Transitioning to a virtual business

Jarrad Lawford
3 August - 4 min read

Many Australian businesses have been challenged by the economic conditions brought about by Covid-19. Along with adhering to social distancing requirements and changes to how they operate, many businesses were temporarily forced to close or switch to a virtual office.

The team at Spenda were not immune. We too had to close our offices and send everyone to work from home. It’s fair to say that there was a level of apprehension about how the new work situation would pan out. Would staff slack off without supervision? Would productivity decrease? How would teams work together on projects without physically sitting together?

These questions were echoed across many traditional businesses who, like us, had been reluctant to allow staff the flexibility to work from home. What happened over the next few months was surprising.

The Company’s core business functions continued to operate as usual, in fact, we experienced a sustained productivity increase of more than 18%. It seemed staff weren’t just adapting to the new work conditions but thriving.

So, what happened?

A survey conducted with our staff revealed the following:

  • Since working from home, staff motivation, focus, discipline and concentration improved significantly.
  • 80% of staff stated that their productivity had increased, 17% noticed no change and 3% noticed a decrease.
  • 55% of staff reported they were more distracted at the office, 38% recorded no difference, while 7% stated they experienced more distractions at home.

Staff expressed their ability to get more done each day with the time drain of in-person meetings removed. Generally, they felt like less time was wasted on hallway chats about non-work related topics and more time could be dedicated to chipping away at to-do-lists.

Issues We’ve Faced

While the transition to a virtual workplace has mostly been a positive experience, there have been challenges to overcome.

While technology has enabled a smooth transition to digital meetings, it hasn’t always been reliable. Strained or weak internet connections have caused disruptions in meetings or work progress in general.

Our staff have also frequently forgotten to clock out. Removing the physical separation from office to home also affected the time constraints that bind a workday. Work/home life becomes blurred and burnout becomes a real threat off the back of an increase in productivity.

Our staff’s mental health has become front-of-mind to the Company since many humanising moments have been removed from our workday. Personal chats and face-to-face catch-ups are significantly reduced in a virtual office and are something most of our staff have missed.

It’s why 86% of our crew prefer to schedule onsite meetings at cafes or shops a few times a month to regain a level of healthy human interaction at work.

It’s fair to say the business as a whole took many aspects and benefits of a physical office for granted. Whether it was having an impromptu brainstorming session over lunch or a meeting involving scribbling over a whiteboard, replicating this connectivity through social media or Zoom meetings from home was a new challenge.

To combat these challenges, we implemented a few quick and easy requirements for digital communication. As a rule, cameras are always on during Zoom calls. We find this helps keep our team connected and feel ‘listened to.’ We also place more focus on replying to emails promptly, even if just to acknowledge the receipt of the email.

These simple steps have helped bridge some of the flaws associated with digital communications.

  • 76% of staff have noted improvements in team support and communication.
  • While 24% stated no change.

Cost Benefits

Simply removing the maintenance, payments and management of our office spaces in our Perth and Sydney has seen significant savings on our yearly budget.

Since closing these two office locations, we’ve created an annualised saving of around $400,000.

It’s not just our business that has noticed cost savings. There are numerous aspects of working from home that have helped our individual team members financially.

Removing the daily commute means less money spent on private or public transport. Staff have reported spending less money on fuel and incidental costs like coffees, store-bought lunches and business clothes.

A recent study on the average full-time Australian worker who earns $80,000 per annum working within an office location reported $889 of their earnings are spent on lunches, $320 on work clothes, $4,794 on transport costs, $17,760 for those requiring childcare (based on 70 hours at average costs) and $16,768 on tax (not including deductions).

These total work costs add up to $41,118, which can mean up to 51% of the average annual income can be directly associated with traditional working arrangements.

So … Will We Return To The Office?

For now, it’s unlikely.

As for sticking with our current virtual workplace, 86% of our team want it to remain permanently, while only 14% of staff would prefer we return to an office location.

As a business, we’ve increased social and work catch-ups to maintain positive mental health outcomes for our team. We run a staff gym session twice a week, encourage game nights, run virtual Friday drinks via Zoom and are working on new initiatives to keep our culture thriving.

While it was a considerable effort shifting our desktops, laptops, desks and chairs to our home offices, it has certainly paid dividends to our overall productivity and savings on a business and personal level.

While virtual offices aren’t the new normal, we’ve proven that if your business is open to shifting to a virtual workplace, it’s possible to adapt quickly and maintain or even increase your business processes and productivity.

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