As a means of practising social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working has increased manifold during the past few months. However, an immediate transition to remote working was a challenge for many business leaders. “When thought purely from the perspective of the transition to remote, challenges are primarily around the reality that everyone is new to this. Protocols around remote work seem absurd and inane when we don’t practice them,” says Debprotim Roy, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Canvs. In an email interaction with CXO Outlook, Debprotim Roy talks about the impacts of lockdown on his business and how did he successfully tackle the challenges of remote working transition. Excerpts.
How has the pandemic and preventive lockdowns impacted business continuity in your organization?
Canvs has always been a remote-friendly organization with its designers working fully remote since inception. That has been one of our USPs. Given that this has been our modus operandi, the new wave of working in a distributed and remote fashion hasn’t affected us internally per se, in terms of operational efficiencies. That said, since the core team operated out of a collective work environment, we do miss our shared lunches. All of Canvs Club’s clients have now switched to working from home full time, and we do see them having teething problems that remote workers have always had. Being where we are, we can help them out with spotting and fixing such operational issues from a distance since we have worked around those issues ourselves through the last 4 years. That said, it would be unreasonable to believe that the situation most newly remote people today are in, is the same as ever it has always been. We are living in the middle of an unforeseen global disaster, and that takes a hit on the psyche. Everyday life is not the same, even for those who have always been remote for a while. At Canvs, we feel quite lucky to be in a situation where we aren’t impacted professionally during these times which have otherwise left us all aghast, around the world, at the surreal reality of today.
How are you enabling a smooth transition to the remote working model?
The primary transition that we were required to have is the extra steps we took with our clients who are currently working from their individual homes as well. That meant what we always did internally with our design teams, we now were to do for all clients externally. Since we’ve had worked on quite a few fully remote projects till now, thankfully the protocols are in place. Our product managers who talk to clients have now improvised their external documentation infrastructure to keep track of ongoing progress, meeting notes, calls, ideas, references and of course, timelines. This has helped clients to be aware of the various statuses of the projects running parallelly without having to even jump on a Zoom call or for that matter, send an email. Having such platforms where statuses and messages are synchronously updated helps to keep everyone on the same page and reduces the time lost trying to stay in sync by making calls.
Additionally, a part of the transition for us has also been charting a short but effective guidebook for ourselves, internally, which are some strict boundaries that shouldn’t get crossed when everything goes remote. We’ve had such protocols in place with our designers, but given the nature of work that the core team does, we needed to modify that for ourselves internally as well. Some basics like work hours, team conversations, checking in on each other one on one, having proactive conversations outside of work become a part of such practices. A lot of such communication protocols come naturally; however, when you look at your team as individuals who help you reach a common goal and are hence people you should care about.
What are the challenges that you are facing in making remote working accessible?
When thought purely from the perspective of the transition to remote, challenges are primarily around the reality that everyone is new to this. Protocols around remote work seem absurd and inane when we don’t practice them. Most people initially go around them, winging it through the week and then eventually get tired of this model of working. What is challenging to grasp for everyone is that working remotely ends up being more intensive because you end up sticking in front of the screen for extended hours. Your checkout time blurs as you are at home and being in front of the comp is not inconvenient. One last task before you call it a day and then someone sends you an email. It takes a few days before one realizes why the protocols in remote work exist. Another symptom of weak remote work ethics is a messy schedule. When tasks and tracks aren’t followed meticulously even by one person in the team, the sync is broken, and things can fall out of place. Getting people serious around protocols is difficult, but within a week, we all get the benefits of following them.
What are the tools and solutions that are you using?
Over time, we have built some deeply integrated and robust solutions around established tools like Slack, Zoom, multiple Atlassian products, using some of our internal products that amplify the connections between them. Of course, we use Slack as the central hub wherein all conversations come pouring in from multiple other tools and trackers. This allows us to have a single source of truth at all times.
How do you see the business situation changing in the coming times?
