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The Challenges of Managing a Virtual Team


The concept of working with a virtual team is becoming more popular nowadays. Both employers and employees are getting hooked by the idea of a remote work setup, giving each party a good chance to have a better work-life balance. 

We aren't here to pamper you with all the good stuff though. No matter how convenient it seems to work with a virtual team, there are not-so-savoury surprises you’ll need to know.

Today, I’ll touch on the major hurdles of working with a remote team. To help you plough through, we'll give you actionable solutions you can use right away!

Let’s get down to business, shall we?

Distance can be a Bummer

As with any long-distance relationship, working with a remote team requires more nurturing than you would normally do for an employee by your side. While technology can bridge several gaps, there are some aspects that it can’t effectively address. While it isn’t necessarily harder, it does take some active participation and planning to get things to work.

And just to keep it real, it won’t be fun at first. You’ll be working with an unfamiliar group of people who are oceans away from you! Sooner or later you’ll encounter some choppy waters. 

Here are a few obstacles that you may have to sail through:

Different Time Zones 

Depending on where you outsource, you may encounter the very real dilemma of different time zones. Since you and your staff reside in different locations, project collaboration can be a challenge as face-time with staff can be limited. How will you manage a team working on alternating schedules?

SOLUTION:

Invest in collaborative software or what we usually call the ERM (Employee Relationship Management) system. We highly recommend our clients to use Asana for their virtual team, also another widely used option is Basecamp. With an ERM system, you and your team will be in the loop for changes and accomplished tasks or project milestones within the business, even if you occasionally miss a catchup meeting or two.

Miscommunication

We can all agree that teamwork is key for creating a remarkable product (or service) that sells. 

Just look at the market success of the iPod against Rio. Behind iPod’s slick interface design, is a group of people working side by side as a team. The iPod was such a hit, that I bet you’ve never even heard of its predecessor, Rio.

Without a good level of interaction and rapport, you and your virtual team have a slimmer chance of coming up with monumental breakthroughs. Add to that, the occasional miscommunication bug might visit you more often, due to limited ways of communication, lack of body language cues (hand gestures, facial expressions etc.) and even misinterpretation! 

Imagine saying something in jest, then be taken seriously by your staff. I bet it’s even worse if it was the other way around.  

Striking a balance between clear communications, while cultivating a culture of openness can be difficult. But, if you aren’t able to overcome this communication dilemma, consider it as a kiss of death for your virtual team.

SOLUTION:

Never underestimate the power of video calls and a routine, set up a schedule for video conferences and stick to them. If you aren’t used to a 2-way video call, you can always opt to have the regular phone call. However, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to speak with your team on a more personal level, and you won’t be able to gauge certain reactions without getting a glimpse of your team’s body language. 

That said, your other means of communications should also be strong. Keep at least two (2) instant messaging apps at your disposal, email on the regular and use an ERM system or business intranet. 

To further avoid misunderstandings, always back-up verbal instructions with documentation. Anything that has been said that needs to get done should be quoted through another channel such as email or chat. 

I do things this way because I like to keep my routine meetings as casual as possible and circle back to instant messaging for any important stuff. Truthfully, the best way to improve communication between yourself and your team is practice. 

Virtual Work can be very Draining  

The average person spends about a third of their lives working. With this much time spent in the workplace, people eventually develop friendships and even relationships inside their organizations - all normal characteristics of social beings. 

While some remote workers are digital nomads, the rest are largely just regular joe’s who enjoy the convenience of virtual work. Nonetheless, there is still a need for social interaction in the workplace, especially if they’ve been with a client for a long time. In fact, most employees stay with a company longer if they enjoy working with their colleagues, this also applies to a remote team member. 

Some days are just harder than others. So while your remote staff might not say anything, or they might not even recognize it, it does take a toll on their mental and emotional health.

SOLUTION:

The long term solution here is promoting a better work culture. We all know “work-life balance” gets thrown around a lot, much like produce after its sell-by date. However, it isn’t always endorsed by business owners. Not to mention that work-life balance is only a single facet of a company’s culture. 

