When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in March 2020, most companies were forced by this unprecedented health crisis to work remotely. For Cybin, a developer of psychedelics for patients with mental health disorders, working from home was always on the agenda. And, unlike other companies that have returned to the office or adopted hybrid schedules, Cybin, which launched in 2019, has no plans anytime soon to change its work model.
As Lori Challenger, Cybin’s chief compliance, ethics and administrative officer explained, the challenges that have frustrated other companies when it comes to working remotely, have only made Cybin thrive and grow. Since starting the company with a skeletal staff of 10, Cybin has expanded into an international team of 50 plus workers. The momentum isn’t abating. Last week, Cybin, which currently trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “CYBN,” announced it would be rolling out an at-the-market equity program that would allow the company to issue and sell up to $35 million of common shares in Cybin.
Recently, Challenger took a break from her schedule to discuss why this international psychedelics company, which is headquartered in Canada but also has a footprint in the U.S., UK and Ireland, always meant to be remote, even before COVID.
This Q&A has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Iris Dorbian: How has Cybin evolved since its inception?
Lori Challenger: At that time, the team was primarily concentrated in the Greater Toronto area. Because we were local, we would periodically meet in person to collaborate on projects or socialize. Usually, we worked remotely from our home offices. Since we were a small team, we used a core group of technology tools and apps to stay connected. When the pandemic started in March 2020 and our government sent us into lockdown, our way of remote working was already firmly established. So, we were not affected in the same way businesses with traditional operating models and physical locations were impacted.
Dorbian: What were some of the challenges?
Challenger: While we escaped some of the challenges traditional workplaces faced, in that we were already accustomed to working from home, we still had to navigate the same supply chain issues and global service interruptions. Like the rest of society, our team had to adjust our ways of working to accommodate the uncertainty, social isolation and anxiety of the early pandemic days. We also had to maintain the momentum in our business with an expanding team that we had not met in person, while navigating our children doing at-home learning and household members confined to the same spaces also working from home.
Dorbian: In a way, Cybin was a forerunner with this current work model. Pre-pandemic, working remotely or on a hybrid schedule was either unthinkable or an anomaly. How do you feel about Cybin being ahead of the curve?
Challenger: Our ways of working are built on the foundation of technology and remote collaboration tools with an intentional focus on relationship building and people-centered implementation. The pandemic forced employers to see work differently and quickly pivot and modify their ways of working based on a reactive approach. There is no rushed return to pre-pandemic workplaces and more companies will adopt a system like ours over time.
Dorbian: How do you foster a work culture and unity among your remote employees?
Challenger: Earlier this year, we implemented a wellness program focusing on enhancing relationships between team members. We regularly host structured and unstructured virtual social events to encourage the team to interact outside their work parameters. We also implemented a flexible time-off policy that enables our team members to take personal time away from work for any reason and at any time. Since lifting international travel restrictions, we have been able to spend time together in small groups to meet in person to collaborate on projects, have shared experiences, break bread and build social connections through fun activities like ax throwing, bowling, yoga and karaoke.
Dorbian: Based on your experiences, what would be your advice to other businesses seeking to work remotely exclusively? What should they do and what should they not do?
Challenger: Consider the positive work culture you are trying to create is essential. Take daily intentional steps to implement it. Try to get to know the people behind the screen by building those connections through virtual coffee chats. While quality work is essential, be sure to build in opportunities for fun and laughter. We all work better when we feel good about our co-workers. We may be working apart, but none of us are working alone.