I personally hold an opinion which might seem unpopular. Given how people have been thrown into remote work, that too working from home wherein you are disallowed from stepping out, it might build a negative connotation around remote work. When things settle down, people will long for physical proximity and depending on how stressful remote work was for them, they will want to switch back to the old normal. However, this tectonic shift I do believe will have a lasting impact on businesses, and most people who assumed it’s critical to be in the office to be at work has had a change in opinion. This shift shall obviously not propagate as a fully remote ethic once things settle in, but we shall feel the hysteresis set in the system. Working remotely will shed some of the baggage it has gathered over the years as the normal shifts towards a hybrid, convenient, evolved and an emotionally productive work atmosphere. Of course, we shall have parties that would refuse to acknowledge that the needle has moved, but when has that stopped the world from progressing.
Have your employees had adequate training to work in a remote environment?
Yes, we induct our teammates with skills that are complementary to remote work.
Will organizations with a multi-cloud model find it easier to enable remote working as opposed to organizations with a hybrid model or on-prem model?
In today’s day and age, having on-prem tech infrastructure has reasons which have a lot to do with security and regulatory oversight than tech implications. Yes for companies that literally need servers closeby like HFT companies it’s a different case altogether. Otherwise for firms that have been on-prem, adapting right now to remote work and hence to the deluge of remote connections is becoming a herculean task. Establishing remote security is tough and challenging. Often, a step in creating remote security is moving to established cloud-based solutions. For companies that still have concerns around public cloud, there is always the option of private clouds. Remote working in large companies also tend to become a security nightmare thanks to a varied number of endpoints remote workers end up using. Establishing endpoint security then becomes one of the additional tasks for such companies. Given the state of affairs through the last few years and how remote work has been getting more attention, Remote Security has become a growing field in tech.
How are you addressing the question of privacy and security at a time when the remote working model is facing an increased number of cyber-attacks?
Canvas has been working with some major financial organizations like ICICI, Aditya Birla Capital etc. for some time. Remote work has been routine for us a while now, and to an extent for our clients, by osmosis. We have been working with large financial organizations who have leveraged the benefits of Canvs’ distributed teams and have, along the way, picked up a lot of our internal work protocols and hence it’s tooling and tech. This has allowed for such companies to vet our internal infra much ahead of the situation corporate lives have reached during these times. For instance, our internal tech pipelines that support our Design as a Service offering automatically make Slack as the key driver of all communications. To leverage such a service, it becomes imperative for our clients to be on Slack and use it for all communications. This got them to vet all such tools and tech they adopted while doing business with us. Hence the transition in business and tech protocols with Canvs haven’t been altered much as far as our clients go.
What would your advice be to other CIOs who are struggling to ensure business continuity for their organization in these tiring times?
Every CIO in the last few years has had to think about remote work one time or another. Making provisions for remote work for a CIO becomes an organization level change. If you allow for remote, you prepare all fronts for it. Nonetheless, beyond security measures around RemoteSec, like device and delivery management, application control etc. there are quite a few challenges around human behaviour that also need attention. While the measures around security and protection seem evident to a CIO, taking calls on what tools and platforms to move on to that amplify productivity instead of dampening it, often decides the fate of remote teams. It’s essential to consider the needs of humans as entities in your organization while making decisions for teams that we humans make. CIOs must consult team leaders and individuals at work to understand what they want to help and support their work-life remotely at a time like this when things are already pretty daunting for us as a race.
Any other information you would like to share?
Beyond everything, I’d like to mention that this transition is hard for most people. However, the general nature of this problem doesn’t warrant a lack of empathy for each other. The times are difficult, we are bound to lose focus having an existential threat looming over us. There’s no benefit in assuming otherwise and acting tough just for the sake of it. It’s ok to lose productivity. Being productive isn’t the only goal of life. Survival comes way earlier than all life goals. At times like these, empathy and support build character within teams. And beyond all, it gets us through each day.
More about Debprotim Roy
An entrepreneur, strategist, and a creative, fact-based thinker, Debprotim Roy is the Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Canvs. In his role, Debprotim leads a young and growing team at Canvs, providing all aspects of leadership, and in doing so is continually analysing business models, building new processes, and systemising structures to develop a holistic service for his client and partners.