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What would you do if you suddenly needed 85 people to complete a manual data project across thousands of documents? How would you make that happen in the United States? It’s not impossible, but it wouldn’t be easy, particularly if you didn’t have the office space for them or if you wanted those 85 people to work collaboratively.
Companies commonly outsource specific tasks or projects to save money. While it’s true that offshore workers can often be paid significantly less than American workers, affordability is only part of the equation — and often not the most important.
We set up offshore teams in the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Malta, Brazil, Grand Cayman, Columbia, Argentina and Ireland. In fact, about 40 percent of our 225 people are overseas.
Here are my tips for successfully managing remote teams.
1. Vet for strong English language skills.
English as the global language of business works to your advantage when creating offshore teams. We hired 70 team members in the Philippines, where English is very common.
Whether they work on development or data processing, members of our Philippines team need strong language skills to understand the nuances of native English. We stress the importance of strong English language skills in the job description, and we ensure job candidates have those skills during interviews and practical tests before they’re hired.
2. Designate team leaders.
Each offshore team is self-directed by a location-specific team leader who oversees daily operations. They understand cultural differences between the United States and their local country and have been with us long enough to know how to incorporate our company goals into their office’s culture. Team leaders work regularly with our U.S.-based team to ensure continuity across the company.
3. Secure data with strong passwords.
There are rising concerns about the security of data in the hands of foreign contractors. Some 85 percent of Indian outsourcing companies said they experienced information security breaches in the previous year, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study.
Foreign governments are trying to handle these concerns. In 2011, India’s IT Ministry adopted Information Technology Privacy Rules. In the Philippines, there’s a push for legislation to protect the integrity and confidentiality of personal information collected from clients in compliance with international privacy standards.
ConsumerAffairs imposes the strictest U.S. privacy laws on all employees, whether or not they are working abroad. We don’t send private customer data overseas. Contractors and employees login to our secure site, which protects privacy and gives management the opportunity to monitor content as well as activity.
I also recommend using password management software like OnePassword or LastPass. This forces employees to use a different password for every site and automatically generates passwords that are gibberish rather than an actual word or phrase.
4. Use Upwork.
Upwork is a distributed global marketplace of workers who bid on jobs. We use Upwork to vet job candidates and test new markets before we hire. We assign work as a test to drill down to candidates with advanced language skills.
We’ll spend a little extra money to hire three employees at a time in order to choose the best candidate. After all, you don’t really know if someone is as talented as they say they are until they’re working for you. The platform also pays salaries internationally by converting currency.
5. Enable telecommuting.
Allowing remote employees to work from home eliminates overhead costs because there is no need to build or rent an office center. Wherever they’re located, offshore teams use their own telephones and computers. The cost of maintaining a payroll department is absorbed by Upwork.
Allowing remote workers to telecommute can also offer them a better work-life balance so they can be happy, productive employees.
6. Build a global communication infrastructure.
The goal with a remote team is to feel like they’re sitting next to you, not halfway around the world. Offshore teams used to communicate primarily using email and Skype, but we use Slack to communicate with remote teams in real time. We switched to Slack because it offers file sharing, private channels, direct messaging, calling and email features more efficiently than Skype and email alone. It integrates seamlessly within our operating system.
7. Annually visit offshore locations.
One challenge of managing remote teams is helping them feel connected to your company. Making an annual appearance to our remote offices strengthens the connection to ConsumerAffairs and brings team members together.
For instance, leadership travels to the Philippines for five days every year. We host a retreat at a resort with sleeping quarters so the entire team can stay over. It’s a fun five days, and it’s a way for everyone to meet each other. We have a party and engage in team building activities like rock climbing, volleyball or go-karting. I also sit with team leaders for a strategic planning meeting to review company goals.
We also invite remote workers to visit our office. Last summer we hosted our team of remote developers for a week. They travelled from around the world, and our U.S.-based team enjoyed getting to know them and showing them around town after hours.
Whether stateside or abroad, we work to keep employees engaged and enthusiastic about achieving the company’s vision. With some thoughtfulness and help from technology, it won’t matter if employees are in your backyard or halfway around the world.