Not long after starting an online marketing and PR company with his partner, California-based David Chan realized that his growing business demanded more manpower and set about engaging a team of remote workers. Now, three years on, AD Publishing has experimented with workers in several Asian countries and across the U.S., hitting a few road bumps and refining their web work processes along the way.
WebWorkerDaily spoke to Chan to find out what’s worked for him and what hasn’t, so other companies can crib from his answers and avoid the school of hard knocks.
Chan’s first move into web work was to hire a virtual assistant, Marina. She is from the Philippines and eventually came to work directly for ADP, becoming a baseline for the company in the country and helping them hire more people. Having such a linchpin is key, according to Chan.
“If you have one really solid person who you trust in country, whether you know them personally or they come through a reference, that can make or break your whole virtual team,” he says. “I think it’s really been because of Marina that we’ve been able to succeed in working in the Philippines. The same is true now in India. We have one lead person and it’s because of our relationship with him that we can manage the India team without us falling apart.”
An adequate hiring process is also essential. “We hire based on the resume, the portfolio they show us online, and an interview process where my lead person in the Philippines interviews them first and my partner and I do subsequent interviews. Finally we give them a test at the end of the whole process to make sure they can do what they say they can do.” But it wasn’t always that way. Previously, the company simply hired off a resume and a single interview, “but then we found these people were not performing, leaving, slacking off, so that’s when we put in the other procedures.” Problem solved.
At first, “it was hard for us to figure out how to manage virtual workers properly,” Chan confesses, “but now we’ve put a number of tools in place so we can monitor their hours and then match the hours with the productivity.”
To do so the company uses a range of off-the-shelf, paid-for cloud services. Chan explains: “Basecamp manages all our projects. We use Yammer, a corporate Twitter-like product. As soon as a team member finishes a particular task in Basecamp they have to ‘Yammer’ it. Then we use Skype for one-on-one discussions. We use GoToMeeting for training purposes. We also use SlimTimer to track how much time is actually spent on a particular task. One last tool people might consider using is called RingCentral. Here in the U.S. I have an 800 number for our company and I can parcel out extensions to anyone I want, including people in the Philippines and soon in India.”
Leave little up to interpretation is Chan’s first tip. He suggests having “a very discreet process for the tasks you want workers to complete. You can’t be ‘loosey goosey’ on your requirements – it doesn’t work. If it’s left up to interpretation, most of the time it will fail.”
Close collaboration is also important. Chan and his partner meet the entire team virtually every day at one o’clock. “The team we have in the Philippines works California time. That’s a requirement, which is the graveyard shift for them. So we meet every day come rain or come shine and we go through all our projects and everyone gives updates.” This is part of a concerted effort to keep the team cohesive, which also involves giving the team leader in the Philippines resources for team-building meals and drinks on a regular basis. And Chan has also invested in a few face-to-face meetings: “we have visited the Philippines once to get the team all together and we recently flew to Singapore and flew one of the team members there to meet us.”
Finally, Chan advises close attention to avoiding cultural miscues, at least at first. “When I started working with these teams, I was very cautious about what I said, how I said it, being polite. I’m less worried about what I say now because we have built a relationship up. But I think it’s very important that you understand the cultures that you’re dealing with and cultivate that. Then over time you can loosen up,” he says.