Since you’re working with a remote team, there are some perks from your organization that aren’t quite transferable. So start small; get to know the people who work for you, ask about their families, hobbies and what they’re passionate about. 

If you have a full-on team in one location, encourage them to communicate with each other. If you want to take a step up, offer to sponsor team building activities, family trips, or maybe, offer to pay for some emergency leaves. Your team members will be happy knowing that they work for a boss who listens and cares. 

For example, most of the remote staff we work with today are located at our BPO in Clark, Philippines, just like most countries in Asia, they place a huge significance on family values. So for our team in the Philippines, we tend to be more accommodating (within reason, of course) in allowing time-off for family reasons and holidays.

If you’re also working with an offshore team, you can go even further by visiting their country. Make it a working holiday. Who knows, your visit might actually give you an exhilarating adventure of a lifetime!

Trust Issues  

Trust is a tricky topic; it takes a lot of time to build, but a single misstep can cause it to crumble in an instant. It’s hard enough trusting people who you know, not to mention people you’ve never even met in person. 

Be that as it may, trust is important in any type of relationship. In an employer-employee setup, trust can help develop great ideas, improve collaboration and produce exceptional work. So if you can’t trust your remote staff to do good by you, what’s the point in hiring them at all? You’re just setting yourself up to lose sleep by worrying about your staff. 

SOLUTION:  

To give you a good headstart, we suggest you establish core values for your business. 

How do you do business with your customer/clients (external)? 

What’s the work culture within the workplace (internal)? 

What are your business profit goals (financial)?

Having core values will set the foundation of your trust between a professional boss-employee relationship, and will lay the groundwork of your expectations from each other, and help manage conflicts as they arise. At the very least, this will carve out mutual understanding and respect for all parties involved. 

As for the question: “How can I trust a complete stranger with sensitive information? There really isn’t an easy answer. Time will be one of your best gauges for honesty, but it isn’t foolproof. If we’re talking about money, depending on the circumstances, anyone can get tempted. 

So when hiring, take into consideration the personal values of each applicant and trust your gut.

Cultural Differences

The remote workforce continues to grow as more young professionals hang up their corporate suits, in exchange for a more relaxed way of working. Virtual workers now come from all walks of life and around the globe. So the likelihood of hiring a virtual team member from a completely different culture is high.

The cultural beliefs, traditions, and habits will be different from one another. And while most of these are not worth weighing in on, some areas could still affect your business. 

Here are the major hurdles of working with a team with a diverse culture:

Conflicting Work Habits 

Spain has a Siesta, where stores and business close between the hours of 2 pm to 5 pm for nap times or long lunches. In Japan, working hours beyond your shift is regarded as dedication. And in Brazil, it is not uncommon for people to come in late to meetings. 

Teamwork is easy when you have the same ideals, habits and work ethic, but that’s hardly the case, especially with an international team. And while you’d like to be respectful, the work habits I’ve mentioned earlier aren’t really commonly practised and have a direct effect on how your business (and team) operates.

SOLUTION:  

Jump at it when you see these situations occurring. When hiring, specify your work rules and guidelines to the candidates. 

If a current staff member goes against your rules, pull them to the side and reprimand. If these actions are left unchecked, they can persist and will set a bad precedent to other staff.


Conflicting Values and Beliefs

Unlike work habit conflicts, values and beliefs are subjects you wouldn't want to touch on at all. There are no sides here, no guns to pull, no need to go gung-ho. You don't want to end up having a debate with your staff, do you?

SOLUTION:  

Do not engage! Turn around, don’t argue and if warranted, cut the conversation short - especially if this is happening on a group call or chat. Getting involved will only spell trouble for everyone in the long run. Although a lively, impassioned debate is healthy once in a while, you might hit a raw nerve with new staff. 

We also recommend doing a quick read on the religious and political climate, as well as the cultural beliefs of the countries where you’ll be hiring virtual team members. This way, you'll know what are the topics to avoid when talking to your staff.

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Planning and preparation are key when working with a virtual team. Keep all the factors discussed in this post, and you’ll have less trouble in facing the shortcomings of remote work setup.

