The Philippines is pretty much second to none (well, maybe except India, but they did have a headstart) as a hub for business process outsourcing or BPO, if you will. There’s no question that our workforce has an amazing skill set along with an excellent grasp of the English language.
Add the Filipino go-getter attitude and resilience (not to mention the relatively low labor costs) to the equation, and you’ve got a potentially unbeatable resource for your business needs.
Still, working with Filipino workers presents its own set of challenges, especially if you are a foreigner who isn’t too familiar with the culture. Working remotely with Filipinos is all the more such since you’ll have to rely mostly on emails and Skype calls to communicate, and this can lead to quite a few misunderstandings because of the nuances lost in the process.
However, you don’t have to miss out on the benefits of working with Filipinos (yes, even remotely) if you’re willing to make a few adjustments. The following strategies for handling your Filipino workers ought to pave the way for a more harmonious, productive, and hopefully long-lasting working relationship for everyone involved:
1. Be in constant communication.
Working with a remote Filipino staff is like being in a long-distance relationship: you need to keep in touch. Your Filipino employees will simply work better if you give them constant feedback. A daily email briefly outlining what you liked about their output from the day before, what you’d like them to improve on, and what you would like them to accomplish for the day is a good example.
Brief chats on Skype are also advisable (not least because it has a bevy of quirky emojis that allow you to vividly express your enthusiasm or horror over something), along with the occasional congratulatory message on a job well done.
And while we’re on the topic, constant communication is very different from incessant communication. Regular catch-up sessions are one thing, but nagging your workers about what they’re up to every half-hour is counterproductive, especially when you’ve already given your marching orders for the day.
2. Make allowances for mistakes.
While Filipinos take their work very seriously and are often willing to go the extra mile, they too are human beings and won’t always get everything right. This is especially true in the beginning when you’re both trying to get in sync with each other and are still fine-tuning the process of working remotely.
If you’ve hired someone who doesn’t have much experience with working remotely, it would be best to allow for a sharp learning curve since this set-up takes some getting used to. You should also consider that complex tasks will take time to complete, so don’t expect your workers to produce immediate results for them.
Should there be a need to correct your employee, do so in a firm yet respectful manner. Refrain from yelling at them or terrorizing them. Instead, offer them constructive and specific criticism (e.g.,“I liked the video you made, but can you pick out a different audio track for the music? Something more upbeat and lively, but preferably an instrumental?”).
3. Don’t skimp on training.
One way to shorten the learning curve for your employees is to train them properly. The drive for hard work and the desire to learn is present in most Filipinos, but they would need help shoring up competence or experience in certain areas.
Prior to hiring, you may want to put together a training scheme. Presentation slides detailing step-by-step instructions for basic business processes can be helpful, as are videos showing the same. A welcome email briefly outlining rules and policies also makes for smoother sailing down the line.
Lastly, encourage your workers to ask questions after the training program and address each one thoroughly.
4. Have clear job descriptions in place.
Specific job descriptions don’t just help you attract the right talents; they also boost morale and productivity. Knowing exactly what your job is makes it easier for you to find your place within a team and provides you with a clear-cut way to evaluate your own performance as well.
Definite job descriptions also help you create boundaries between work and play, something that would come in handy for Filipino remote staffers working from home.
5. Create a career path and delegate leadership roles.
Getting your workers to stay on is simple: give them a future in your company. Got some highly capable and experienced staffers? Give them a leadership role (and a matching title. Filipinos love impressive job titles). Not only will you give them an incentive to stay, but the added responsibilities and the challenges that come with it will also develop your already promising employees into stronger assets for your business. Now, that’s a win-win.
6. Go the extra mile.
Lots of companies outsource to the Philippines not just because of the rich talent pool in this country, but also because our labor laws exempt them from providing traditional employee benefits (e.g., healthcare, social security, etc). That undeniably creates big savings for an employer, but it also puts remote workers in a tough position since they’ll have to apply for and pay for their own benefits.
Many Filipinos cite these benefits as a primary motivation for staying employed since they also extend to their families and allow for low-interest loans in times of need. Offering to pay the employer’s share of all these bells and whistles is one way of showing your commitment towards a long-term working relationship with your Filipino staff, and they would only respect you more for it.
Oh, and don’t forget about year-end bonuses too! In the Philippines, it’s customary for employers to give a 13th month pay to regularized employees. Some of them lump it in with the December payroll while quite a few give the first half of it as a midyear bonus to help defray schooling expenses.
7. Never forget to pay your employees.
“Duh,” you might think, but you’ll be surprised how many employers fail to follow this rule.
Yes, you may indeed get so busy that you forget to pay your employees, but bear in mind that they depend on their paychecks to survive. If you must, assign one of your more experienced staffers to remind you about an upcoming payroll period and/or to ensure that everyone gets their dues come the 15th or 30th of the month.
Consider the prevailing exchange rate as well. If the salary you agreed on with your staff is in, say, AU$, you may want to send a little extra if the AU$-PHP rate drops significantly during a payroll period.
Besides, if your workers never have to worry about when their pay is coming in, they can focus better on doing their tasks and running your businesses more efficiently. Who wouldn’t want that?
8. Visit your team in person, at least once.
Skype is great and all, but nothing beats actual face time (and I don’t mean the iPhone app). Making the trip to visit your team in the Philippines will really establish trust in your working relationship, if only because you’ll get to see each other in the flesh and clear the air over any misunderstandings in the past.
If you want, you can even organize a fun team-building activity for your staff and get a killer tan while you’re at it. The Philippines does have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, mate.
9. Learn their language.
English might be the universal language, but each country is bound to come up with their own version of it somehow. Filipinos are no different.
You Aussies have your “arvo” (“afternoon”) and “barbie” (“barbecue”), while we Pinoys have “CR” or “comfort room” (“toilet”) and “high blood” (funnily enough, this phrase is used to describe someone who gets easily angry or irritated rather than high blood pressure). Sometimes, we even use nouns as adjectives, like in the case of the word “traffic.” (“Sir, sorry, I signed in late. It was traffic on EDSA.” Sound familiar?)
Some Filipinisms might have you scratching your head in confusion, but most Pinoys are happy to oblige if you need to clarify what they mean exactly, so don’t be shy. Who knows? You could very well pick up a few of them yourself.
10. Provide your employees with a sense of belonging.
Camaraderie is a big deal in Filipino culture, so allowing your workers to identify themselves as members of your organization is always a big plus.
How else can you make an employee feel like s/he belongs? Encourage collaboration and friendship within your Filipino team. Seek out like-minded people whenever you hire new staffers and engage your team in lively discussions. If people genuinely get along with who they work with, they tend to solve problems better, achieve tasks faster, and be more socially invested in doing their part to help the company succeed.
When all is said and done, the secret behind working effectively with your Filipino team is, well, no secret at all: You just have to treat them with decency and respect. Finding out the best way to do this might take considerable time and effort, but once you do, you may just find that the pay-offs go way beyond the significant profits they’ll bring you and your business.