This blog post is going to be a little bit different from the usual ones I’ve been posting in the sense that this was derived from an actual (and rather pleasant) conversation I’ve had with my team members who are mostly from the Philippines.
This conversation turned out to be really useful and insightful to me because I got to better understand how my team members think both in terms of working with me and generally working with business owners from outside the Philippines. It was a super open conversation and we got to talk about a lot of raw, unfiltered topics which I believe you would appreciate… especially if you are thinking of building a virtual team.
If you have plans of hiring virtual team members from the Philippines and are curious for some “insider information,” then it is my hope that this blog post will be full of golden nuggets for you.
I decided to break it down into 2 sections, section one being where my team members ask me their questions, and the second section will be me asking them questions. The team members I am speaking to are Gabbie, who is our content manager, Bless who is our media buyer, and Drei who is our web designer.
So if you’re curious to see what it’s ACTUALLY like to work with Filipinos, then read on.
Part 1: Questions for Tega
Question 1: What, for you, is the best way for foreign clients to manage Filipino VAs, especially with all of the cultural differences?
That’s a good question. The answer to that is twofold, because it really requires having proper systems in place for communication, and getting clear on what everybody on the team is going to do. So having systems in place is the first thing.
Then the second thing is to be patient and communicate clearly. I like to think that’s something that I do very well. I don’t get angry often when mistakes are made, because it’s more of a case of figuring out why the mistake was made, then using the mistake as a teaching opportunity.
Question 2: How do you measure each person’s performance for future salary increases?
Personally, the way I do that is I look at the quality of work that the person is doing, in combination with the financial results that the work is bringing in. A good example is earlier on, when Gabbie came on the team, the work she was doing was really, really good. And there was a point in time where I was promoting my blog posts and as a result, got inquiries from those blog posts.
And because those blog posts actually brought money into the business, I saw that Gabbie deserved to be properly compensated for her work.
Remember though that you also need to think about the financials of your business and whether you can afford giving a raise.
Question 3: Why did you choose Filipino VAs in particular?
My experience when I started doing outsourcing was that I’ve tried working with people from all over the world. I’ve worked with people from Eastern Europe, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. Honestly, there just seemed to be something missing whenever I was working with all those guys.
I never understood why, but maybe it’s because of the way I communicate or say things. It could also be because of my social construct. Another possibility could be because the things that I consume are mostly American. And based on my observation and experience, Filipinos have quite an American culture.
Because you guys have an American-like culture, I just think there is that synergy there. An example was that when I worked with Indians, there were certain jokes I would make that they wouldn’t get. They would either take it out of context or take it the wrong way. And you know, a joke isn’t funny anymore once you have to explain it. That, along with a few other communication differences, made a bit of an uncomfortable working relationship.
That’s probably why I get along with Filipinos more.
I remember the first Filipino I hired was named Jov, who was a web designer. Working with him was such a good experience that I just defaulted to looking for Filipinos after that experience.
Question 4: Can you describe Filipino VAs in three words?
There are so many words to describe a Filipino VA, but if I had to choose three words, these would be FRIENDLY, DEPENDABLE, and TRUSTWORTHY.
Question 5: How would you describe yourself as a leader?
I would like to say I’m a lead-from-the-front kind of leader, but I definitely miss deadlines and don’t push myself as hard as I should. You’ll notice that the deadlines I set are usually for myself. But when it comes to client stuff, I don’t mess around.
So when it comes to being a leader to deliver stuff for clients, I believe I’m a strong leader. But when it comes to pushing my projects forward, I’m a little bit relaxed.
Question 6: There are some clients who would take advantage of Filipino freelancers when it comes to giving workload and and underpaying them. In your case, how do you ensure that you are being fair when it comes to compensation and workload?
It’s a balance. The primary way for me to do that is in terms of compensation, I look at what the market is offering and I try to offer above that rate. So if I see that the market is offering, for example, $300 a month, I try to offer anywhere from $500-550 a month, as long as there’s space in the business budget to do so.
In terms of workload, I operate quite patiently. There’s usually going to be a learning period whenever somebody starts working with me, where I discover what they can do. I get to see how much they can do on both the good days, and on the days where they’re not in tip-top shape.
So for example, with Bless and Gabbie, they can both do 3-4 things on average per day. If I really push, I can get both of them to do around 5 to 6 things. But if you don’t do more than that, I’d still be fine with it. And I can see how much each of my members do per day through their end of day (EOD) reports.