You can also seek help to BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) companies to help you build your virtual team. With established infrastructure, HR & administrative services and a business-grade internet connection, you’ll worry less about managing your virtual team. 

Want to build your awesome remote team soon? We offer a wide range of services to help you start. From recruitment to actual business operation. Want to know more? Contact us now!

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Different Types of Virtual Assistants


There's an immense number of skilled and talented virtual assistants (VA) available online. And with the low cost of labour, even solopreneurs can start building their virtual team without breaking the bank. And being a remote setup, business owners also benefit from the opportunity to work in the comfort of their homes.

There are different types of virtual assistants available in the market and the best VA type for your business is not always obvious.

Read on for a complete guide to the different types of VAs you can hire for your business, the pros and cons of each type, the set of tasks to outsource, and where to find your next VA. 

Task-based Virtual Assistant

Task-based VAs are recommended for one-time tasks which are accomplished by following a specific standard process.  This type of VAs is commonly paid according to an agreed fixed rate per output. The tasks may include appointment setting, research, voiceover recordings, image cleanups, uploading templated/branded paperwork, etc.


While it’s necessary to hire an expert when it comes to core production tasks such as custom logo and content writing, all other simple tasks requiring too much time to do including data entry and booking appointments can be entrusted to an entry-level VA.

Pros and Cons of hiring task-based VA

Task-based VAs helps you track ROI (Return of Investment) for the specific work you’ve outsourced. You’ll always get the final output you’ve paid for, on the agreed deadline. While you focus on improving your business core operation, your VA will take care of all the simple yet vital back-office tasks for you.

It could cost you a lot if you outsource the wrong set of tasks such as web design and content writing. If the final output is likely to have multiple revisions (e.g. custom logo/content writing), you might end up losing more time and money. Considering the rework time and extra charges your VA demands.

Where to find task-based VA

Fiverr.com is a good place to start when you’re looking for a task-based VA. Through Fiverr, you can browse a pool of freelancers with defined package rates that covers all the requirements you need. No need for you to guess what are the items included in the final output. In most cases, candidates also include turnaround time for the tasks they offer to work on.

Project-based virtual assistants

Let’s go to the next VA type on our list, the project-based virtual assistant. These VA’s work an average of 3-6 months for one specific project and are paid per project milestone. The tasks mostly outsourced to a project-based VA’s are website building, Google AdWords campaigns, and other complex tasks requiring skills and expertise to accomplish.

For this type of VA, look for a candidate with a solid track record, specific expertise on the tasks, and has more than 2 years of experience working remotely.

Pros and Cons of hiring project-based VA

Project-based VAs are very helpful for businesses who need additional help meeting deadlines for their big one-time projects. Because the contract works in a continuous time frame, revisions and major changes on each milestone submitted will be easier.

Due to the simplicity of the setup, some VAs are likely to quit mid-way of project completion. Worst-case scenario; you’ll end up getting ghosted by your VA.

For project-based VAs, it is best to keep track of the turnover output per milestone. Also, keep a shortlist of possible replacements in case your VA leaves you hanging. And remember this: NEVER pay in full for this type of VA. To be fair, agree to give 20% down-payment while the remaining payments will only be given upon completion of each milestone.

Where to find a project-based VA

You can look for project-based VAs on UpWork.com. There are a lot of other websites available that can help you look for your project-based VAs. But regardless of the site preferences you personally have, look for a platform with payment per milestone option.

Full-time virtual assistants (Employees)

The last item on our list - the full-time VA’s. These VA’s often work the typical 40 hours per week setup. They are dedicated to a single client and are paid on a monthly basis. Full-time VAs handle tasks and projects within the scope of their expertise and are likely to work for their clients for years.

The skills and expertise required for a full-time VA depend on the specific needs of the client and are likely range from rookies to specialists.  

Full-time VAs are essentially considered as an extension of the business and its current staff, opposing the common misconception they are 3rd party service providers.

Pros and Cons of hiring full-time VA 

Going with a full-time VA is an exceptional choice covering all recurring tasks, complete back-office work and provides you with trusted team players that can be entrusted with confidential business information.

