants someone who “can really monitor and lead the distribution and the coordination and the scheduling of all [his] different demands in a smart and thoughtful way.” After Delegated paired him with Nita, Michael can half-jokingly say; “she’s more in charge than I am.”
Nita appreciates this mentality, saying that it “feels amazing to be trusted and to be considered a partner” and that she feels honored and grateful to be considered part of Michael’s team. Early on, she valued how much effort Michael put into the onboarding process, helping her understand the complex, color-coded system he developed through trial and error with some of the past VAs. The details helped the two of them get off to a great start rather quickly, and they have had relatively few bumps along since then.
“Initially, Michael provided step-by-step instructions and even had a color-coded PowerPoint presentation that he provided,” Nita recalls. The presentation included information about his process for how he schedules meetings with direct reports and precise instructions for how he wanted to keep things organized. Michael’s directions, combined with Nita’s 20 years of experience as an Executive Assistant, empowered the two to develop a partnership.
I look for a partner that can really be my equal (...) She’s more in charge than I am.
It feels amazing to be trusted and to be considered a partner.
Michael explains that they have built upon that early foundation as time went on. At this point, they have developed a successful, minimally-disruptive system that allows them to meet once a week for 15 minutes and let things flow from there.
“It’s not quite shorthand that we communicate in, but it’s really short messages and it’s very infrequent messages.” Michael has equipped Nita with the resources she needs to thrive in her role and help him to the level he expects out of his assistant.
The rapport between them has allowed Michael to entrust Nita with high-level responsibilities, including scheduling board meetings and acting as a complete representation of his brand. “When you take that leap and you work with a firm like Delegated, and you’re working with a VA,” Michael says, “It’s really about having the confidence that when I have a pretty high-stakes meeting with a prospect, I can put Nita out there as a representative of me and of our company and know that she will handle it smartly, swiftly, and professionally.”
It’s really about having the confidence that when I have a pretty high-stakes meeting with a prospect, I can put Nita out there as a representative of me and of our company and know that she will handle it smartly, swiftly, and professionally.
Michael’s trust in Nita began with his trust in Delegated. As needs picked up and changes became a necessity, Michael says the team was always there to help him out. He recalls a particular series of discussions where he had the chance to clarify exactly what he needed out of an assistant so they could pair him with a qualified person. After a series of questions, he identified the great need, telling them “what I need is a really professional appearance and a really professional composure because we’re getting into some really great, exciting new conversations.” This led to matching Michael with Nita, and the rest moved into place after that.
“I’ve outsourced a function of the company… to them,” he says. “They’re handling it at a very high level of professional integrity and support.”
Michael knows that the challenges that came from the pandemic haven’t ended yet. While people have returned to the office and travel has opened up more, Michael and Forward Health Group still have plenty of pivot points ahead of them. He knows these adjustments “will bring a new wrinkle” to their system, but he also believes the system they established will help them get through it.
“I’m very confident in the way we manage a calendar today,” he explains. “It’s wonderful because a big part of my work is to contribute to the growth and to contribute to the strength with our clients. [Having a VA] gives me time to actually do work as opposed to bouncing around from A to B to C. There’s real intention now in how to build out the day.”
I’m very confident in the way we manage a calendar today. It’s wonderful because a big part of my work is to contribute to the growth and to contribute to the strength with our clients. [Having a VA] gives me time to actually do work as opposed to bouncing around from A to B to C. There’s real intention now in how to build out the day.
The level of intentionality and the level of professionalism Michael gets from his Delegated VA has helped the company power through the pandemic. The partnership he and Nita have built now functions as a foundation to build on as more changes come up. With Nita handling his calendar and schedule, Michael can focus on helping the company grow and give attention to the next challenge.