Question 7: What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with Filipino VAs, based on your personal experience?
I think that the key disadvantage is the distance. And as I mentioned earlier, you guys have a somewhat American culture, but at the same time, your own Filipino culture is also unique. But because of what’s going on in the world right now with Coronavirus and lockdowns, I can’t travel and experience that unique culture.
Now the biggest advantage for me, again, is that you guys are dependable and trustworthy. So I know when I ask you to do something, you will get it done unless there’s something happening that you can’t control. And whenever the latter does arise, you never fail to let me know and you communicate everything with me.
Timezone actually has never been an issue for me. In fact, I actually find it kind of perfect. Because we work in a flexible way, what happens is that when I go to sleep and give tasks, by the time I wake up, the tasks are all done. So for the time difference, I choose not to see it as a disadvantage. Plus, it doesn’t really matter, because I give you guys the flexibility when you want to work anyway.
Question 8: How important is it to give commendations to your virtual team members?
This is honestly something that I struggle with because I have a tendency to be too enveloped in what I personally do. I end up getting lost in what I’m doing so I sometimes forget to check externally how things are going.
A perfect example is at the start of the year, Gabbie mentioned on LinkedIn that she worked for my company and that actually shocked me. It made me realise that I actually do have a company and hire people to work for me. Sometimes I really forget that and as a result, I forget to give my virtual team members the commendation they deserve.
Part 2: Questions for the Team
Question 1: How important is it to feel like part of the team, especially when you’re working virtually?
Gabbie: Just like you, I get engrossed in my work a lot so I’m fine if I work on my own. But just the fact that I belong, and I feel like we’re working together, actually gives me a sense of accountability. And I’ve tried working solo before, but it’s really different.
Also being able to talk about things outside work with people who are from different areas of the world is something that’s a good cherry on top of the freelance world.
Bless: In my case, I used to work in a corporate setup and I was part of a multinational company, so it’s a huge thing. Then when I first transitioned to becoming a freelancer, I was working all by myself. It’s actually very different now with the team, because I have other people working with the same client.
It somehow gives me the same feeling I used to have when I was in the corporate world in a sense that I now have things to talk about with my teammates. Let’s say for example, with Gabbie or Greg, if there are ideas that I want to throw around, I can easily do that. It also provides sanity as well.
Drei: As someone who sometimes craves social connection with other people, it’s great to work with and belong to a team. So if I’m not working and just need a break, I have other people to talk to so that I can refresh myself. For example, when I get to a certain point when creating websites, I need to stop working and talk to someone so that I’m not so stressed.
Question 2: How would you guys say Filipino VAs are different from other nationalities?
Bless: In general cases, Filipinos get taken advantage of. For example, in my case, I noticed that my Filipino workmates would just take loads of work. This makes us so dependable, and it’s actually in our nature to finish whatever task is thrown to us. So many foreign employers actually take advantage of this.
In addition to this, many of us are also underpaid. And because we cannot express ourselves and are afraid that our clients wouldn’t accept us, we settle for the rate dictated by our employees even if it isn’t fair.
So in a way, it’s both an advantage and a disadvantage to be naturally accommodating and dependable.
Gabbie: We’re very hard working, and just like what Bless said, many foreign employers take advantage of that.
Another interesting fact is that Filipinos have a tendency to impress foreigners. So whenever it’s a foreign client who we just want to keep pleasing, we always say “yes.” We Filipinos are “yes” people, so we say “yes” to most things because we just want to please people.
It’s also kind of sad that Filipinos don’t really speak their mind. So if we’re overworked or underpaid, we don’t always express that.
Drei: Just like what the others said, we are very dependable. And a really popular Filipino trait is that we’re very hospitable to foreigners. So this is carried over when it comes to our work life and when we work with foreign clients.
I’m connecting to what Gabbie said that yes, we like to impress both Filipinos and other nationalities. There’s this thing about us wherein we like making a name for ourselves, so we work really hard just to get our name out there.
And Gabbie is also right when she said that Filipinos don’t speak their minds. From my own managerial experience, Filipinos will tell their workmates that they’re overworked or burned out, but when you, as their boss, asks them how they are, they say that they’re completely fine.
Question 3: How do you guys feel about the weekly team meetings? Currently, we have the ones on Monday which are more serious. Then we have the little laissez faire affairs on Friday where we just get together and chat about the week real quick.
