Welcome to the Remote Working Podcast with me, Victoria Tretis.

I’m joined by Sidel Stewart who is the Possibility Ambassador at ONiT! Communications.

Although Sid’s usually based in London, she recently spent six months working in beautiful Barbados. So I wanted to explore the digital nomad lifestyle with Sid and pick her brain on all things to do with the technology she uses to communicate with her clients and manage their deliverables and expectations from afar,  all the way through to how to build trust with the clients she may never meet.

I think you’re really going to enjoy hearing Sid talk on/about how she adjusted her routine in Barbados in order to support her clients during UK hours… and whether she’d work somewhere that’s behind when it comes to time zones in the future.

All of the social media links are in the show notes, so do go ahead and connect with Sidel if you’d like to learn more about what we’re talking about today.

More Sidel-tastic info:

www.onitcommunications.co.uk
@SidelStewart on Instagram and Facebook
LinkedIn: Sidel Stewart

I’m a business and lifestyle manager and I make it possible for business owners to focus on the business of servicing their clients (e.g. delivering, adding value and getting paid).

In layman’s terms, I’m a business and lifestyle manager and I make it possible for business owners to focus on the business of servicing their clients.

It varies from client to client, but in my experience, most businesses run on the same fundamental support requirements:

– Stellar organisation
– Effective and efficient processes
– Sound and secure systems
– Accurate record-keeping
– Stylishly produced documents

Taking those foundations into consideration, my team and I support in the following ways;

Business and Lifestyle VA Support 

Project Support 

Business Process & Workflow Automation 

Show Notes

 

Victoria

Hello, so today I’m talking with Sidel from Onit! Communications. Welcome to the show!

 

Sidel

Hey, how you doing?

 

Victoria

I’m good, how are you?

 

Sidel

I’m alright

 

Victoria

Thank you so much for joining me. I knew that you would be a fantastic guest for this show. It’s all about remote working and I know that you’ve just come back from a six months stint in Barbados. But before we touch on that, can you tell me a little bit about your career and how you came up to be a remote worker?

 

Sidel

My experience is as an EA. My background is very corporate. I did a lot of investment banking. And I also had a split career between very corporate financial services and also lots of publishing and media type companies. I worked for the leading telecoms company or Michelin company names. It’s been really varied because I worked as a contractor so my experience has always been working with lots of different people across lots of different industries, but effectively the same type of role and building transferrable skills. I’ve been doing that now, if you include my life as a VA, for 24 years. I feel like I have a vast of experience, and it’s been fab for the most part. I was working in Canary Wharf at one point for one of the top five worldwide banks and was feeling quite low and miserable because as much as I loved the role, I just hated the environment of being in the Wharf. It was very soul destroying and very grey. I didn’t ever feel like I could be myself in that kind of environment. I’m a person that loves colour and it just always felt like I was sticking out like a sore thumb. I’m six foot so I often stand out, but for the wrong reasons, and I just felt stifled all the time.

When my role got made redundant I jumped at the opportunity to go away and retrain in PR, which I did with a chartered institute. I used that opportunity and that certification to set up my business, which was then Onit! PR Limited, which is still Onit! PR Limited, but I trade as Onit! Communications. And I started supporting independent entertainers because I used to be a performer.

 

Victoria

What did you do?

 

Sidel

I used to do spoken word.

 

Victoria

Wow!

 

Sidel

Like performance poetry. I had a massive network in that arena and there were lots of people who were struggling to manage their bookings, their promotions, their social media, negotiate the best deals, do contracts and do their admin. And I thought, “Oh, I do this for myself. I can do this for other people.” And that’s how I started and it was amazing. I had some really good opportunities and some great experiences but not much money, and so the problem working with independent entertainers is that there’s just no money in it. They’re striving, sometimes struggling artists and paying invoices becomes quite challenging. Chasing their payments, getting paid for gigs becomes quite challenging and so that had a knock-on effect and I had to re-evaluate what was I trying to achieve and where I want to go.

