Technology is driving change and erasing geographic borders. It's giving us the ability to work with our clients from anywhere in the world. It's also giving people anywhere in the world the ability to work with our clients. This is something we leveraged when designing our bookkeeping firm, Digit - and it has been a core reason behind our success.
Building a business through offshoring is a growing trend, but there's a right way, and a wrong way to go about it. Here are top three tips to build a successful global team.
Have the right infrastructure (and partners on the ground)
There are many traps and pitfalls when hiring in another country. Often unforeseen. Floods, brownouts, earthquakes, strikes, wars, corruption, red tape, flaky internet, and a million other things can unravel your most carefully laid plans. Unless you plan on being permanently in the country to manage your remote team (which is kind of self-defeating) you really need a partner who knows how to navigate the local business environment.
When we first started Digit, we partnered with a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) firm to build our team. They provide the office space, power, high-speed internet, computers, IT support, HR support, payroll department, and are our team on the ground who make sure that we can focus on what we do best. We pay an ongoing fee under a management agreement.
While it's not cheap (we pay a fee per seat per month) - it takes the headache out of scaling as we grow. We need more space? No worries - they will spend their weekends moving us into a larger area. We need new team members? They follow our recruiting processes and pre-screen candidates. Two businesses, and 7 years on - they have been our bedrock.
Find the right people
If you're going to build a business with a global team, then you should start with an open mind in where you will find the talent you need. The first decision should never be find the people who are cheapest', but where in the world are the best people for my business model'.
The kinds of questions you should consider fall into a few broad categories -
Timing of your work
How do you plan on working with your clients? Where are your clients located? Is being available during business hours important? If so, is it important to have people close to your time zone or can you work around it? Is the work you're looking to get done transactional and not time dependant? Can people in that country work your business hours - and what does that mean for them and their families? Working night shift might be fine while people are single, but you may end up limiting who will want to work for you by simple fact of when you need them around.
Communication (and accents)
Is communication important in your work? Do you need excellent verbal English? Written English? Does your team need to take calls? These considerations go both ways. Your team's ability to communicate with your clients and be clearly understood, and also how well they can understand and interpret what your clients are saying. We have a fantastic Scottish client who for the life of me I cannot understand. Bless him. These things are worth thinking about.
Education and experience
What is the education system like in the country? What is the size of the workforce for the particular type of work you are looking to resource? What experience do people have with firms in your country, or in dealing with businesses globally?
When I had a business app development studio, my team were based in the Ukraine (more on why later). What fascinated me was the fact that most people had at least two degrees. I remember chatting with the sales team one evening over vodka and Salo only to discover that they all had their masters in economics. Don't ever confuse price with education
What is the work ethic of the people? What are the cultural considerations that you need to be aware of? One of the reasons why I had my development team in the Ukraine is that I valued honest feedback above all else. As a developer - I wanted to be able to take a scope for a project to the team and have them tell me - that's a crap idea, this is what we would do'. So I deliberately chose a location where people had the attitude I wanted, that would create the best outcome.
For all the reasons above, with Digit we build our team in the Philippines. A country based in our time zone, with an exceptional work ethic, family driven values, well educated people with global experience, and strong fluency in English. Despite research visits to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries in our region, we've never looked back.
You might notice that I haven't mentioned costs. Decisions around economics and price should always come after you've considered everything else.
Invest in them, and keep investing in them
Now you have your first team member working for you remotely. Now the hard work really begins.
I'm always amazed by how often I hear people talk about how offshoring didn't work for them. And when I ask why - it's typically because they've treated the other person as a cheap resource, and not invested in them for the long term. Not enough support, and poor processes. The reality is that building a global team takes a lot of hard work.
If you think about it, it's no different from building a business locally. When you hire someone locally they have the benefit of seeing you, hearing you, following your non-verbal cues, connecting with you, asking you questions, spending time with you and modelling their behaviour on your expectations. With a remote team, you have to fulfil those same needs - except with the additional layer of cultural differences, language barriers and physical separation stacked on top. Having a strong company culture is critical. As is visiting your team regularly (you'd be surprised how many people don't).
It's important to remember that people in other countries don't have the decades of experience of living in your country. Things you take for granted like knowing what GST is (a goods and services tax), or what Bunnings is (it's a hardware chain), or what a servo is (a service station). It's your job to catch them up. One of the things that we do is invest in Australian cultural training for our team in Manila (and Filipino cultural training for our team in Australia). We send them on technical courses for Xero, GST, Payroll, and continually invest in building their working education. We teach them Australian English, culture, idioms and share stories about our clients.
The most important aspect of it all is how much time and energy you put into empowering them, educating them, supporting them, and helping them succeed. The most powerful advice I can ever give is to treat your team as fellow humans, and not as remote automatons bashing keyboards.
One of the most fulfilling things we've done is spend time with our team doing leadership training, flying them to Australia, spending time with them in Manila, and treating our business as ONE team of people, one culture. Regardless of location. Get that part right, and you've got yourself a scalable business built on a group of people from around the globe who truly love what they do.