OUTSOURCING WORK TO THE PHILIPPINES: I MET MY VA FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SIX YEARS AND HERE’S WHAT I LEARNED

People who have known me for some time will have heard of Liza – she’s our virtual assistant from the Philippines who has been working with us for six years. It’s hard to believe it has been that long! Liza is an invaluable resource in our business and is responsible for making a big impact on our productivity. More importantly she has become part of our family.

 Recently I had the privilege of visiting the Philippines and meeting Liza and her family for the first time. Meeting someone who I have worked closely with and had regular Skype meetings with for years was fantastic! It feels like I have known her for the longest time, yet after spending five days in the Philippines, I realised I still had much to learn about working with Filipinos. Here’s what I found out:

FILIPINOS GENERALLY AVOID CONFRONTATIONS

Different people have different ways of going about tasks. In a virtual setup, tasks are usually communicated through email, through project management tools like Asana, or sometimes during online meetings.

Once a task is given, chances are there may be grey areas that your Filipino VA does not fully understand, so they spend more time working on it than expected. Also they may provide an output which is different from what you expect.  But didn’t you ask if they understand the task? Yes, you did, and your VA answered “yes”.

Whilst in the Philippines, Liza revealed to me that she had been recording our Skype meetings and going through them to make sure she understands the tasks and gets the job done correctly. Whilst most of the time she delivers the tasks exceptionally well, she realised how much time was wasted listening to these recordings. In a lot of instances, she could have got back to me instead and told me there was something she did not understand. But instead, she said “yes”.

Liza is a responsible, dedicated worker and like most Filipino VAs, they take their work to heart. They are more likely to say yes to everything you ask them to do to avoid confrontation with their boss. Filipinos find it difficult to say no, disagree, reject, or be confrontational. As a result, they may give an ambiguous or indirect answer — not to be deceptive, but rather to avoid confrontation.

FILIPINOS ARE POLITE AND COURTEOUS

“Sir Greg”, Or “Dear Sir Greg”. This is how Liza used to begin her emails. And before the Queen considers me on the knight-to-be list, I told her to drop the “Sirs” and simply call me “Greg”.

In the Philippines, Filipino workers always address their employers with “Sir” or “Ma’am” to show respect. They like to please people, especially their employers. This is somehow different to the egalitarian culture we were born to as Aussies. Filipinos are very eager to please and will do whatever they can to make their boss happy.

Watch out for this though. In their attempt to please you, they are more likely to say “yes” rather than say “no”. When outsourcing, it is very easy to fall into the trap of giving everything to your VA. For a busy entrepreneur, this is quite reasonable. You don’t have enough time to run the business let alone give your VA a lengthy email detailing what you want done and when you need it. But at some point, you also have to realise that your VA doesn’t know your business like you do. Explain to them that it is okay for them to let down their courtesies and state the hard facts. If they need more clarity on the tasks they are being given they need to be confident to ask questions. This is also the reason why giving them clear instructions about what is expected of them is essential.

FILIPINOS ARE GENERALLY CONSERVATIVE ABOUT WHAT THEY FEEL

Filipinos tend to be shy and reserved. Sometimes, if you do not ask if something is okay for them, they tend to just go along with it because they are too timid to talk questions.

If you are working with a Filipino VA or decide to outsource to the Philippines in the future, appreciate the fact that they are very reserved. At some point, you have to probe and ask specific questions to be able to unmask what they are thinking or feeling about the work you’ve given them. You’ll help them improve their productivity when you know how they really feel about the job and motivate them to do more for your business.

It can take some time to manage virtual working relationships as we aim to bridge a corporate culture overseas. It is also worth noting that after meeting face-to-face, Liza was able to gain more insight into understanding Aussie culture and how she can add more value to her work. It was great to meet her and her family and I look forward to catching up with them again.

The points I mentioned above may not be true for all Filipino VAs. But one thing I am sure of is that if you go the extra mile and get to know your VA and have a good grasp of their culture, you’ll be able to cultivate a mutually beneficial working relationship that can help you grow your business.

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