I had launched my business in August 2011 and at this point after a massive burnout and quite a low period, I decided I was going to go down the VA route because I stumbled across the term and I was thinking, “That’s me! That’s what I do.”

 

Victoria

Was this in 2011?

 

Sidel

No. This was much later. This was in 2016. At this point I was doing a contract working with The Guardian and was having a great time there, but it was a maternity cover contract and I was deciding what I was going to do next when I finish. I stumbled across the term virtual assistant at an event that I had gone to by a very well respected VA trainer and I was like, “That sounds exactly the same as what I already do.” So I looked into it. I discovered another course by a trainer online and then I did the course to give myself a little morale boost of knowing what I was doing, which was ridiculous really. Because I already knew what I was doing. It just helped to give me a bit of structure.

 

Victoria

I find that so crazy because I worked as a Virtual Assistant for 3 years on an employed basis. I didn’t know I was a Virtual Assistant and hadn’t even heard of the term. I completely get that.

 

Sidel

It’s mad. And I think it’s become a bit of a buzzword in some ways, and in other ways I think it’s quite a prohibitive word because some people don’t understand what it means. They hear virtual and they think that it sounds like something so far removed from them and their life, that they shut down and they don’t even hear anything else that you say. So it’s not really a term that I use. I call myself a Possibility Ambassador.

 

Victoria

I love that.

 

Sidel

That is in honour of my mum really, because she was a Disability Rights Activist amongst lots of other things. And so we nicknamed her Possibility Ambassador because her favourite saying was “There are always possibilities, and just because somebody has a disability doesn’t mean that they’re not able enough to do something else. There will be some things they can’t do but there’ll always be things they can do”. That was the focus and I stole the name and I’ve been running with it since I relaunched in January 2017. So we’re going on three years nearly now.

 

Victoria

So nearly three years in business.

 

Sidel

Three years in business with a different client group. That’s what I didn’t differentiate. So now I work with service based businesses as opposed to independent entertainers.

 

Victoria

And hopefully with a better cash flow.

 

Sidel

Most definitely!

 

Victoria

Because you’ve been running your business, did you say it was for 9 years in total?

 

Sidel

Yes, it’s coming up 9 years.

 

Victoria

How has the tech changed and the types of systems changed since when you first started versus what you’re using now?

 

Sidel

Massively. When I first started, I was using web based mail and Outlook, and I was the queen of Outlook. I knew it inside out. If you work for a recruitment agency they make you do all of these Microsoft tests. I was a wiz, because Microsoft was my baby.

 

And then I went and worked with this national newspaper and they used Google and I said, “What? What do you mean Google? Google for what? What’re we searching for?” And they’re like, “No we use Google for mail.” And I thought, “That doesn’t make any sense. That’s almost like when people used to use Lotus Notes for mail.”

 

Victoria

Do you remember those days?

 

Sidel

Yeah, who does that?

 

Victoria

Let me get my dot matrix printer out.

 

Sidel

The lady was showing me how we use it and you can have folders, but the difference in the way that Google Mail works versus Outlook was traumatising and I was thinking “Yeah this is not going to last. Just for this thing alone, I’m not going to adapt to this.” And it changed my life.

 

Victoria

Really?

 

Sidel

Yeah, because when I realised how collaboratively you can work using Google products, not that I’m being paid by Google I should mention, but the difference was amazing. Everything’s instant obviously. If I change something you see it immediately. It’s in real time. I was like, “How did I not discover this before?” So that was a massive turning point for me. Then I discovered loads of other tools. So instead of using Excel, I used Airtable and then I explored the world of automation which is what I specialise in through tools like IFTTT and Zapier.

 

When I started my career, using carbon copy paper, like you said, dot matrix printers, fax machines. I still worked in offices when people smoked at their desks. They would stand over you and dictate for you to take dictation for an email. And email even then was new. You’d write letters and post them. Put them in the post and then the mail bag would go out. And now, you send an email and it’s instant and if you make a mistake in an email you can recall it and it actually comes back. Not like back in the day when you would send an email out and realise you’d made a mistake, and then Microsoft would send an email to everybody that you sent it to saying, “This message has been recalled.” We didn’t want you to broadcast it!

