PODCAST EPISODE 3 – INTERVIEW WITH MARELI POTTAS

Podcast by Paul Ogier on November 10, 2020
Dube Pottas Operational Manager - Mareli Pottas

In this episode we speak to Mareli Pottas from Dube & Pottas Inc.

Mareli is the Co-founder and Operations Manager of Dube & Pottas Inc., a private practice of medical social workers based in Johannesburg and operating from hospitals in Johannesburg and surrounding areas in Gauteng, South Africa.

Established in 2015, Dube & Pottas has grown from a few staff to 23 staff members in 28 hospitals in 5 years.

In this podcast Paul Ogier and Mareli Pottas talk about:
How this private company has intelligently used technology to simplify operations, manage staff in multiple locations and scale with the growth of the company.
How as frontline staff at the forefront of the COVID fight they have expanded their use of technology to overcome restrictions and obstacles to maintain their company’s operational requirements.
How their existing technology solutions enable them to go above and beyond in their treatment and support of their patients and their families who are often separated by distance and COVID protocols.
How they have utilised online training to onboard staff.

Who should listen to this episode?

Anyone who is interested in learning more about:

  • Ideas on how to start and grow a company without spending a fortune on IT infrastructure or IT support staff.
  • What a medical social worker does.
  • How health professionals are managing their stress levels and prioritising their mental health.

Show Notes

Mareli Pottas on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/mareli-pottas-2a1652137/
Email for Dube Pottas [email protected]
Telephone for Dube Pottas +27 11 489 1341

What Are Medical Social Workers? https://www.mswguide.org/careers/medical-social-work/
University of Pretoria: UP At its inception on 10 February 1908 the University of Pretoria was known as the “Transvaal Universiteits kollege” (T.U.K.) or the Transvaal University College. This was the origin of the name “Tuks”, as used by the students and has been used in connection with the University ever since. https://www.up.ac.za/
Taming Google Workspace - A Complete Administrator's Guide https://taming.tech/GSuiteAdminCourse
The Complete G Suite Course - Beginner to Advanced https://taming.tech/TheCompleteGSuiteCourse
Exclaimer cloud Signatures https://www.osh.co.za/exclaimer-cloud-signatures/

Edited Transcript

Paul Ogier

Howzit, Mareli, how are you doing?

Mareli Pottas

I'm fine. thanks and you? 

Paul Ogier

I'm fine, thanks. I'm not running around in hospitals. I'm working from home today. So everything's good. Unlike you. You said you are at home now but you have been at hospitals I assume. 

Mareli Pottas

Yes. working from home. 

Paul Ogier

We normally do quick questions to allow the listeners to understand who you are and get a little bit of a background about you quite quickly. So quick questions quickly. Here we go. 

Are you a morning person or night person?

Mareli Pottas

Definitely a morning person.

Paul Ogier

Okay, so you're one of those irritating people that jump out of bed and go hello morning and you have birds tweeting around your head like a bloody Disney Princess.

Mareli Pottas

Yeah, in fact, when I was a child, my parents didn't have to wake me up for school.

Paul Ogier

God, that's terrible. That's terrible.

If you could eliminate one thing from your daily routine, what would it be and why?

Mareli Pottas

So, I am not the average Afrikaans girl that likes to cook. If I didn't have to cook tonight. That would be awesome.

Paul Ogier

Is it? Is it the cooking thing? Or is it finding ideas and inspiration on what to cook? 

Mareli Pottas

Yeah, I'm not really good at it. Not really interested in it. And yeah, just don't like it.

Paul Ogier

Okay, so do your kids like to entertain themselves and feed themselves? 

Mareli Pottas

We do appreciate the occasional takeaway as well.

Paul Ogier

I think that during the lockdown, it was one of the things that frustrated me. It's Friday, I'd like to have some takeaway, and I just couldn't do it. And you have to cook seven days a week, three times a day. 

What is the best piece of advice that you've ever been given?

Mareli Pottas

One of my parents told me that when you feel down and off when you’re not having a good day and you feel like you want to just wear tracksuits, wash your hair, put on your prettiest dress, put in the effort with your hair and your makeup and your day will turn out better. And I've been doing that all my life. And I think it does make a difference.

Paul Ogier

Well, I'm going to take that under my wing. I'm not going to do the makeup yet. I’ll ease into that, I think.

What is your favourite piece of technology?

Mareli Pottas

Well, currently, it is my Samsung S20 note phone, which is brand new. And I love it. I love it.

Paul Ogier

What do you love about it? The size of the screen? The fact that it says Samsung along the top?