There are plenty of VA applicants online, and it will be a bit hard to find stellar candidates. While some can walk the talk, others will only do too much talking and execute poorly. So it will be best to test their real capability during interview or screening. Give them an actual task and if they can’t do the work, move on to the next candidates.

Where to find project-based VA 

You can look for Full-time VA’s on all freelancing platforms (e.g. UpWork, People Per Hour, and Freelancer.com). However, it will be best to hire a full-time staff/team with the help of a BPO company.

BPO companies offer a secured infrastructure, business-grade internet and data protection - which is very important when hiring offshore staff. You can also free yourself from recruitment, administration, and staff management responsibilities (attendance and payroll) because your BPO provider can cover all those for you.

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Conclusion

There are a lot of VA candidates available on various platforms online. Before you get excited to hire your first VA, it’s best to think about the appropriate setup for your outsourcing plan. 

If you need someone to take care of all the simple back-office work, task-based VA might be the right choice. Need working hands on a specific project with specific deadlines? Project-based VA can help you accomplish the work on time. Want to invest in expert professionals who will work with you for the long-haul? Full-time VAs are the ones you’re looking for.

If you need additional information about working with a BPO, feel free to leave us a message. Do you need help finding your next VA? Connect with us today!


Outsourcing vs Offshoring: Which is Better?

Know the difference, the risks, benefits, and best practices.

Outsourcing and offshoring became very popular during the early 1980s - the time when both terms were widely used within the business world. But you should know, before these terms became prominent, as early as the 1800s, it’s been used and practised by some of the big brands of today.

In 1885, cash-poor Atlanta pharmacist John Stith Pemberton, who is also the brand founder of Coca-cola, was forced to replace his first knockoff product (French wine) with carbonated water due to citywide alcohol consumption restrictions in Atlanta. Even without the capital to build his own factory, Pemberton kept Coca-cola running by outsourcing 80% of the production. All he needs to do is distribute a dark, concentrated syrupy product he made to soda fountain operators who’ll then take care of all the mixing and bottling process. 

In 1899, Pemberton’s successor, Atlanta pharmacist Asa Candler, signed Coca-cola’s first offshore bottling franchise contracts.

We’ll whack out another success story for you! 

IKEA, a furniture retail company was founded by Ingvar Kamprad, a Swedish business magnate. There were a lot of remarkable concepts IKEA implemented that made the brand popular, especially their flat-pack concept. Years later, the company faced one of it’s biggest crisis, Kamprad’s Swedish rivals urged the suppliers to boycott IKEA.

To conquer the crisis, Kamprad began outsourcing cheaper materials from suppliers in Poland. As Kamprad resolved this crisis, the odds turn to his favour when communism in Poland fell during the late 1980s. While the polish economy is weak on exports, retail services, and financial services, IKEA took the chance and established their very first offshore outlet. For years, the company generated more profit, winning more than half of the homes in Poland.

But we’re not here to discuss the success of those who have taken a big leap on outsourcing or offshoring. Truth is, we want to unveil the good and bad of both practice helping you decide which practice to use and how you’ll get the best for your business!

Focal point: Outsourcing vs offshoring, which is better?

The terms outsourcing and offshoring can be very confusing. While most of their functions overlap, each has distinct methods, advantages and disadvantages.

At face value, the difference between these two terms is vague. While some assume the only factor differentiating offshoring from outsourcing was the idea of taking the work OVERSEAS - yes? But there’s more to it. Look at the comparison chart below.

Outsourcing

Offshoring

Contracting work out to a 3rd party organisation (local and or overseas)

Getting work done in a different country

Cost-efficient

Lower cost of labour

Sudden work influx? Hire a contractual team to do the work for you.

Low on budget? Establish a long-term team for continuous business operation


You might also need to take a good look at these pointers:

  1. You can outsource work without offshoring.

  • Hiring a nearby or a local firm to accomplish certain work for your business.

  • For example: Hiring a local accounting firm to do all the finances for your business.

  1. You can offshore work without outsourcing.

  • With much lower costs offered overseas, you can actually establish a branch office in a different country.

