The world has gotten so small that having foreigners in the workplace isn’t such a novelty anymore. Whether you’re working in New York, London, Tokyo, or any other major city, there’s bound to be someone from the other side of the globe in your office. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the growing number of people working from home has made the Filipino virtual assistant or remote staffer in demand among business owners from as far away as Australia and the United States.
If you’re one of the 1,400+ Filipinos who do online freelance work, you are probably familiar with the many perks of this set-up. For starters, you get to save up on gas or transportation money, you can spend time with your kids or your loved ones as you work, and there’s really no need to get all dolled up every morning (some of us even work in our pj’s, yeah?). And hey, the pay isn’t bad either.
So, what does it take to sustain a work-from-home gig? Apart from the obvious answers like discipline and consistency in delivering quality work, you also need to get along with your boss. Most foreigners are quite reasonable to work with, but due to some key differences in culture, you may find the need to make some adjustments from time to time:
1. Thou shall be on time.
Always. While most Filipinos make allowances for lateness (hello, Filipino time), most foreigners prefer to stick to a schedule and an employee’s tardiness can mess up their entire itinerary for the day. So, if you’re due to work at 8 AM Manila time, make sure that you’re already seated in front of your desktop or laptop and ready to sign in by 7:55 AM, at least.
In case of unforeseen circumstances like power outages or interruptions to your Internet connection, notify your boss right away. The worst thing you can do is to keep him or her waiting and wondering if you’ll be showing up that day.
2. Thou shall not take criticism over your work personally.
Westerners are straightforward and they often compartmentalize things. This means that while your boss can be friendly with you on a personal level, s/he probably won’t mince words if your work lacks something.
Many a Filipino worker has been stunned by how harsh their usually-soft spoken boss can sound when giving a frank evaluation of their output. Okay, so no one likes having something they’ve worked hard on taken apart, but try to remember that feedback is also necessary if you want to improve yourself (and that, nine times out of ten, objective criticism is nothing personal).
3. Thou shall not beat around the bush.
Speaking of being straightforward, you could also take a leaf out of your employer’s book when it comes to conflict resolution. Most Asians shy away from direct confrontation because they fear how it might damage the working relationship, but many Westerners find the alternative inefficient and perhaps even passive-aggressive.
Tiptoeing around the issue is best reserved for your Filipino colleagues, perhaps, but it’s better to speak up if you feel the need to disagree with your boss. Saying “yes” to something that you have very strong objections towards can make you look indecisive and weak, so work on voicing out your concerns in the most logical and firm yet polite manner instead. Your employer might even come to respect you more for it.
4. Thou shall think before posting.
When you work online, it can be so easy to give in to temptation and lose your focus. You might get sidetracked by a quirky online quiz (because you’re just dying to know what your underwear says about you) or get caught up in those weirdly-satisfying Youtube cat videos.
However, don’t forget that your bosses are likely to be online too and are probably monitoring your social media accounts from time to time. You wouldn’t want them to find multiple selfies uploaded on your Facebook page during the hours when you’re supposed to be up to your eyeballs in data entry work, would you?
5. Thou shall keep an open line of communication with your employer.
One of the drawbacks to outsourcing work is that clients won’t be able to keep an eye on their staffers as much. It isn’t exactly easy to drop by an employee’s cubicle for a quick chat when you guys are on opposite ends of the globe.
This is why it’s so important to regularly check in with your boss. Constant communication is simply the best way to foster trust within a long-distance working relationship. You don’t have to chat up your boss every hour (s/he probably has other things to attend to anyway), but it would be great if you provide status updates on your projects at the end of each day or whenever an important development comes up.
6. Thou shall not overshare.
Open communication is one thing; oversharing is another. Get those two mixed up at your own peril.
There are simply some things that your boss doesn’t need to (and would rather not) know. For instance, it’s enough to say that you are sick and indisposed for the day, but hold off on regaling your employer on the frequency, size, and color of your bowel movements at the moment. (Seriously, who wants to hear about that?)
7. Thou shall not gossip about co-workers (if you’ve got them) or other clients.
Office gossip is unfortunately a given in any set-up involving more than two people, but it would be better for you to keep your head above it. In the West, minding your own business is the height of professionalism, and that also entails keeping one’s nose out of your colleagues’ personal lives.
Similarly, you should also refrain from dishing the dirt on your other clients. Not only is it in poor taste, but it also implies that you can’t be trusted with matters that should have been kept strictly confidential.
8. Thou shall cover all your bases.
Simply put, keep track of your work and all official correspondence. Put all of your work-related emails in one folder and take screenshots of your work throughout the day as needed. Back-up copies of important files and conversations should also be regularly updated.
This serves two purposes: 1.) well-documented work processes allow you to backtrack and troubleshoot more effectively and efficiently, and 2.) they present you with solid evidence showing that everything was above board on your end, should things get hairy later on.
9. Thou shall not be so concerned with traditional hierarchies.
Westerners just aren’t as obsessed with fancy titles as we Asians can be, so don’t be too surprised if your boss insists on being called David or Sharon rather than “Sir” or “Ma’am.” You would indeed do well to drop the honorifics and find other ways to communicate with them respectfully (e.g., by using proper grammar usage and spelling in your conversations).
10. Thou shall ask follow-up questions if you need to.
Your boss might occasionally rattle off some slang English terms that aren’t commonly used among Filipinos or give an instruction that isn’t too clear. If so, don’t hesitate to clarify things. Different countries simply come up with different ways of speaking the same language, so don’t be embarrassed about not knowing what an “arvo” is. (That’s Aussie speak for “afternoon,” by the way.)
Besides, it’s better that you ask now and confirm what exactly your boss wants you to do rather than risk having to repeat the entire process because you didn’t exactly understand the order the first time around.
Working from home can be very rewarding indeed, but it also requires a higher level of commitment from those who benefit from it. Adapting to the preferences and communication style of a foreigner boss (while staying true to your own principles) should, given time, be all in a day’s work for any proficient employee.