Managing an offshore team is all about preparation. Just like your onshore team, what you put in will determine what you get out. I know that the idea of remote management makes a lot of people nervous, but with the right knowledge, you can make it work. I’ve been managing offshore teams for a few years now, and I know what is absolutely non-negotiable when it comes to managing your offshore team. Here are my top five.
Prepare your business
Preparation is the key to setting you up for success. I can’t emphasize this enough. You have to really understand your business completely. Your processes, what works, what doesn’t work, your bottlenecks – absolutely everything. I’m not kidding about this. If you take on an offshore team without doing your homework first, you will probably find it really, really hard. Actually, you will probably fail. Don’t learn the hard way.
Lots of people talk about preparation, but what does it actually mean? Basically, it’s about having solid processes in place. An offshore team is not a magic bullet and they’re not psychic. You need to map out how every aspect of your business works if you’re going to figure out where and how you can use remote staff. Flow charts, process diagrams, spreadsheets – whatever you need to map out everything from your sales processes, stock control, people management, communications, advertising, upsells, administration, contracts… I’ve barely even scraped the surface here, but you can see how much work is involved.
Ask yourself this – if you don’t know how your business works (and doesn’t work) how can you expect your offshore team to help you?
Change your management style
When you incorporate offshore staff into your team, you won’t be able to use your usual management techniques. Obviously, managing from a distance is a different skillset.
Mostly, you need to be firm and fair right from the very beginning. Set your rules and stick to them. You can afford to have a more casual relationship with your onshore staff because you actually see them every day. But with a remote team, you have to be strict about hours, daily tasks, checking in, and responsibilities. Of course, you want to be fair as well; nobody works well for a jerk. Just be careful not to be too lax or give too much leeway at the start.
When I hired a team of five real estate virtual assistants for my real estate business, I was pretty firm about my expectations from the beginning. But with a few staff, I was too relaxed. As a business owner, if you give remote staff a little bit of rope, they will run with it. That happened to me with a few people and I couldn’t regain control with them. Your only option at that point is to cut your losses and hire new people. That was a big lesson for me.
This is just a risk of working with remote staff. There’s a certain amount of freedom when you’re working in a virtual office. There’s no direct manager in the room or next door. And you know what they say about the cats being away.
I love working with my remote staff and I trust them completely. But that’s because I’ve put solid rules and procedures in place. Everyone is on the same page and there are no surprises.
Set up monitoring procedures
Keeping tabs on your staff is not about surveillance. You want them to feel comfortable enough to chat with each other and take the occasional phone call. Having monitoring procedures in place gives you both the confidence that your work is going to be done to a high standard and in a timely fashion.
If your team is based at a business process outsourcing office, you can install a camera to keep an eye on the team. Again, I want to reiterate that this isn’t about surveillance or lack of trust. It’s handy to be able to glance at your monitor and see, oh yes, Ruby has a day off today. Or notice that you need to rearrange the desks to give everyone a bit more space. Regularly eyeballing your team makes sense.
Monitoring also means having procedures in place to track who is doing what and when. How you do this is up to you. Apps like Trello and Asana are great, but there’s also nothing wrong with a good old fashioned spreadsheet if that’s what you prefer.
Be clear and precise with each task and process: who, what, where, when and why. Tick it off when it’s done and have streaks and leaderboards. Use time trackers to see how long certain tasks take so you know if you should increase or decrease workloads. Don’t micromanage – you don’t have to stick your finger in every pie. But at least know who’s cooking which pies and when!
Get comfortable with the cloud
This is absolutely critical. The minute you have virtual staff, you need to start to shift your business to the cloud.
I know a lot of business owners feel nervous about using Dropbox or Google Drive, but they are simply a fact of running a business today. If you’re used to pinning things to a noticeboard, you’ll need to find a virtual version to work between your offices. Tasks will need to be tracked in a collaborative way using software that your whole team can access online. Printing out a document and scribbling notes on it is not going to work anymore. Find the ‘review’ feature in Word or Google Docs and learn how to use it.
Once you have a strong handle on how your business actually works, you’ll quickly see the benefits of moving chunks of your processes online anyway. Generally speaking, the tools you can find online are simply better and more powerful. Getting comfortable with the cloud and online tools will lead to immediate efficiencies in your business.
Learn about your people
This last tip is the most fun, for sure. But it can also be the most frustrating! Basically, your offshore team is going to come from a culture that is pretty different from your own and it’s your job to learn as much about it as possible.
When I first got into real estate offshoring, I selected the Philippines because I knew I could find top talent there. I then made it my mission to understand how and why Filipino people do things the way that they do. My motto is to be fascinated not frustrated. People have different behaviors and expectations; not better or worse, just different.
Undoubtedly, your staff will have had a great education, be really smart and proactive, and speak excellent English. But they might need to take two overcrowded jeepneys to get to work. They probably have a lot of family commitments. It might be insulting to not acknowledge their birthday. They might not feel comfortable disagreeing with you or pointing out errors. There are all sorts of things you need to educate yourself about them and their differences so that you can work together better.
As I say, this can be frustrating. But it’s also a wonderful opportunity. If you’re open and receptive, you’ll learn so much. Not just about a new culture – whether it’s Filipino, Indian or Ukrainian – but also about you and your business. There’s nothing like seeing how differently other people do things to shine a light on your own methods.
I’ve been in the offshore game for a while. I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning every day. I encourage businesses of all shapes and sizes to reap the benefits of offshoring. Understanding these non-negotiable tips means you’ll be able to make a virtual teamwork for your business right from the get-go.