  • For example: An Uber customer service centre in the Philippines supporting American customers. An established offshore branch.

  1. You can do both outsourcing and offshoring at the same time

  • You have just enough budget to build a new offshore team.

  • For example: Hiring 10 web developers from the Philippines to improve your business production.

While the differences between the two may seem irrelevant at this stage, some might think using any of the two will give them the same exact results. Sadly, it won’t, especially if bigger teams are involved. 

Let me give you a better look at your two options here:

Outsourcing

Instead of hiring new office staff, outsourcing work from a third party organisation allows you to save more with cost-effective services. And for better trade, you can make bargains, closing a deal at its lowest reasonable price.

Some of you now are a bit skeptical, and wonder - "What's the catch?" Well, there's nothing for you to worry about. For years now, outsourcing succeeds in providing quality work for any specialized fields. Even if your business has limited staff with specific fields of expertise, no need to waste time training them to do tasks outside their main skills. You’ll end up with too many frustrations from several trial-and-error runs, and even cost you for screw-ups. You don’t have an accountant to do your business finances? Outsource those work to an accounting firm - no stress!

Outsourcing also grants business the flexibility to ramp up and down quickly whenever they need to. Let’s say, you manage a web development business and you’ve closed a big deal with a valuable client, with a three-month deadline. Knowing your business lacks manpower for a single big project, outsourcing contractual programmers will enable you to meet the deadline and gain your profit. 

Upscale your team if you need to and immediately downscale to save your business from too much labour cost in the future.

For those who are about to outsource for the first time, we can never give a 100% guarantee for your success. But we can give you a few pointers to remember when outsourcing. 

Start Small - When you’re about to work with a service provider for the first time, start with a small and simple project. Be very cautious of who you give your trust to or you might end up with too much frustration.

Clear project scope - Explain your project requirements in advance. Service providers want an accurate and complete project specification so they can present you their service proposal with an upfront quote. Give them as much information as you can regarding the project and in what way you want the work done.

Build Relationship with key managers - Start building trust with the key managers (e.g. project manager, team leader, and team manager). They will help you make sure every task are made according to your demands and expectations. They’ll also cover you from major managerial responsibilities, motivate your team to do their very best to either meet or exceed your expectations.

Offshoring

Let’s now move on to your second available option - offshoring. If outsourcing offers cost-effective services, offshoring can give you a much cheaper cost, considering some developing countries have lower minimum wages. Picture this: $20 per hour wages in western countries vs. $3 per hour wage in the Philippines. 

Just to clarify, we’re not saying offshoring is better than outsourcing or the other way around. You can use one (or both) of them at the right time for the right situation.

Are you worried about finding the right people for the job outside the country? Relax, there is a pool of expert and skilled workforce within developing countries. No matter what role or what field of expertise you need, you’ll be able to find them offshore.

Here are a few pointers to take note of before deciding to offshore:

Choose experienced and trusted partners - A lot of service providers will want to work with you. Some might lower their cost to win you over,  but don’t look at the cost alone. Check their company background, their previous and current clients - EVERYTHING! If you are not satisfied with what you found out about them, move on to your next choice.

A clear and detailed contract - Have a specific and thorough contract. Clarify the scope, schedule, demands, and expectations. Make sure everyone who is involved in the contract understands and will comply with the agreed statements.

Hire an on-site program manager - Hire a program manager whom you’ll extend managerial responsibilities to. They’ll ensure your team will continuously work and meet the deadlines. Look for a leader with strong organisation, communication and people management skills.

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Outsourcing and offshoring are still highly utilised within the business world today. More and more businesses enjoy the benefits they both offer, despite the fact that it’s a practise that has been long utilized in the modern world. But despite its older roots, the whole outsourcing community continues to evolve. 

Keep all the best practices I’ve shared with you to get the best out of outsourcing/offshoring. If you have any questions or if you’re looking to dip your toes in the outsourcing water, feel free to contact us here.

Offshore Outsourcing: The Future of Business

Globalisation has only just begun and it shows no sign of halting anytime soon. Only businesses that are able to accept, embrace and adapt to this trend can survive. Competition is even more cutthroat and the demand for low-cost and high-yield strategies have been higher than ever.