Mareli Pottas

Well, it takes the most amazing pictures. I do like the size. But yeah, I'm sure that I’m probably not even using half of what I can use it for. My teenagers are very, very jealous. 

Paul Ogier

My mother had an amazing computer that was handed down by us to her as a second-hand computer for her to check her emails. And she always used the expression. It's like she's sitting in a Ferrari playing with the radio. So that might be the same thing with your phone.

And what was your first computer experience? 

Mareli Pottas

Eish, I'm going to have to reveal my age?

Paul Ogier

It's okay. It's a safe space. No one is listening.

Mareli Pottas

Probably at varsity. I wasn't that into them because as a social worker, it's not really, you know, part of your job until much later.

Paul Ogier

And now that you've got your new phone, have you already set it up with a different cell phone wallpaper? Or are you still on the default wallpaper?

Mareli Pottas

No, no, no, I change my wallpaper every second day.

Paul Ogier

No. Why?

Mareli Pottas

Because I love it. I am quite a sucker for little motivational quotes and there are hundreds of free wallpapers that you can download. And one is nicer than the other so let's change it every day you open your phone.

Paul Ogier

Okay, so what is your current one?

So it’s just a bright, sparkly one with flowers, and that's very tie-dye '70s '60s love is all around kind of wallpaper. 

Okay, so getting to the meat and potatoes of the podcast. What on earth is a medical social worker? What's the difference between a medical social worker, which is what you guys, and a “normal social worker”?

Mareli Pottas

Ja. A social worker advocates for the less fortunate, vulnerable people and we try to enhance their social circumstances. The welfare social workers, they would take children away that's being abused. So we don't do any of those things. 

We also don't have statutory rights, which means that you can’t go to court. So the medical social worker enhances the patient's social circumstances, but we focus on the illness. So we educate them, and we put them in contact with all kinds of resources so that when they go home, they are safe and their family can look after them.

Paul Ogier

I think, normally, our hospitals are a terrifying experience, you don't know exactly what's happening, the doctor might not have the best bedside manner. And they're using words that you don't understand. And people are coming into the room and injecting you with stuff all the time. 

And now with COVID, it's even worse, because you can't have your person next to you. You can't have your support, your spouse, your children, your family next to you. So are you emotional support as well? 

Mareli Pottas

Ja I think we can be seen as the link between the family, the patient and the hospital. And the hospital means everyone working there from doctor to physio to whoever treats the patient. Just giving them a lot of education and supporting them emotionally to get through it.

Paul Ogier

So there's a lot of communication that's actually in your job. So the hospital is stressful being a social worker is stressful and your staff are in various different hospitals in and around Gauteng, in South Africa. And they often are the only social worker in that hospital. So I mean, that's stressful. 

And now, again, with COVID, on top of that, you guys can't even meet them and get together. And so my question is, you only had your first in-person meeting two days ago? How do you coordinate with your staff? How do you talk to your staff? How do you manage a company when you've everyone in so many different places?

Mareli Pottas

We used to meet with them before COVID. But since we just have to use the technology that we have. 

So social workers, our profession, we have to have supervision, that means that you discuss your cases with a more experienced social worker. So my business partner fills that role in our practice. And she sees every social worker every week, and they can then discuss their cases with her but also it gives them an opportunity to offload and debrief with her about everything that they’ve experienced.

Paul Ogier

Yeah, so guys doing that via Google meet?

Mareli Pottas

So she used to do it in person, she would go to each hospital, visit them once a week. According to a calendar, but now in the last six months, we've been using Hangouts.

Paul Ogier

Okay. Cool. And how is she doing? I do know that Monica, your business partner is older. How old is Monica?

Mareli Pottas

She's 70. So she's very experienced,our social workers are very privileged to learn from her. And I'm very proud to say that she has managed to use hangouts very well. 

The only frustration is, you know, the Wi-Fi connection. But she is on her calendar, and meeting with them every week, seeing them face to face. She said, it's very hard when they sometimes sit and cry in the office alone and she can't touch them and give them a hug. But ja, the fact that she could see their face makes a difference. 

Paul Ogier

How do you guys manage these kinds of stresses for yourself and your staff? 

Mareli Pottas

I think we practice what we preach, which is that you need to talk to people when things are too much. So, they do talk to us, we give them time off, we made sure that all our staff took leave sometime during COVID. We forced them to just take a bit of time off. 

