Support from ‘virtual’ experts

Over the past year thousands of office staff have found themselves doing their jobs remotely for the first time.

But for those who provide virtual support services this is all part and parcel of a normal day’s work.

With today’s technology, the majority of office tasks can be carried out by people sat at a desk located in a different part of the country.

There is a growing demand for virtual help because firms can get the services they need without providing working space, training and equipment, which all cost money, and funding holidays, sick pay and pension contributions.

Since the pandemic started there has also been an increase in businesses seeking remote expertise with organising and hosting virtual events.

Among those who have witnessed this trend are Alison and Steve Hancock, who run Staffordshire-based Effective Business Management.

The firm, founded in 2010, supports a wide range of clients including many within the supply chain for Formula 1, business schools, coaching businesses and the medical profession.

“Employing a full-time member of staff can be an expensive exercise with the associated costs including the recruitment costs, induction, new equipment, office space, equipment, holiday pay, sick pay and pension contributions.

“Utilising an outsourced partner means that you only pay for the work that is completed and therefore it is something that can be utilised as and when required and provides the flexibility for businesses to meet their demands be it for a project, holiday cover or sickness,” Steve tells Weekend.

Alison, who has more than 20 years of experience managing teams, originally set up the business with Steve, whose background is in customer service, joining her in 2016 to help develop the enterprise further.

“We have a team of six and then work closely with a number of specialists that extend the team to 10. We have a wide selection of skills and experiences enabling the team to work with a strong customer services focus to develop the relationship with clients, customers and third-party contractors.

“With a strong experience of client management, we have a track record of building trust and relationships to ensure that the work is completed to meet the needs and budgets of the client on time,” says Steve.

The Lichfield-based firm has seen a six-fold increase in business growth over the last four years, and has tripled its number of employees in the same time frame, as firms have shifted further into operating more of their services online.

Now the company, which is based on Lichfield Business Village, The Friary, is planning to expand its staff by at least an additional third – if not almost double its workforce – over the coming months.

Prior to lockdown, EBM had seen a steady nine-month increase in the number of businesses seeking remote support from its team for managing live chats, emails, phone calls and virtual events, to providing operational and executive support from PA to director and board level.

But with the new challenges that Covid-19 has brought to employers during the pandemic, the team has seen a change in the type of work that firms have called them in to support, or completely manage from start to finish. “One of the key services we have offered during the pandemic was to help clients take their conferences, awards and AGMs online,” says father of two Steve.

“Being agile enables us to establish the specifications and then deliver a solution-based approach.

“This has provided our clients with a number of different options including the bespoke ticketing systems, media and recording dashboard facility, linked break-out sessions as well as recording and editing of the content and providing the certification for attendees and collection of feedback on events.

“EBM have provided a number of such events and we have recently delivered an online live theatre production with an audience from across Europe, UK and North America,” he adds.

The team prides itself on having an agile and flexible approach which means staff can either work for an hour, part-time, full-time, or for a one-off project, event or conference, or for regular support.

With the added financial challenges of the pandemic, firms, as well as non-profit and charities, are also calling EBM in more often to help develop more flexible ways of managing budgets and working in different ways.

With reduced capacity workforces, for a host of reasons, EBM is also seeing more last-minute calls to step in and support in a range of areas – like implementing GDPR legislation, statements and policies – when it’s proved too time-consuming or complex for firms to complete on top of daily demands.

“Key considerations are to understand and establish the systems that are the best match for the client’s requirements,” says Steve.

The firm also offers remote office management. “EBM operates for a number of long-term clients as their dedicated office teams, removing the need to have a full-time team and being able to utilise our systems and experiences of working remotely to provide clients with a host of different services including managing of their email systems, appointments, meeting set-ups, minuting and follow-up actions, as well as bookkeeping, financial control of invoicing and debt management,” says Steve.

When asked what he enjoyed most about supporting other firms with virtual expertise, he replies: “Working with a diverse, interesting and challenging number of clients, delivering solutions and helping customers to find the best systems and processes to run their businesses.

“We really appreciated hearing the feedback and endorsement of our clients,” adds Steve.

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