Gihan Amarasiriwardena does not believe in multitasking. The 32-year-old president and co-founder of Boston-based business apparel company, Ministry of Supply, claims that using the same part of your brain to perform similar tasks – like reading emails during meetings – makes it hard to do anything.
Yet he hates wasting time. So Amarasiriwardena says he’s adopting parallel processing, a method of computation that involves using separate parts of a machine (in this case, your brain) to achieve multiple goals. Example: Every morning he works both his mind and his body at the same time because he says none of his goals are distracting him. The MIT alum is continuing what he calls his ‘active triple layer’ commute: running to work while listening to an audiobook or podcast – he’s learning to speak Norwegian. In pre-pandemic times, Amarasiriwardena walked the five and a half miles to his office, but now most of the time he ends up making his way home.
In March 2020, the Department of Supply responded to the pandemic by temporarily closing its six retail stores across the United States, which Amarasiriwardena said depended heavily on tourists and generated a third of the revenue. “We’re a company that makes clothes for the office, business travel, commuting, weddings,” he says, “these are all things that didn’t happen last year” . Like many clothing companies, the Department of Supply began manufacturing masks and tweaked its product line for the work-at-home environment, turning city pants into joggers. The company ended the year with revenue of $ 12 million in 2020, up from $ 14 million in 2019.
In some ways, the switch to remote work was the most difficult challenge to solve. For a self-proclaimed productivity geek like Amarasiriwardena, at first the move was unsettling. His team struggled to keep their work in sync, which was important for a company where one person’s role often depended on another, and tried to schedule more online meetings. But increasing screen time has resulted in more fatigue, he says. “In the end, you had six hours of Zoom meetings, and you didn’t have time to do your real work.”
Now, after more than a year of the pandemic, Amarasiriwardena says the Supply Department’s 16-person team has a very efficient workflow that has, among other things, helped her team stay motivated and avoid the exhaustion.
Here are three hacks Amarasiriwardena plans to keep to ensure her team stays productive.
1. Increase the pace.
The type of work done in the Department of Supply depends on the week. To stay on the same page during the pandemic, the company adopted Scrum, the workflow framework that emerged in 1995 and has become popular in the tech industry over the past decade. The company runs between “sprint” weeks, which involve targeted and asynchronous work on projects, and “operational” weeks during which the team manages most of its logistics communication. “One week you might have more meetings, but the other is like deep work,” he says. “It engages a different part of your brain.”
Amarasiriwardena says that the alternation of weeks gets things done. “When every week looks like the week before,” he adds, “it becomes monotonous. And that leads to a lot of burnout ”.
The Scrum framework is different depending on the company. “You inspect, you adapt to what could be better, and you end up finding a way for everything to gel together,” says Avi Schneier, senior consultant at Scrum Inc., the educational organization founded by a co-creator of the concept.
2. Motivate and celebrate.
Every Monday morning, during a 15-minute Zoom call to all staff, the team kicks off the week by watching a pre-recorded customer interview set up by the company’s customer experience manager. Amarasiriwardena says she helps remind the team of their goal while inspiring new ideas. “It’s a good grounding for us because our inspiration for our product comes from the lives our customers are living, especially right now,” he says. “We want to know what’s changing, what their closet looks like.”
On Friday, the team ends the week with a creative session, during which members can present new ideas or share a passion project. Amarasiriwardena says celebrating accomplishments re-energizes the team while calming down for the weekend.
3. Embrace the best of both worlds.
During the pandemic, the operating weeks, which were more social, were important in keeping a human element at work, says Amarasiriwardena. Now that most of the team are vaccinated, he says they plan to partially return to work in person. Once that happens, Amarasiriwardena says everyone will return to the office for weeks of operation, but the sprint weeks will stay away.
“Our goal is to be a hybrid team. Our clients are going to live lives like this, so we think it’s important to grow with them.”