We arrange regular group debriefing sessions with psychologists and if they need individual sessions. But because Monica is such an experienced social worker with about 40 years of experience, and she also has a master's degree, she's very good, and she's got close relationships with them so she helps them deal with their feelings.

We have quite a young staff so most of them are fit and eat healthily and do sports because I think in our profession, it's something that we encourage patients to do. But it's also something that we do because it is quite a stressful job.

Paul Ogier

You guys started your company five years ago?

Mareli Pottas

Yes, June 2015.

Paul Ogier

Okay, so five years ago, and in that time, you guys have grown dramatically. You started with just one or two people in one hospital? And how many hospitals and how many staff now?

Mareli Pottas

So we have 23 staff and we’re in 28 hospitals.

Paul Ogier

You guys are in different hospitals and you've got so many different people to deal with. How has technology managed to keep up with this growth? 

Mareli Pottas

I can't even imagine doing it without technology. 

We are dependent on referrals to make money and we get referrals via WhatsApp or emails. 

The social workers have cell phones, and also laptops, but you can't have your laptop open at the hospital all the time so that's where Google Drive has been really great because most of them have their emails on their phones. If there's an urgent referral they can see it immediately and not when they get back to their laptop or even when they get home. 

I think that has also helped us to communicate with each other and with families.

I just can't imagine them doing this job without technology.

Paul Ogier

Obviously, emails on your phone are important. 

You guys are dealing with people who are in distress, they're emotional, they're alone in the hospital and they need to have someone there. You use email, Google Drive and there are the calendars that you share with each other. It seems like you guys are actually using a lot of the cloud functionality of G Suite.

In the last couple of days, it's not called G Suite anymore, it's now called Google Workspace.

Normally, a person would be at work and then they’d have to stay at work to do all their admin. you guys are now more flexible. They're at work, they can work on their phones, they can work on their laptops or do their admin at home. 

If you guys had servers that were on a specific site, it wouldn't be as easy for your staff to work.

Mareli Pottas

We work with other practices and there are some very smart, very expensive programs for allied health professionals out there, which I don't even know about. For us, this has been amazing.

We need to do daily stats, which our staff do in a spreadsheet and we even share those with our external company that does our billing. We’ve created a folder that they have access to get our stats so that we don't have to export them.

And then if there's a mistake a staff member needs to be able to change that quickly so that it doesn’t hold up our billings. So that's very nice. 

And to have all the forms, the emails, and all the files that we are sharing available you can have access to anything you need to do quickly. The other day, I was at a coffee shop, and one of the social workers needed an urgent letter from me. I could go into the drive, write something on our letterhead and share it with her and she could go to the doctor with that. So that's been amazing.

Paul Ogier

Often when people talk to me they say there are two options for email productivity: Office 365 or Microsoft 365 and G Suite or workspace, which would you recommend? 

And, it depends on what your staff complement looks like and what your needs are. I think the thing that's interesting with you is that you do have a fairly young staff and your staff have all grown up having a Gmail address, they've all grown up with everything cloud-based. So, I think for you guys the Google G Suite implementation has been easier than something like Microsoft 365 because your staff have already bought into the ecosystem?

Mareli Pottas

Ja, I think, most of the universities are using it as well. Tukkies does. 

When we started using it, before we did your courses, our staff taught us a few things. I think they all enjoy it a lot.

Most of our staff use Hangouts chat. So that's how they communicate. When the admin girls want documents from them, or they want stats done or whatever, we basically communicate on that. So that's also nice.

Paul Ogier

I think that the thing that's also nice is you did speak about the fact that other practices have software that they use and software can be a hell of an outlay in terms of capital and it's something that a lot of small companies can't handle.

And what you guys have done is you've said we've got five people so we'll have five email addresses and then when you've got 10 people and you have 10 email addresses that scale with you. So the more people that you have everything scales with it, which is nice. 

And you also don't use any onsite IT people to come and install Word or come and install Excel. So that helps a lot.

Is there one product that you use more than anything else?

Mareli Pottas

So I think for communicating with families anddoctors at the hospitals, definitely emails

Since COVID we've also used WhatsApp calls and Hangouts to communicate with families because we were the people in the hospital so they would like to see their family members as no one was allowed to visit. So we found many people have Gmail addresses, or maybe they don't have it, but it's an easy free thing to create. 

So we use that quite a lot so that they could actually see the person in the hospital. And I think that was very rewarding for us but also families have really appreciated that quite a lot, just to see that their Father is still okay. And that the patient can also speak to their families. 

