2020 has been an unprecedented year for businesses everywhere, but veteran-owned surrogacy, in-vitro fertilization, and egg donation agency Patriot Conceptions has managed to bring on six new hires despite dealing with some unique challenges. Before the pandemic, founder Haotian Bai and his team of eight served a customer base that was primarily located overseas. But with ongoing travel bans, they’ve had to refocus their strategy on domestic families first.
“When COVID-19 hit, we were just as worried as everyone else, but we ramped up business development, informational technology, and marketing, and we were able to keep up and continue to profit despite the travel restrictions,” says Bai.
When Bai was serving as a chemical engineering specialist in the U.S. Army, he saw just how difficult it was for service members struggling with infertility to gain access to surrogacy services. This painful experience is exacerbated because soldiers are already mentally stressed, he said. The experience led him to start Patriot Conceptions. Now the business helps infertile couples, gay couples, and single parents with in-vitro fertilization and other surrogacy services.
Bai is excited to have the team—14 employees and growing—back in the office at WeWork Park Tower in Costa Mesa, California. The team is currently going to the office in rotations to accommodate social distancing measures.
“If today we have IT together, tomorrow it’ll be the marketing crew, then the day after, the internal services department,” Bai says. This model ensures there is ample space for every employee (now seated at every other table instead of shoulder-to-shoulder) while ensuring that the most relevant coworkers get time to make progress face-to-face—or at least in the same room.
“With our new hires and the need for social distancing, we’ve upgraded to an 11-seater space,” with not all employees coming into the office at the same time, Bai says. “It’s been a positive transition for us.”
Why going back to the office was necessary
Even though the team was able to be productive while in quarantine, working from home and the distractions that come with it just didn’t measure up to the professionalism of an office setting, Bai says. And while some people are still finding ways to adjust—by moving out of cities and into bigger homes, or by updating office layouts—for most of us, big changes just aren’t viable.
“Everybody was still working really hard [during quarantine], but you just can’t replace the in-person work environment. So much is communicated via body language, for instance, and there’s much more of a sense of camaraderie, creativity, and collaborative energy, which allows for mutual inspiration,” says Bai.
There’s also the potential lack of accountability—a must for Bai, who served in the U.S. Army before starting Patriot Conceptions. “I like having my employees come into the office, because showing up on time, in the morning—that’s important to me, and to a lot of other business owners. We expect our employees to get things done, and in a timely manner. It’s a reflection of personal responsibility.”
Bai did notice certain patterns and trends among employees. His engineers, focusing on coding and design, were able to work just as well from home. But the marketing team, for instance, was more productive at the office. But there was “sometimes a missing link between marketing and engineering or IT,” Bai says. The engineers are producing a digital product, but they need marketing’s input to make it more appealing to our customers.
The ability to visit any office near you
Interdisciplinary collaboration is key for growth, says Bai, and moving forward he’s betting on the hub-and-spoke office model. “Our main office is in Costa Mesa, but we have employees from all over the Los Angeles area; Diamond Bar, Alhambra, Ventura County, Pasadena,” he says.
“WeWork has locations near those employees, too, so I can have spaces all over, and my employees can go to their respective WeWork offices without spending an hour or more commuting each way to work,” says Bai. “It’s like having multiple physical branches of your company.”
Bai says an employee in Pasadena doesn’t need to spend that time getting to and from the office. Instead, she can just go to her local WeWork building. “She checks in, I know she’s there, I have that accountability—and she can utilize all the amenities of that WeWork location,” he says.
Bai sees the satellite desk as an ideal solution. “Normally, you have to rent out an entire office to do a hub-and-spoke model, and that can be very costly,” he says. “But at WeWork, my employees can use the hot desk system and take advantage of all that WeWork has to offer, at any of their locations.”
“Everything from the upbeat music, plants, and bookshelves to the interior design and friendly staff creates an atmosphere of inspiration. Every conference room is connected to TVs instead of traditional projectors, and with the WeWork app, members have everything we need. And it’s great for networking as well,” says Bai.
Focusing on a mission together
Last month, 80 percent of Bai’s workforce gathered at the Costa Mesa office for a socially distanced team-building event. Thanks to the space, they were able to maintain six feet of distance while enjoying pizza and drinks.
Meeting in person gave the team a chance to bond and revisit their righteous and valuable mission: to disrupt the surrogacy industry with assisted reproductive technology (ART) so that they can bring all kinds of families around the world closer to their dreams of conception.
“We had a great time, and it was way better than Zoom,” says Bai.
Anastasia Dyakovskaya is a writer, content producer, and native New Yorker living in Madrid. She works with brands like AT&T, Getty Images, InVision, NewsCred, and more, and holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of St Andrews.
Growing from a few to a few hundred employees takes strategy and the right space.