Drei: I actually look forward to these meetings. Because we’re from different time zones or have different schedules, we all don’t really work together or talk during the week unless it’s work-related. So I treat the weekly meetings as more of a time to bond with the team.
Gabbie: This actually goes back to having a sense of belongingness with a team. So yes, I really do enjoy them. And I noticed that we slowly started to talk more about our personal lives or other random topics during our calls, which I really enjoy.
I think the only downside for me is when we’ll go back to daylight savings and our meetings move an hour later. This means that in the Philippines, we’ll be having our meetings at 11PM instead of 10PM, which is pretty late for me.
Bless: For me, it also gives me a sense of belongingness. However, I think we can make it more by putting structure. Let’s say, for example, during Mondays, we can have more serious, structured meetings then on the latter part, we can talk about random and fun topics. Sometimes, I think the Friday meetings are actually not necessary, especially since we just talk for around 10-15 minutes.
But that’s just my opinion. And that’s because I’m a mother and I’m also busy taking care of my daughter.
Question 4: What do you think my weak points are?
Gabbie: Well, you have a lot of plans but don’t always move forward with them because you have so many other priorities. I remember we talked about posting on Instagram last year, but we never started doing it yet. Also, your TegaDoesBusiness.com website has been pending for 3 months already.
So you’re a very big dreamer, but the execution part is a bit lacking. I think you just need a bit more of a push. But I do see an improvement, especially when it comes to meeting deadlines. We’re now ahead of schedule with content which is really great.
Drei: I noticed that you like to do a lot of things. You have your 2 brands, your different agencies, you also have the Intent Podcast. There are so many things going on that I’m getting confused on what the business really does. And if I’m confused, I think other people would be confused as well.
I think what you really lack is a business model.
Bless: Well, actually they already said most things. I think it all boils down to your belief that you can be a jack of all trades. You’re kind of trying to do all of the things in your head. So, the tendency is that, as Gabbie said, the execution part is lacking.
You just have to decide what you really want to do at this point. And I think it’s really about creating a system and organising your thoughts together and putting it into action.
Question 5: What are my strong points?
Bless: What’s good about you is that you accept feedback and you are a good listener. I think that’s one of the good things about you. And earlier, you said that you’re kind of weak when it comes to giving commendations. I think you’re actually good at that. Your feedback is also very timely, and you make sure to give feedback to each and every one of us who stood out with regards to work.
Drei: I’ve been here the longest amongst the three of us which is a really good indicator that you’re great to work with. I usually stay at a company based on how my boss acts. So 3 years and 7 months is a big thing for me because the longest before you, Tega, was 2 years and 9 months. And it’s because you’re really good and we learn a lot from you about so many topics.
You also give great, constructive criticism and you do it in such a way that it doesn’t hurt when it comes from you. You don’t sugarcoat, but you’re good at softening the blow.
Another great thing about you is that you really know how to take care of us. Many of the Filipino freelance groups that I’m a part of in Facebook talk about a lot of horror stories of clients not taking care of their VAs. But you go above and beyond and even provide us 13th month pay and let us go on holidays. These may seem like small gestures, but are actually really big things.
We’re very lucky to have found you and not everyone realises this but when a team member is working comfortably with you, it definitely encourages more ideas and instills a genuine drive to let the business grow.
Gabbie: You’re very nice and when you give feedback, it doesn’t hurt because you deliver it in a really nice way as well. You’re also so easy to talk to and you act more like a friend most of the time than someone who is superior to all of us. So we never get intimidated by you. But when you want the job done, you also let us know that you want it done.
You also give us reasonable deadlines and are very understanding. And these strong points are very important because, like we said a while back, many foreign clients take advantage of Filipinos, but you never do. So keep it up.
WHAT I’M TAKING AWAY FROM THE CONVERSATION…
After this conversation, I realised that I am actually on the right track when it comes to managing my virtual team. I always thought that because I was so engrossed in my own work that they might have felt that I was too distant. But that really wasn’t the case.
Their positive feedback of me was genuinely touching and I felt that we were all able to form an even stronger bond and have grown to understand each other more after this call.
I definitely plan on having this type of conversation again next year just so that we can update the blog and see if we’ll have even more valuable insights by then.
I hope that you enjoyed this conversation as much as I enjoyed having it and talking to the team.