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Pivoting Business Models in the Creative Industry

Geeta Suthar, co-founder of Fractal Ink shares how the agency managed a quick pivot and what went on behind the scenes to make it happen.

What went into taking the decision to WFH for your employees?

We have a significant portion of our business outside the country – in the Middle East, Africa and Switzerland, and had a front row seat to the unfolding of the COVID – 19 devastation in Europe and to a smaller degree in the Middle East. Given the nature of the virus, and the amount of international travel that was prevalent, we recognised that it was only a matter of time before it reached our shores.

The safety of our team is of the utmost importance to us so we decided that we would do what it takes to ensure everyone’s safety – both psychologically and physically, and decided to get a head start on the inevitable so that we would be amply prepared when the government mandate to stay home came. We started WFH about a week before the mandate and had time to iron out any kinks.

We spent some time planning – reorganised the projects so that teams could be formed easily. Our IT team worked overnight to ensure that secure VPN was available and worked on everyone’s laptops. We explored and bought licenses to online conferencing tools to enable smoother communication. Team leaders put together timetables for stand up calls – internally and with clients and project managers had their work cut out for them.

How has that impacted your projects and deliveries to your clients?

Most of the projects that were in progress continue to run smoothly while a couple of our clients have either slowed down the project pace or have called a pause. Luckily our business lends itself to working remotely quite easily, so deliveries has not been impacted.

What is worrying however, is that projects that were in the pipeline seem to have stalled, which means we will start to see impact on revenue in a couple of months.

Any specific project related challenges you are facing in these times, and have you pivoted in any way to deal with these challenges?

Our process requires a fair amount of co-creation with our clients at various stages of the project, and that is usually done in intensive workshops where the 2 teams spend many hours discussing strategy. We have been sending out the message “you don’t need to Co-locate to Co-create”. Thankfully there are some wonderful online platforms that enable dozens of people to log in from their homes and on to whiteboards that enable interaction. We have needed to do a bit more pre-prep and change the process to make it more structured where earlier it was very free-flowing, but these sessions have worked beautifully.

Three WFH team management hacks that work for you?

What does the team miss most about the office? The camaraderie, the interaction, the laughs and being able to reach out to each other when one needs help with work or even a shoulder to cry on. We have instituted a number of initiatives to help the team tide over this situation.

  1. Friday Fun – we have always had fun Fridays and to continue the tradition we have turned to Zoom. We have already had 3 very creative sessions which range from paper cutting and folding to online Zumba.

  2. The hangout channel - On Teams, we have created a channel where people can simply hang out. This channel is on 24/ 7 and any of our team that has a few minutes and want to chill with their friends go to that channel and share a few laughs.

  3. The mentor – mentee program has been strengthened. We don’t know how long this situation will last and we are prepared for it to go on for a few weeks. To ensure that the growth of the team does not stop, we have roped in more senior members of the team and paired them with juniors to train and hand hold.

The Fractal Ink team on Zoom. Image: Geeta Suthar

A leader's coping strategy in these times of disruption?

While it is easy to get overwhelmed by daily changing scenarios, I coped by bringing structure to my thoughts – what needs immediate attention? What can wait for a few days? And how should we think long term?

Having a clear action plan is key to be able to meet difficult situations head on.

On a personal front, I have tried to keep life as normal as possible with exercise, interaction and communication with friends and entertainment all finding time in my calendar.

Where do you see the future of the design business from this situation?

I was reading a report released by KPMG that talks about the impact of COVID – 19 on the Indian Business and one of the things they have called out is that Digital will get a real push. It stands to reason that going forward, industry will recognise the importance of a strong digital strategy as core to their growth and businesses which are engaged in delivering digital strategy and experience design will be pushed to be innovative and deliver seamless experiences – whether for content consumption or brand commerce. So while there will initially be a period of slump while industry grapples with their new realities, I have confidence that the long term prospects for Fractal Ink are fantastic!


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