How Global Office PH, formerly known as Go-Virtual Assistants, began. A Story About Sales, Bravery, and Thriving in the Midst of a Pandemic.
Gem: Hello, and a warm welcome and thank you to those tuning in with us here. I am your host Gem, and together with my trusty partner, Jason…
Jason: Hello, everyone. I sure am excited for we have a very special treat for you today in our very first podcast session.
Gem: Wow Jase, Global Office Philippines‘ very, very first podcast session. And with that, remembering what our founder Matt has taught the whole tribe to “never let a good crisis go to waste”. That is why we are going…
Gem and Jason: All In,
Gem: where we,
Gem and Jason: connect and inspire and grow.
Jason: Today, we are joined by Global Office Philippines, or formerly known as Go-Virtual Assistants, our CEO, and co-founder who has taken the industry surely by storm. She has led the team to be awarded CEO Asia Circle of Excellence Award for SME, Company of the Year 2019. Silver Stevie Asia Pacific for Innovation in Management. Nominated for the ACES Leadership Awards for 2020, the Asia Corporate Excellence and Sustainability Awards, which is to be announced this October. Please welcome, Fiona Kesby. Hello Fiona!
Fiona: Thank you for that beautiful, warm welcome. It’s really exciting to be here with you today.
Gem: Indeed, we have many questions which I’m sure would greatly benefit all of our listeners and viewers. Your story has not only inspired the whole Tribe, but has now reached thousands of people. So our very first question is, how did it all begin for you to be involved in this massive industry? And what was the journey like?
Fiona: Oh, what a great question, all the way back to the beginning. So look, in 2007, I was a co-founder of a software startup with my brother Matt, who is the founder of Global Office Philippines and my business partner. And we used virtual assistants in India and Pakistan back then via Upwork. And back then it was actually called oDesk. And we had some great experiences, but we also had some pretty horrific experiences and anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Fast-forward 2014, Matt came to me and he said, I have an idea for a business. Let’s offer virtual assistant services to SMEs so they don’t have to go through the same pain points that we went through back then. He wanted to take his learnings from Franklin Covey as an execution leader, teaching the seven habits of highly effective people and the four disciplines of execution. And couple that with my experience within recruitment and building high-performance teams.
Fiona: And I thought it was a great idea and I said yes, but I had one condition and that was if I could work part-time, from home just doing sales for the business. Now, Matt is very good at sales. So he said yes to that condition. Now we laugh about that today because considering, here I am now talking with you as the CEO running the operations in Cebu City, and it is definitely not being a part-time job at all.
Fiona: What has the journey been like? It is like building a plane while it takes off from the cliff and you’re still building it as you’re flying it. It’s been a journey of blessings. The Cebuano culture, in Cebu City where we’re based, is so incredibly kind and there’s so much talent as well. Now, has it been difficult? Absolutely. I say it’s never easy, but it’s worth it. And does it bring us lessons on how to achieve results in different ways and innovate? For sure. And even more so navigating a pandemic. I mean, we’ve had to focus on the blessings that come from a crisis. We’re thankful and grateful, in fact, that because of the lockdowns, we’ve actually developed new software. And one of the software that has been developed is a remote video support software that connects for support in seconds with no need to download an app. And that was conceived over the Easter weekend and then built within only six weeks by the team and we’re now…
Fiona: Yeah, that’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?
Jason: Oh, yes, it is.
Fiona: And we’re now expanding that into telemedicine here in the Philippines. And, you know, it’s important that all of our team members and their families have access to free medical, and we were, you know, hearing the stories where, you know, at the moment people 20 and under and 60 and over with quarantine legislation are not meant to leave their homes or they’re fearful to leave from catching the virus, and then there’s no public transport as well. So it’s been very, very difficult to access that medical support. And so that’s what we’re going to be offering our team members and then their extended families. And you know what? Who knows where else this technology could lead the team of ours? Can we offer it for free to communities in the province areas for support? And we’ve said, hey, hey why not? Yes.
Gem: That is incredible.
Jason: Yes, indeed and to go on this new journey together with your brother Matt, that makes it even more incredible. So why the Philippines? What made you decide to drop your anchor here? We would love for you to share with us your initial impression years ago, and how has it evolved since?
Fiona: Oh, great question. So in 2014, when Matt was working for Franklin Covey as a consultant, he hired a virtual assistant to help support him of Upwork again, and that was a gentleman by the name of, Ian Ramos and he was Matt’s first VA, the company’s first VA. He’s still with us today and he was based in the Philippines. And so the Philippines for us worked well because of the time zone. Worked in well with Australia, the excellent English skills and being predominantly a Catholic Christian culture meant that there were similarities with our culture in Australia. Then Cebu City was a strategic selection because team members have work-life balance. They’re not commuting two to three hours to work like their friends in Manila, and when we have balance in our life, we’re more productive. We’re not on a major earthquake fault line. We’re sheltered from the typhoons and there’s no active volcano either.
Fiona: Thankfully! And then there are beautiful beaches and the island that we’re on is a really idyllic lifestyle and a, you know, a great place for our clients to have visited and hopefully soon when we can all start traveling again, we can welcome our clients back to visit their team members as well.
