Building a business from home4 min read . Updated: 18 Mar 2020, 09:27 PM IST
Like many corporate leaders across the world, CitiusTech’s CEO Rizwan Koita is propelling his healthcare unicorn to work from home to tackle the ongoing Covid-19 crisis
Rizwan Koita has a desk with a view. There are potted plants on an adjoining balcony and sunset panoramas in the evenings. Neither the plants nor the view, however, can disguise just how compact his home office is. Based in an apartment complex in south Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi neighbourhood, the workspace offers just enough room for a glass desk and a wooden cabinet. Together, they accommodate a desktop computer, a laptop, an iPad, some storage and a collection of awards. Like many home-offices in space-crunched Mumbai, it is a purpose-built nook rather than a dedicated spacious room.
The co-founder and chief executive of CitiusTech, a Mumbai- and US-based specialist healthcare technology unicorn, Koita, 50, does not mind at all. His official workspaces (in the company’s offices in Airoli and Powai suburbs) are not excessively generous either, he says.
What’s really bothering him, though, is the “exponential growth" of Covid-19 cases globally. He pulls out his phone and shows me a website highlighting how the number of cases grew exponentially in a matter of two or three weeks, in certain countries. It is unsurprising that Koita is monitoring these statistics so closely; many of his customers are US-based hospitals.
“I have a much higher state of paranoia than folks who have domestic businesses. And the reason is I’m talking to my customers. I may have a customer in Seattle, or Portland, or New York, and they’re already impacted. If you look at projected numbers in the US, it’s only about 5,000 right now. But estimates say it may become millions," he says. Like many business leaders, Koita is actively propelling his organization to work from home as a measure to tackle the crisis. Of a workforce of nearly 4,000 employees spread across the world, with large chunks in the US and India, nearly 85% have already started working from home. Koita’s experiences of making the transition offer firsthand lessons for other entrepreneurs.
MAKING IT WORK
Work from home is all over the media, with predictions that it will positively transform the nature of work, the structure of business, and the design of cities.
Koita sees both opportunities and challenges. One of the most vital tasks—getting teams of employees to collaborate while working independently from home—should come easier to CitiusTech than many others. For a technology business, with most of its clients in the US, remote working is part of the company DNA to a large extent.
“We essentially build software in healthcare, anything to do with patient information, creating and analysing large data sets, AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning. So, as a tech company, we have several tools for collaboration, such as Microsoft Teams and Yammer, for internal communication," he says.
There are also certain standard operating protocols, such as a daily stand-up meeting with teams of 10 or 15 people where they spend about 30 minutes talking.
“Then we follow Agile, a software development methodology, and we have scrum teams, scrum review meetings and scrum calls that are well institutionalized. A lot of these processes are actually designed to work in virtual teams. Software anyway gets built in a distributed way. For the most part, I can deliver a lot of value to my customers (even through work from home)," says Koita.
Industries such as exports and manufacturing are likely to experience more complexity in the ongoing delivery of their goods, he adds.
The Virus Crisis
Yet, even for a tech entrepreneur such as Koita there are significant obstacles, including HR and IT systems. “There are many systems and processes, which are set assuming that people come to work. The system is not natively designed to flip over in two weeks to a completely different operating model," he points out.
Ensuring productivity will be a challenge. “The delivery manager has to ensure a similar level of output (as before), similar level of quality of the deliverables, similar level of client engagement, a similar level of security, similar levels of compliance to your HR norms. That’s where it will require individuals to just step up and do what they need to do," Koita says.
Then there is talent management. How will recruits be inducted when there is no physical office space, he asks. “Anything new that we will have to do will require us to be far more creative, and managing that will take precedence over running the business as usual. The reality is it needs a completely different level of sophistication."
Inability to travel could also impact client relationships. “I’m going to re-plan my days to perhaps start a little later in the day. Since I can’t travel, I will compensate for that by just increasing my overlap hours with my sales teams and my client engagement in the US," he says, although he added that his first day working from home turned out to be a 16-hour day.
Business could nevertheless slow down. “We were on a very strong growth path. I think it’s a very rapidly evolving situation about where we will end up going and how we get impacted. I think we’ll have more clarity in the next three months," he says.
Most importantly, Koita flatly dismisses any idea that the virus crisis will end neatly with the financial year-end on 31 March. “This is not a two-week situation. My mental model is that this is a couple of quarters."
Aparna Piramal Raje meets heads of organizations every month to investigate the connections between their workspace design and working styles. She is the author of Working Out Of The Box: 40 Stories Of Leading CEOs.