Couple the competitive environment of the market with its erratic ebb and flow, one thing remains unchanged- the emergence of new business processes that have the potential of making businesses sustainable. One of the most cost-effective ways to generate higher yield is to reduce overhead cost using outsourcing.

What is Outsourcing?

Outsourcing involves internal business functions being handled by an external organization. Under it one will find a more specific category, offshore outsourcing,which is basically the same practice only that the external organization hired is in another country that is different from where the manufacturer or developer of the products or services are headquartered.

It shouldn’t be confused with offshoring, which involves a company moving itself entirely overseas, or establishing a foreign subsidiary to perform its functions in a foreign country.

The offshore outsourcing industry has never been more in demand as a fiercer global competition is on the rise. As overhead costs continue to surge, the influx of companies leaning on business outsourcing double or even triple annually.

Why Outsourcing?

In business, time equals money.Having everything processed internally may sound like a lot of savings, however, spending a lot of time on repetitive tasks can take away precious time from where it needs to be allocated (e.g. planning expansion strategies and boosting sales) which can end up in losses over time.

Streamlining your company’s in-house processes and ridding it of the mandatory but time-consuming tasks like bookkeeping, data entry, recruitment (payroll, timekeeping, among others), inventory, purchasing, etc. keeps the key players focused on the fundamental activities that has kept the company successful and growing.

Moreover, business outsourcing provides a more flexible option when it comes to talent management as opposed to hiring in-house.Aside from cost-effectiveness, as you won’t need to adhere to your home country’s government-mandated employee benefits and taxes, it also gives you access to specialized and expert talents that your company might need for a specific period only.This enables you to pay for an outstanding workforce that you might notneedafter some time.

Although some companies see the time-difference between their company and the outsourced company’s countries as a setback, it can actually leverage a company’s productivity.Since these outsourced tasks are done during the after-hours of the home company, it will be like having the company running on auto-pilot while you sleep.

Of course, there will be pros and cons when it comes to the decision of whether to outsource or not but the trick is to know exactly what work needs to be handed off to others and what type of person you need to handle the job.Coupled with an effective management strategy, outsourcing can have a huge pay-off in the long run.

Where to Outsource?

As the outsourcing industry grow even larger than before, several countries have long since claimed the larger chunks of the BPO pie. Not leaving the top ten lists of the best countries in the world to outsource are:China, India, and the Philippines.

China–You can consider this country as the underdog of the industry having been relatively new. However, being armed with the largest population, it will not take long before this country takes off a huge percentage of India’s shares in the global outsourcing industry.

India – This country has been a favorite go-to of those looking to outsource. With language not being a problem, plus the intelligent, efficient, and hard-working workforce that it has to offer, it’s no wonder why it had topped the list for years. And even as it’s sometimes overtaken by the country next in line, still, it’s safe to say that India will still get a grip of its spot for the upcoming years—which brings us to:

the Philippines – A head to head competitor of the India is the Philippines. Being English its second language, a reputation for one of the best work ethics, and with its highly skilled and talentedpeople, this country is beginning to take on the larger chunks of the industry’s global distribution. With the US as its top offshore client, it won’t take long before this country is hailed as the offshore capital of the world.

To Outsource or Not to Outsource?

The question is not if your business will outsource but when it will outsource. As Stephen Covey said, “Outsourcing is inevitable.” Your competitors are either planning or are already doing it. Can your business afford to be left behind? Can you still ignore the advantages and perks of an offshore team? Will you still allow revenue to be spent in unnecessary overhead expenses?

With a growing number of companies proving that outsourcing is successful, you may already have enough reasons to try.

A2B Outsourcing, one of the emerging Australian BPOs in Clark, Philippines offers a wide range of services for businesses curious about outsourcing. If you are a businessasking yourself the same questions about outsourcing, if you want to receive free offshoring advice or looking into developing your first offshore team, A2B Outsourcing’s flexible solutions for short, long term or trial-based outsourcing services can be a perfect fit. Check out what A2B Outsourcing can do for you!