Fiona: Now, when I first started working with Matt, he asked me to come to Cebu City for five days to see the office, and I thought it was a great idea to help me sell the services in Australia. Now, remember how I said he was great at sales? Well, he booked us into the Movenpick. So my first night was this beautiful ocean view with white sandy beaches and palm trees. And I instantly fell in love with the city. And then as a foreigner, we’re really spoiled because it’s such an easy city to navigate compared to the rest of Asia, because everyone speaks English. The street signs are in English everywhere, everything through to the menus being in English as well. And then, as I’ve said, Filipino culture is so incredibly kind and welcoming. We stayed at the Radisson and one night over a cocktail and there’s the harp music playing in the background. He said to us, One of us needs to move here to scale the business and to get the culture piece right. I absolutely agreed with him and so I asked him, when are you moving? And he said, I can’t. My wife, Lisa, his gorgeous wife, who I must say is now living here in the Philippines. It did take me five years to convince her, wasn’t up for the move at the time, which was fair enough, because they were starting a new family. And so I, I laughed and I went, are you… Are you talking about me? You want me to, to move here? And he said, yes, why not? And I just went, are you crazy? I can’t move here. I’m a single mum with two kids. Anyway, on the flight on the way home, I started to think about it and I started to think about the opportunity for my kids to go to international school, learn about other cultures. I thought this is going to be life-changing.
Fiona: So I agreed to a two year. It was going to be a two-year assignment, and then I’d go back to Australia so my daughters could finish off high school there. Anyway, I’m sitting here five years on and we’re still here, and Cebu City is our home.
Fiona: And as a parent, yes, yeah.
Jason: Still with us!
Fiona: I am still here. And as a parent, I believe it’s been a blessing that my children have grown up within the Filipino culture, a culture that embraces kindness, resilience, and family values.
Gem: Yes, the BPO industry certainly seems to be thriving and staying strong in spite of the pandemic. But tell us, what were some of the challenges you faced when everything went on a sudden lockdown?
Fiona: Yes, this is a blessing that we must focus on that the BPO industry, the outsourcing industry, virtual assistants, has been able to grow through this period of time, however, like us and as I speak to other outsourcing leaders as well, there still has been client losses, unfortunately, but we are seeing that it’s bouncing back faster than other industries and we’re very thankful for that. We are very thankful that we were able to, with permission from the government departments, keep our office open so that people that where the jobs couldn’t be sent home due to data security or the need for really, really high-speed Internet, if a team member didn’t have that at home, that they could still come to the office. Oh, there were so many challenges, you know, moving over 300 team members to work from home overnight with no downtime. That logistics that’s a massive logistics operation, converting our office to a summer camp so team members could live on-site. We are very proud that the Department of Health approved this and they actually said that we had one of the cleanest and best living setups there.
Fiona: Recruitment challenges, you know, applicants wanting to work from home and there was no PC or Internet and then having jobs that were required to be on-site, but then the borders were closed so that we could only hire within a 2k radius, navigating the, the changing EOs, the executive orders, there were new legislation and guidelines and permits that required about every two weeks. You know, there was the fear from team members about covid-19. There’s so much that was unknown. Then there’s the isolation that the team faced and many, including myself, where, you know, we don’t know the next time we’re going to see some of our family members who are in other countries overseas or maybe even living on other islands or in the provincial area as well outside of Cebu City. We had built this remarkable culture within our office and then we had to pivot to work out, well, how do we keep this culture at home? You know, how do we keep growing that virtually. And then, you know, I think the hardest challenge was that, you know, we did have to place people on forced leave because some of our client’s businesses had to close as well.
Jason: So what were some of the strategies you executed to ensure that people felt safe with the company and that the company was still behind them?
Fiona: Oh, great question. So fundamentally, human beings deserve to feel safe and to feel like they’re winning and so it’s critical in these scenarios is to actually understand how the brain works, to help people to feel safe. And in these moments, which we call the ‘Oh Crap’ moment, is where you’ve got ambiguity and uncertainty and the brain doesn’t like that. Therefore, it needs to move through from the primal fear state, which we know is where it’s at risk to move through to the safety risk emotional state all the way through to the prefrontal cortex, which is a safe, analytical human take charge, take actions based on the brain. One of the key components here is to actually communicate at a higher rate than what we previously have and communicate in a way that breeds trust amongst people. So in our business, we work on the Franklin Covey framework of the 13 behaviors of trust as the basis of our communication, which actually laid the foundation to allow us to talk straight, confront reality, clarify expectations with people. Most importantly, listen first and actually understand where they’re at in their specific situation. And if we don’t stop and show that people are feeling safe through the communication, then it just breeds doubt, fear, worry, concern, and let’s face it, if you’ve ever been in that state, your ability to execute with precision is absolutely destroyed. You know, as the cortisol and stress hormone increases in your body, it’s the equivalent that you’ve had a couple of alcoholic beverages, which means that you can’t function and you can’t make decisions correctly. Now, yeah, I know. So we’re not having a few beers before we start work our way.
Jason: Oh no.
Fiona: So we need to make sure that we get out of that fear state and that we feel safe. Well, I hope no one is having a few beers before they start work. Now, before lockdown, we would roll a whiteboard around the office and sometimes even up to three times a day, give an update to the team on what was happening locally.
Fiona: Now, we allowed our team members to take their computers home so they can work from home. Those jobs that required data security, we set up the summer camp to live on-site and look even Matt lived on-site with them and on Saturdays did leadership training, communication training, you know how the brain works as well. We had lots of activities organized. The decision was made for me to work from home as I’d had pneumonia twice before and decided that, you know, I was in a higher risk category if I was to catch COVID-19 and so I’m based from home. Now did we have to make cutbacks? And team members are placed on forced leave? Yes, but we focused on what could we do to help them? You know, we paid out leave entitlements, prorated thirteenth month, H.R. prioritized paperwork for government funding and the SS loans and then new clients coming on board. We were giving priority to those team members. And Matt and I personally haven’t taken a salary over the quarantine period either, and you know, working weekends to show that we’re both 100 percent committed to creating more jobs here in Cebu City for the community and for our team.
Gem: You were just listening to episode one, part one.
Jason: Be sure to stick around for part two.
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