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The Phlip-side, Part 1: What I Learned Working in a Remote Team

The Phlip-side, Part 1: What I Learned Working in a Remote Team

Welcome to our series "The Phlip-side" where we share real stories from real people working on the frontlines of the offshoring industry in the Philippines. We are on a mission to make our industry more transparent, tolerant, and accessible. We hope you enjoy this behind the scenes journey.

For the last six years I worked as an offshore team member for a US-based startup. I am based in the Philippines and was part of a 24/7 operation that provided news monitoring services for a number of multinational firms. I worked with a diverse group of people in the remote team as well as with in-house managers and personnel from the head office in California.

It was an eye-opening and very rewarding experience, and I managed to pick up a few lessons along the way. Here are my top five:

Adaptability and constant upskilling pays off

Working for a startup requires dealing with a lot of changes in workflow, guidelines, platform, and even the in-house staff you interact with. The pace is fast - very, very fast. We had to keep track of the latest process updates and make quick adjustments to suit. Instructions sent the previous week may no longer apply, and things can change in a matter of days.

Remote employees need to be ready for significant shifts in work assignments. Being prepared for the unknown and always seeking out ways to upskill helped me and my colleagues prepare for more complex projects and tasks. 

It’s okay to speak up

Skype chats with in-house managers were a regular part of our workday. Open communication was encouraged, which allowed everyone to ask questions, clarify things, and provide feedback. In-house personnel also visited our Manila office a few times and scheduled small-group meetings and one-on-one sessions to ask about our concerns, observations, and recommendations. These efforts led to some significant improvements in the work process and provided a boost to team morale.

In these interactions, I realized how important it is to speak up and be honest, even if that means having an uncomfortable conversation. Sometimes, in Filipino culture, we tend to shy away from negative feedback, but I learned that talking openly about problems and thorny issues really is the only way to start resolving them. It also helped that my US-based team was willing to listen and committed to making things better. 

Cultural differences are learning opportunities

“What Filipino food have you tried so far?” was probably the most enduring question that our American counterparts had to answer whenever they’d come to visit. A couple were even cornered into eating balut (fertilized duck egg), which they took in stride but, I suspect, will never do again. 

One thoughtful manager brought fruitcake, biscotti, and Cadbury chocolates for us, and proceeded to thoroughly explain what fruitcake is and how Cadbury is a popular brand in the US. None of us had the heart to tell him that here, fruitcake is one of those awkward Christmas food gifts that people stick at the back of the fridge only to be excavated as a dehydrated lump by April. Later, he sheepishly told us that he discovered the truth about Cadbury when he went to a supermarket in Manila and saw a whole shelf of it on sale. 

Bridging the cultural divide is an interesting aspect of remote work and a sometimes hilarious exercise, but it gets easier when we’re willing to learn about each other’s backgrounds and laugh at our gaffes. The in-house staff made sincere efforts to connect with us, and my teammates and I were proud to introduce them to Filipino culture.

Hiring decisions have long-term impacts

Since our tasks were highly collaborative, it was essential that everyone was on the same page and making a contribution. People who didn’t have the right skills, competence, and work ethic had a serious impact on productivity and were a source of stress for the rest of the team. It pays to be selective and thorough when choosing people to join a team, as one wrong hire can disrupt the entire workflow.

It’s also crucial for in-house points-of-contact to have good management and communication skills. Supervising a 24/7 operation of offshore workers can be overwhelming, and it takes someone with competence and adequate experience to do it well. 

Performance reviews matter

Instilling a sense of accountability encourages people to be responsible for their work and to do their job without constant monitoring. Regular performance reviews are an effective way to do this. They provide quantifiable parameters for rewarding high-performing team members while encouraging others to improve.

Just as in-house teams are evaluated for their output and contributions to the company, offshore staff should also be assessed in the same manner. It’s a tangible way of showing people that their accomplishments are valued and their efforts matter.

Conclusion

Working as part of an offshore team gave me the opportunity to learn about an industry that I never would’ve heard of otherwise. It was an interesting glimpse into how startups work, the challenges they face, and the factors that determine their success or failure. I also met a bunch of quirky and fascinating humans and even built some lasting friendships.

Hiring a dependable offshore team can help your company scale up and expand operations. Bolton can help you navigate your remote staffing options. Contact our experts to find out more.

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