‘This will give us opportunity to rethink and reconfigure’
Providing flexibility for staff has paid off for Guernsey-headquartered Oak, with productivity up, as Jo Meerveld found out when she spoke to chief operating officer Graham McCormack about the firm’s experience during the pandemic
'WHEN people want to work and they are happy, it’s a much better business model,’ says Graham McCormack, who is COO of Oak, the private client, corporate services and fund administration business.
‘This period has in fact proven very quickly that productivity has gone up and by offering the flexibility to work around children or whatever, our people have actually performed better.’
In fact, the lockdown period has been so successful for the group that plans have been put on hold to move into a new office space in June.
‘We have invested a lot of money in our new group headquarters which we were due to move into in June.
‘The building was intended to house the fund and trust companies under one roof and provide us with a global head office for the group,’ says Graham.
‘With everybody working at home successfully, we have paused the project. It was timely as we were just about to pull the trigger on the new furniture and layout, but this will give us the opportunity to rethink, reconfigure.’
I ask Graham how he thinks his staff will feel about a continuation of the lockdown status quo.
‘We are about to poll staff to find out who wants to get back in the office and we will take things from there.
‘We have the opportunity to reconfigure things, to balance that with working from home. The whole thing is that the business is running and running very well, so there’s no pressure to get people back into the office.'
Overall, he is upbeat about the performance of the business in recent months and looking ahead.
It employs 200 people in Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, Malta, Luxembourg and Mauritius.
The signs are currently positive, with significant work in the pipeline and an increase in activity as some clients have taken the opportunity to review their portfolios.
Reviewing Oak’s response, Graham says: ‘We very quickly formed a crisis management committee with senior representation from all of our group offices.
‘So, the whole thing was about reacting quickly and adapting our initiatives to stay ahead of the curve because we could potentially see where things were going’.
Investment in the group’s IT infrastructure has also paid off for Graham and his 200-strong staff, all of whom have been working from home since lockdown began. Morale, says Graham, is high and while initially the focus was on the IT side, getting people set up to work from home and mitigating any security risks, the focus has also included staff wellbeing.
‘We’d already invested a lot in our IT infrastructure, so we decided to develop our intranet page into a team focal point during the lockdown,’ he says.
‘HR have been posting information for staff on tips and guides to working from home.
‘We have increased cybersecurity training and we issued policies early on, things you shouldn’t be doing working from home, not sharing data, printing and making sure you’re locking your computer.
‘Most of the staff are on Oak hardware.
‘Some of them have got their own laptops, but we have mitigated the risk and made sure that the risk when remote working isn’t massively heightened.’
Graham acknowledges challenges in bringing several businesses with staff in multiple locations together under one corporate cultural umbrella – but highlights how technology has helped.
‘We deployed Microsoft Teams out to everyone, which is a great collaboration tool and keeps us all in touch messaging and doing videos, so there’s been real collaboration going on between all the offices.
‘HR have been fantastic, broadcasting and sharing funnies, stories, videos and other motivational things through our group intranet, which has really brought the offices together in a way that we probably weren’t before.
‘We are five businesses in multiple locations with different cultures, but this experience and the technology we share has really helped to integrate the staff across our locations.’