Living offshore – real insight from real experiences

It has been a month since I first arrived in the Philippines to immerse myself into the Diversify environment. I cannot believe how quickly the time has passed, but then again the city moves at a rapid pace all of the time. As I reflect on the past month, it is hard to really articulate how much I have actually learned from actually being on location. I had heard about the cultural, psychological and emotional components of an offshore workforce but had not really experienced until now. It has also provided me with some insight into the day to day workings of not only the office but general life that our employees experience.

Taking on a new challenge is always tough at the start – embrace it

Personally, I feel far more settled. The battle at the start of the journey was accepting that it is a different country with an entirely different way of doing things. Although I have now found a bit of rhythm and some continuity, this has provided me with more time to think and as a result, a bit of homesickness is starting to creep in. I am a pretty routine oriented individual in day-to-day life so adjusting here has had it challenges. Manila certainly gave me a rough introduction to life in that first week – hospitals, storms, and earthquakes, all of which tested my resilience. All of these elements are things that our employees have to deal with on a day to day basis so it will certainly change how I deal with staff that cannot make it into the office or arrive late occasionally!

Learn by exiting your comfort zone – adapt to new environments and create a new normal

The more I think about the decision to relocate over for two months, the more I realise that it is actually a huge step out of my comfort zone. I left the massive support networks I have back home, the established routines and all the things I know behind and, as a mother of an energetic four year old girl and a growing one year old boy, all of those things are crucial to keep on track, both personally and professionally.

The distance and time factors have also emphasised how long eight weeks is. It feels far longer than I expected it to. The only norm I can really focus on is that I am working similar hours as I would back home. Whilst I have a semblance of structure, the impact of this new environment on my children has been a little bit more profound. The excitement of new things always wears off and a new normal needs to be created. But that new normal is also only temporary. I think this even applies to us adults and I anticipate it will be somewhat challenging to adjust to a new normal again when we return home. We will all be far better for the experience.

Isolation fosters insight

Usually, I work in an open plan office with a finger on the pulse as to what is going on each day. I enjoy communicating with my staff and fellow directors at all times which is also an important component of my job. I didn’t realise how important this direct contact with my peers was until I had removed myself from that environment. I did not expect to feel as remote, removed and isolated as I do. I miss my morning coffee and catch up with my business partners. It was the starting focus point to my day. As the CEO of a business that provides offshore solutions, I assumed I would be totally prepared for this experience but as I am now the remote employee, I am learning a lot about how it really is being on the other side. I have had to train my Australian team on how to work with me from a distance – all the things we do so well at teaching our clients, I have had to put into practice and teach my team.

As you may know, I have two babies in my business life: Diversify and my first baby, Hynes Legal. Before heading over here, I was effectively looking after both. However, being isolated from the practice and immersing myself in the strategic and operational requirements of Diversify, I have learnt I am only one person and there are only 24 hours in a day and moving forward, have come to the realisation that I need to dedicate my time to the development of Diversify. As a result of this, I am in the process of operationally stepping out of Hynes Legal which is personally a huge challenge in itself.

In this instance, being 4,405 kms from home, feeling somewhat isolated and invested in a new environment really did provide time for insights that will lead to major organisational changes for both businesses.

Embrace different methods of communication

If you already utilise an offshore team or employee and are reading this then my advice to you would be to communicate frequently, use as many communication channels as you can but most importantly don’t underestimate the importance of embracing technology. Technology has completely changed the way I communicate. On any given day I will use email, VSee, GoToMeeting or Skype to engage with clients and my staff. Using a video camera at the same time goes a long way to lessening the impact of isolation but also provides audio cues as to what that person is thinking – remember facial expressions are a critical component of disseminating communication effectively. We all know that some individuals will commit to something or state they understand but their face tells a different story! Adopt an integrated approach to integration and do not just shoot emails off as the only communication method. Nothing makes an offshore employee (or any employee for that matter) feel more isolated than just receiving emails. Add in the propensity for emails to be misunderstood or taken in the wrong context and you have a recipe for trouble!

Nothing makes people feel more remote or disconnected than purely email communication. Communicate with your offshore team as you would do with your local team. One simple way to do this is to consider each time you are about to communicate with an offshore employee and ask yourself if you would usually give them a call or walk over to them to deliver that message. If the answer is yes, then give them a call via Skype, Vsee or whatever other tool is available to you! Visual cues are far more compelling than audio or text. When you see an individual’s face you can determine how to communicate with them. For example, smiles, frowns, smirks, eyes rolling or pursed lips will all have an impact on how you deal with a particular individual. In other words, the probability of something getting lost in translation is greatly reduced.

In addition, share in the special occasions with your remote team just as you would your local team – if it is someone’s birthday in Australia and you are having cake, bring in your remote team in via video conference. Use technology to engage your offshore team in all elements of your business.

Coffee!!!

And the last thought I will leave you with is coffee. I mentioned my morning coffee with my business partners as something I miss – as much as I miss my partners I miss my coffee more! Coffee is one challenge in the Philippines that is very real. I previously mentioned that Filipino food is heavily influenced by American culture and the coffee is no exception. Starbucks is everywhere and variations of that model. An espresso is incredibly hard to come by. So my one big tip for anyone travelling to Makati is this – there is a placed called Toby’s Estate located in Manila. It is the only place I can find that serves an espresso as good as home. Make sure you look it up.

Key takeaways

  • Tackle challenges head on and learn as much as you can – I have learnt so much about myself and the business by living and working here.
  • Exiting your comfort zone drives development and fosters innovation.
  • Sometimes you need to isolate yourself from the bigger picture to identify a path forward.
  • Communication is key – be sure to use all the tools available to effectively communicate with your offshore workforce (especially video conferencing).
  • Treat your offshore staff as you would your local staff.
  • Wean yourself off high-quality coffee in the weeks leading up to any planned trip to the Philippines or replace your local barista with Starbucks!