Things like that, which have become second nature, and I quite take for granted to be honest, because I’ve worked with other VAs who are not particularly techy. They’re great at what they do and they have very traditional skills, but it highlights to me just how much tech stuff I know without even realising that I knew a lot.

 

Victoria

It’s interesting because I don’t consider myself particularly techy, but I realise how far I’ve come since working remotely and not having an IT department and having to figure stuff out on your own. Sometimes my wireless keyboard doesn’t quite work properly so I have to do some random restart and it’s just trying to work out what’s going on.

 

Sidel

Troubleshooting.

 

Victoria

Exactly. What kind of systems did you have to have in place behind the scenes to enable you to have six wonderful months in Barbados?

 

Sidel

Originally I planned to go to Barbados for a year and then I went for six months. I went and decided after six months I was ready to come home.

 

Victoria

Really?

 

Sidel

Yeah. It was for two reasons really. It was very isolating which people would say sounds ridiculous. You’re in the Caribbean, what’s there to be isolated about? But in reality, it was just working from home the same as I would here in London. When you couple that with the fact that I was working UK hours, and they are five hours behind the UK. So I was getting up at 4am to start working at five every day and that took its toll. I never really adjusted to the sleep pattern in the whole six months.

In terms of systems, I think I’d gotten myself to a place where everything I do is online. A whole week can go by and I don’t use a pen. I use all of the systems, cloud based systems. All of the programmes and tools I use are SaaS programmed. There isn’t anything that I could ever need to write down. So that helps massively. And all of the tools that I use are very collaborative. So I use Teamwork Projects to share information.

 

Victoria

We love Teamwork.

 

Sidel

Sometimes I use Trello, occasionally. I use Slack for all of my communications with clients. The only adaptation I had in terms of technology was that I started to use WhatsApp calling instead of doing regular telephone calls. And for all of my clients, that was fine because most of them I speak to once a week for 20 minutes or half an hour. For one of them, we don’t ever speak on the phone really, unless we just need to discuss rather than put in writing, but we do everything on Slack.

So in that regard, it didn’t really make any difference being in a different location, and as you’ll know, working virtually or working remotely, there were some clients I’ve never met in person and some I knew prior to working with them. But I did manage their expectations by telling them all that I was going to Barbados even though I didn’t really need to. I just thought it was courtesy. And just to let them know that I was going to have a week out, as in, for my settling in week. Then when I came back to London I had a week out to adjust to coming back and packing and everything else. So I guess that was the only real impact.

 

Victoria

I think it’s really interesting that you said that you felt a little bit isolated while you were out there, because one of the big reasons for me doing this podcast is because I felt isolated and a little bit lonely when I first started out as a remote worker.

I know you ended up coming back, but while you were out there, what did you do to try and combat that a little bit?

 

Sidel

To be really honest, I didn’t do very much. I don’t feel like I combated it. I went to Barbados because my mum passed away suddenly in the end of 2016 and I launched the beginning of 2017. By the end of 2017, I was really depressed and I just needed to be somewhere else. I wanted to be somewhere on my own. Which is very ironic because I wanted to be on my own. So when I got to three and a half months into the trip, I suddenly started to feel like, “It’s a bit weird, not seeing people” because I was getting up at 4am and I was online for five. I was doing my regular meetings which I usually do around 11am in London at 6am, which was quite challenging to just be alert. Because when I first started, I was getting up at quarter to five, and I was starting work at five o’clock. But what I realised very quickly was that I was half asleep. And so it was taking me around two hours to wake up. So that wasn’t working very well. I had to start getting up earlier, just to make sure that by the time I had client calls at 6am local time, I was actually fully functioning.

 

Victoria

I think that’s a really important to me. I think quite often we read these, you have to get up at five o’clock if you need to be productive and that’s great if you’re a morning person. If you’re not, please don’t fight against it. You don’t have to get up if you don’t have to get up at silly o’clock. Just don’t do it.

 

Sidel

Work out what works for you

 

Victoria

What gives you energy on what actually works for you, your lifestyle and your business so that you can bring your best self to work every day. Because otherwise, you’re following somebody else’s model.

