Posted On 16 Nov 2020
Nikk Carmichael

I don’t want to brag but Oracle Tree was doing the whole “virtual office” thing long before Covid made it cool!

And while it might seem like everybody has gotten used to working from home now (and it’s old hat to talk about not wearing pants to meetings!) I thought you might like to hear what it’s been like to manage a virtual office from the very beginning. Read on…

When we first set up the Oracle Tree virtual office in 2009, the tech wasn’t quite as good as it is now. Plus, as early adopters of the tools that were available, we came up against bugs and tech hurdles galore. Image a world where Zoom was a “niche” thing? 

Being a completely online company has allowed us to have not only a world-wide client base but also manage a world-wide staff. This has meant that we’ve never been restricted with recruiting, instead we could focus on getting the right talent for the job, no matter where in the world they were located. We’ve also never had to worry about the overheads that our competitors with bricks-and-mortar offices have had to contend with.

But as head of HR for a virtual office that has operated for as long as we have, I can tell you that there are things I have learned about virtual working that you might want to take into consideration before making the switch permanent.

When your home is your office and your office is your home.

Prior to COVID-19, working from home may have seemed like a dream come true for most of us. And there are definitely benefits. No commute means more sleep for one! When I worked in corporate, I would have to wake up before 6am to get to the office for 9am. Nowadays, I commute from my bed to the bathroom, bathroom to my desk and it’s a nice thing to know that I can get up half an hour or so before I start.

Finishing work is another story though, as learning when to clock-off can be one of the hardest parts of working from home. As head of HR for a virtual office, it’s one thing that I try to enforce with my team. Know when you are not at work! With everyone connected 24/7 though, this is harder than you might think.

Commuting isn’t just about getting from your home to your office.

As much as we all hate the daily commute (and as nice as it is to wear slippers instead of shoes!) how many of us do the bulk of our daily exercise running for the bus or walking from the station to the office? Maybe you use that time to listen to a podcast or read? Some days, it might get to 5pm and I realise I haven’t been outside at all that day! Granted that did prepare me quite well for lockdown, but do I get enough Vitamin D? Probably not.

The simple act of commuting has some advantages to your health, believe it or not. I’ve learnt that you need to compensate for this time when you work remotely. Popping a walk into your calendar is highly recommended.

The decline of water cooler gossip.

We humans are social creatures. Even though we’re at work, an office is still a place we go to connect socially. And while studies have shown that it can actually increase productivity in staff, Zoom meetings don’t cut the mustard unfortunately.

Yep, working from home can be lonely. Once again, the successful remote worker needs to learn to compensate for this by being more social outside of work hours. Which is easier said than done at the moment, I know! But as remote working looks to become the new normal, make sure that this change to your working environment doesn’t turn you into a complete introvert! Get out and see people as much as possible.

Pests… I mean pets!

We have a cat and a dog. Both of whom are much loved, but hugely annoying when you’re trying to work from home. The cat wants dinner and it is only 4:15pm. The dog goes insane every time the postie comes. It’s not a great look when you’re on a Zoom call with a client. Hardly very professional.

Whilst it was forgiven at the start of Covid, it’s no longer cute when your pet jumps in front of your webcam or your kid runs into the room when you’re trying to do business. Pets and kids are great but working from home needs to be taken seriously. You need to make it work.  Don’t ask me how!

*One secret I found was to have a water pistol handy to let the cat know that it wasn’t dinner time yet.  Might work on your kids?

How do you manage your staff if you can’t watch them work?

I’ve never had an issue with any of our team not doing their work. They know what they have to get done, and they do it.  They don’t need to be watched to ensure that they are working.  That may or may not be true of all companies but I tend to think that if you have the right working environment and culture, people will want to do their jobs because everyone is working towards a common goal.  I also think that if you need to have an office so you can supervise your employees, that’s on you.

Maybe your culture is wrong? Maybe the way the company treats its staff leaves something to be desired?  If the work is worth doing and it is there to be done, the right employees will do it without you looking over their shoulder.

Pants: When to wear them

This is more than just a gag.  We’ve all been guilty of “business up top and party down below” uniform. But don’t let it become the norm. It doesn’t feel healthy after a little while.  Like AT ALL!

So, is it right for you?

A virtual office won’t be a natural fit for every company, so if you’re committed, know that it might be something you need to work on. When you work from home, make the time to compensate for the things you’ll miss, otherwise you’ll likely feel a physical and psychological decline.

And embrace the time you’ve been gifted! Instead of catching the bus to work, or sitting in traffic, invest in your self care. Get outside or go to the gym. See people! Have you wanted to move further afield? Maybe that sea change you’ve been dreaming about for years could finally work?

We’ve definitely made it work for us at Oracle Tree, and to that end, we’re big proponents! If you’re looking to make it part of your overall business strategy, we’d be happy to advise on ways that it can work for you. Get in touch for a chat.

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