I'm so used to the Hangouts meetings that even though we had our first staff meeting, you know, two days ago, which was very nice to see people, it's still very good to have hangouts meetings. You don't have to drive. Especially with Monica, going forward, she wouldn't ever go back to seeing them week by week, because of the expense of petrol and also timewise. Driving from one to the other. It's just so much easier.

And also for the staff, it's better for planning because she's not stuck in traffic. So that just opened our world quite a lot.

Paul Ogier

When your staff started, there were some that were battling a little bit with G Suite or using the products. You guys did one of the courses that we put together on Udemy and use it to train your staff. So how many of your staff have done the courses and has it improved their confidence? 

Mareli Pottas

Mostly the admin girls did it and it definitely helped them a lot. I found that they actually taught others to do certain things because they found the right way.

And then with our staff meeting, now, we give them other tips. I'm going to show you how to do this, or how to do that. So at the staff meeting, because we can share the screen, I would also show them, this is how you can do this. So we've been training them.

Not just G Suite but also how you showed us how to do WhatsApp on your computer has also helped all of them as well. 

Paul Ogier

I think if you have a specific thing that works properly for your company, then it does make it easier to say, okay, you guys, we're all doing this one thing, this is the best way to do it. And then everyone's on the same page. So that's great that you're using the course, and some practical experience to make it better for you guys.

I find a lot of companies say this is what we're doing but they don't.And I think the fact that you guys are actually putting stuff into practice and saying this is how we're all doing it, even though some people might be resistant to it, I think that's a good thing.

Mareli Pottas

Yeah, they have to organize all their files the way I like them.

Paul Ogier

But you've also been doing this for a long time so you understand the concept of folder structures so it does make sense. And they might roll their eyes at you but at some point, they might not.

Paul Ogier

You guys are obviously on the front line. You've been working through COVID and working in the ICUs. At the bottom of every single one of your emails have a signature that has your name, your telephone number, latest banner, like brain injury awareness banner but I think my favourite part about your signature is that you've got a photograph of each and every one of your social workers. Does it help?

Mareli Pottas

I think that is one of the most amazing things. Not all my staff like it, especially because they're young, so some of them have asked me in the space of three months to change the photo, change the photo in there, change that hair. 

But we have had so many compliments from other companies that this is just amazing. The social workers themselves have said that it has helped them so much because they would email a doctor to say I've seen this patient, can I come and fetch a referral letter? And as they walk into the reception the doctor's PA would recognize them so it's a nice way of starting communication. 

Basically, it's just it makes it more personal. This is the person that you're speaking to, you can see that this is who Mareli is. It's helped us a lot. 

Initially, they really didn't like it. Some of them have asked me can they not have a photo and I just said no, this is how we do it. We have a designer that does the photos nicely. They're all black and white, so they look very professional. 

We've had a lot of comments.

Paul Ogier

I understand you started in PR. Do you feel like this signature at the bottom of your emails is almost a homage, a harkening back to your start in PR? It's about bringing the PR to social work?

Mareli Pottas

I was a social worker and then I went into PR, and back because I had the opportunity to do this practice. But interestingly, just a random fact, quite a lot of my friends that are social workers went into PR, because PR is basically building relationships. And I think when you're a social worker you are very empathetic and compassionate. So it's one of the things that we're supposed to be good at is building relationships with people. 

I do like doing marketing so I think it was part of the idea to do this.

Paul Ogier

What is the next thing for you? What is going to happen in the future for Mareli Pottas?

Mareli Pottas

I think that when I started this, I would never have thought that we would grow this much.

The hospital group said they're going to outsource the service. The two of us knew each other because we both worked at the hospital and we decided we're going to start a practice together. I think she had a bigger vision than me because I was happy to just stay at one hospital and have a few social workers working for us. And yeah, we just grew so much. I think her vision is to go even further than Gauteng and I think it would be great to put social work on the map in the medical field because it's not a very common thing in South Africa.

Paul Ogier

Look, I mean, I personally think that you're an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs. You started a business and have grown a business. You and your staff often deal with people on their worst days, and I hope you hear this a lot, but thank you for the work and the service that you do.

Mareli Pottas

We see quite a lot of very sad, dramatic things, but it's nice that you know that you can make a difference.

Paul Ogier

Final thing where can people get hold of you? 

Mareli Pottas

Okay, so the email address is [email protected]

Paul Ogier

I'll put this into the show notes as well. 

Mareli Pottas

Okay, and then our telephone number is (011) 489-1341

Paul Ogier

Perfect that's on the South African code +27. Yeah. Perfect. Thank you so much, Mareli. I really appreciate you talking to us.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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