I think it’s brilliant that you went, “Do you know what, I’ve tried this. It’s not quite working for me. I’m going to adjust it slightly because I need that extra time to wake up, feel invigorated, have a little bit of time to gather your thoughts” and all of that before getting on with your day.

 

Sidel

Definitely. It made a massive difference and I found also that whilst I’m not particularly a morning person and I don’t really do breakfast first thing in the morning. Even when I do breakfast, I need to have been awake for an hour and a half to two hours before I eat. But I realised that I needed that to actually wake up a little bit. So I adjusted in terms of getting up a little bit earlier, showering first thing in the morning, rather than waiting until later in the day because I was up so early it felt almost counterintuitive to get in the shower straight away. I thought, “let me just get online”. But actually, the shower helped to wake me up. Then I would have a coffee and have something to eat. So by the time I sat at my computer, I actually felt like I was in the world.

 

Victoria

I think it’s a really important point to make, that you’ve adapted your routine to make it work for you in that remote working situation.

 

Sidel

Definitely. It was interesting to me because I had reassured all my clients before I left that there wasn’t really any cause for concern and that everything would still be the same once I had gone. And then one of them was actually cool about it, but then mentioned in passing that she was considering looking for another VA. I was horrified because she’s one of my top two clients. I always say top two because nobody feels threatened.

I was really gutted that she was even considering someone else. But I think in hindsight, she just needed a little bit more reassurance that everything would still run as it always had done, because lots of people said to me, “But you work for yourself, you don’t have to work 5am every day. You could start whatever time you want to” and I said, “No not really.” A business is a business. And if my business is supporting your business, and your business is 9 to 5 UK time, me being available at 7pm until midnight, for example, doesn’t help you.

 

Victoria

I think it really depends on what your service model is and what type of clients you’re going for, because there needs to be that match between what you want to offer and what the client’s buying, and if there’s any kind of mismatch, it’s not going to work.

If you were offering ad hoc support, project based support, something with a long lead time, then perfect. Your working hours really wouldn’t matter because you’d be checking in with the client at the pre-agreed times or the different timelines, but the type of service that you’re offering, there’s an expectation there that you will be available during those times.

 

Sidel

And that’s exactly what it was. And I just felt like I didn’t want to disrupt things too much and if I was going to. Because this was the first trip I’d done where I worked abroad as well, and so for me it felt like if I’m going to do that, and I changed my hours, am I going to change my hours every time I go somewhere different? No, that’s not sustainable. That’s ridiculous. So, for me it was almost a test for myself as well to see, is this doable? How doable is it? What are the considerations that I need to make in order to make it work? And what things are non-negotiable? And what things can be adjusted? And for me, timing was non-negotiable in my own mind and another thing I could tweak.

I just started to structure my day around things that were going to take a lot more brainpower than others. I would do a little bit later in the day. I would do the regular routine things first thing in the morning, and I just had to be a bit more strategic with how I was working.

 

Victoria

It’s almost like you force yourself to have a higher level of awareness, of self-awareness, for how you work best and then tapping into that energy level.

I love the fact that you’ve said you’re not a huge morning person and therefore the more complex and time intense tasks need to be done later on in the day, when you’re more focused and energised so I think that’s fantastic. Would you work abroad again?

 

Sidel

Yes, definitely.

 

Victoria

What would you change?

 

Sidel

I think the biggest factor for me was the time. And so I did work elsewhere before that. I went to Germany for a week to visit my aunt before I left to the Caribbean.

 

Victoria

So one hour time difference is a win.

 

Sidel

And they’re an hour ahead so I’ve got a head start. So I was like, “Oh, you know, my hours are 10 til 5.” I was thinking, “Oh okay, it’s 9am but it’s only 10 there now”. So I was just feeling proud of myself. Whereas being in the Caribbean and being five hours behind, I was waking up feeling a little bit anxious that I’m already on a back foot.

