VRU Prepared for a remote workforce years before COVID-19

April employee spotlight: Jon Hill, Justin Mealer and Clay Thompson

The Velocity leadership team watched how quickly the news of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) went from a handful of cases in Seattle to more than 1,000 across the U.S. in less than a month. Within 24 hours, they made the decision that the safety of the employees was their #1 priority and announced on Friday afternoon, March 13 that effective the following Monday, all 100+ employees would work from home.

While this seemed like a daunting task in such short time, the truth was that Velocity had been preparing for this day since it opened its doors in 2015. With the technical leadership of Jon Hill, Infrastructure Administrator, who built Velocity’s IT infrastructure foundation, the company adopted a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) from day one. This meant that when additional locations opened and when remote employees were hired, the team was all working from one infrastructure that wasn’t dependent on hardware alone.

The second piece of luck came when the Nashville headquarters outgrew its office space. Although the office move wasn’t planned for another seven months, the IT team recognized that the supply chain disruption from China due to COVID-19 may affect their ability to purchase hardware when the need arrived later in the year. Justin Mealer, Desktop Support Technician, suggested they purchase laptops and monitors in early February, which now help dozens of employees who didn’t have the hardware they needed to work from home.

The move to a fully remote environment did not come without its challenges. While most employees had minor to no issues, there were times when the information highway was jammed worse than rush hour traffic, causing the system to move slowly, freeze or break connections. The team, including Clay Thompson, Desktop Support Technician, knew exactly what to do: create additional connection servers to handle the traffic; in other words, build another lane on the virtual highway. By the end of the first week, these minor challenges nearly dropped to zero.

“Velocity Risk Underwriters is into week three of its new normal, and confident that the model and foresight of the IT team helped to put Velocity leagues ahead of the competition who were not able to adapt as quickly,” according to Praveen Reddy, Chief of Operations. “ We want to honor  these three heroes who helped us quickly and smoothly transition and not miss a beat as a small and growing company.”

Jon Hill likes to joke that he is employee number 0.5 as he started working for Velocity about a half day before the CEO opened the doors to the new company, managing the IT infrastructure needs and handling 100% of the work with some guidance from parent company, Nephila. Jon is married with two biological children and two adopted children. Before his adopted son was born, Jon and his wife had less than 24 hours’ notice to travel 12 hours to meet their new son only moments after birth. Jon believes that there is a need in the world for people who have the capacity to take more ownership than they do.

After assembling his first computer from scrap parts, Justin Mealer became the go-to guy in high school for IT solutions. When the school discovered he had hacked the school’s WiFi, rather than punish him, they gave him a job. He was more than happy to be called out of history class to fix the English teacher’s computer. After starting a computer repair business at 18, Justin added to his knowledge with several other IT jobs before passing a rigorous interview process at Velocity. Justin loves that Velocity is small, where he finds a “breadth of experience in learning.”

When Velocity grew to three offices and nearly 100 employees, Velocity hired Justin and Clay on the same day, with Clay supporting the Birmingham and Chicago offices when he wasn’t solving IT problems as assigned. Clay Thompson started his career as a linguist in the Army, but was always drawn to IT. One of his more recent jobs was with a firm that was already 100% remote, so he was able to draw on that experience in transitioning Velocity to a fully remote environment. Clay is married with a 3-year old son.

“We are thankful that all of the employees at Velocity are forward thinking and have the initiative to keep the company moving in the right direction,” Reddy added. “We look forward to the day we can celebrate our work ‘family’ at the office and grateful for the technology that makes it seem like we’re not really that far apart.”