And then towards later in the year, come October, it shifted, I’m only 4 hours behind now, so I’ve gained an hour. Actually, I think I preferred when I started an hour early because it meant I finished an hour later. Which in the Caribbean, is not the greatest because it’s a very much a morning place. Things happen early in the day. People do lots of things first thing in the morning before the sun rises properly before it gets too hot. And then once it gets to 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the sun, very gradually starts to go down and if I was finishing work at two by the later part of the year and I was getting out of the house and taking public transport to get to the beach. For example, I was getting to the beach at quarter to four, four o’clock. By 4:30 the sun’s gone. So, everyone’s saying, “Oh, you’re living in paradise!” And I’m like, “No you don’t understand the adjustments I’m making out here. This is hard work.”

 

Victoria

I used to have to travel to Amsterdam quite a lot with work and everyone was saying “Oh my God, this is amazing! You’re such a jet setter.” And I said, “No. I have to get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to catch a really early flight, to then spend all day in a meeting room, and then I get the last flight back”. There is no glamour. I have never seen any of Amsterdam apart from the airport, the hotel and the conference room. That’s it.

 

Sidel

People always think it. When I used to work in banking and I used to support the analysts, and do a lot of their travel and their lives were hell. They would be travelling sometimes to three or four countries in a week. And everyone’s thinking, “Oh my God, you got such a jet set, glamorous lifestyle” but there’s no glamour.

Like you said, you’re just from one hotel. Travelling via plane sounds great, but the amount of time it takes to board a flight that lasts an hour, hour and a half. With your checking in and security, the boarding time and the time you got to check in before. It’s so long winded. So it’s not the greatest.

 

Victoria

I completely agree. Earlier you mentioned about this one client who you maybe haven’t met. And you also said that a lot of your correspondence is by email. You do the odd phone call as well. How do you think you can build trust with people on a remote basis? Particularly if you’re never going to meet them face to face, in person.

 

Sidel

That’s a really good question. I think integrity is everything in the work that we do. I’ve had two clients that I’ve never met before and one client that I met three months after we started working together and we’ve met maybe three times since. So it’s really key that you do what you say you’ll do. That you do what you say you’ll do, that you stick to things, and manage their expectations so that you start to build trust, because in the beginning there isn’t any. They’re a little bit sceptical. They’re a little bit like, “This is new. I haven’t done this before. “How do I know that I can give you my passport and know it’s safe, a scan of my passport. Or give you my credit card details and know that it’s going to be alright?”.

I don’t advocate people giving out their credit card details. Although I do hold details for some people, I’d much prefer somebody set up a prepaid payment card and they allocate money on that because it just makes me feel a little bit more comfortable. But to be honest I don’t think about it anymore. I just get on with it. I think the trust factor is something that just comes with time. You can’t force it. There will always be some people who just never relax, because they’re not built that way and that’s fine. It’s never personal and I think that’s the key thing to remember. It’s always business, never personal.

 

Victoria

Absolutely. Before we wrap up, if you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing with your life?

 

Sidel

I don’t know. What would I do without organisation and automation? I’d just be on the floor crying. I think possibly performing. I miss that world. I miss it as a creative outlet. I don’t feel like I have the headspace to do that anymore if I’m honest because when I’m not working for clients in my business, I’m looking at ways to work on my business and so it’s quite a big juggling game. But potentially I’d be performing. I’d be doing spoken word. I’d be interacting with audiences on my favourite topic of relationships because it’s so much to work with. And I think that could be quite fun. But to be really honest, I’m happy doing what I do. I love what I do and I hope to be doing it for many more years.

 

Victoria

Thank you so much for your time today. I really do appreciate it Sid.

 

Sidel

Thank you for having me. It’s been fun.

 

Victoria

You are most welcome. Bye!

 

Sidel

See you!

  

Series One of the Remote Working Podcast

So over the next few episodes, I’m going to be having some fantastic guests coming in to speak with me about all of the issues relating to building a remote working business and all of the tech issues and the tech challenges that building a team and building a trust along the way as well. So I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk.

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If you liked the episode, please do give us a review. It will only take a moment of your time and I will be forever in your debt. Thank you so much.