Outsourcing work tasks online can be great for getting things done – and save a lot of money if you outsource to a country where the US dollar goes a long way. But it becomes counterproductive if a working relationship becomes a tedious chore.
Constantly checking in to make sure things are getting done, starting projects over from scratch because of misunderstood instructions, and battling with cultural or language barriers just to get the ball rolling. It all bogs you down and drains time.
If you think you’ve got what it takes to manage people online, here are some work process tips to get you off on the right foot.
1. Have Directions Repeated Back
Miscommunications are common online, especially when working with people from a different country. In fact, even online communication with native-English speakers can go afoul sometimes due to the ambiguity of text.
Always be a simple and clear as possible in your instructions, and make it a policy when you work together that they repeat the instructions back to you for confirmation before they proceed. This will allow you to get any misconceptions out of the way before they get too far along.
2. Get Them on a Regular Schedule
This isn’t always as easily said than done – remote workers love the flexibility of working online as much as you and I do. But it can be a lot easier to keep track of what they’re doing and when, or if they’re even doing it at all, if you get the employee to agree to a regular work schedule.
If possible, allow them to choose their own hours, but ask them to make them as regular as possible and to check in if they are going to miss work.
3. Ask for Daily Updates
Daily updates are the bread and butter of a relationship with outsourcers. It’s imperative they check in to let you know what they’re working on that day and then preferably another email when they get off to update you on progress.
If you don’t know how they’re coming along, how can you ever keep your projects on track?
4. Always Hire Fluent Speakers
This is more of a hiring issue but it will have a huge impact on work process – the most important thing when hiring an overseas worker is their level of English fluency. Their are plenty of immensely-talented designers, coders, and SEO experts to be found in places like India and The Philippines, but if you’re constantly struggling to talk with them, it’s a headache.
So even if not hiring a writer, make fluency your number one priority. Someone with basic skills can always learn new tasks, or you can just spend more time hiring to discover the right fit.
5. Pick Up the Phone!
Sometimes talking is the best way to communicate, so if the emails or chat seem laborious, get on the phone and get it over with. It’ll be wrapped up within minutes and hardly any back and forth at all.
In fact, you might want to make a weekly phone or Skype meeting policy as well.
6. Give Rewards for Great Work
Unless you’re running a full-fledged company, your worker does not have a secure position with you and isn’t enjoying the benefits they would find with a larger firm. You need to either change this and go completely legit or find other ways to compensate and keep them motivated.
Giving rewards for good work – or to be more precise, good effort – is a great start, even if it’s simple honest praise from time.
Also, do a little research on their culture and find out what the expectations are with bonuses. Filipinos, for instance, expect a “13th month” of pay every year in December (it’s legally required), and often a separate Christmas bonus as well.
If this doesn’t happen, and in the right way, you may start fostering resentment. Do your research.
7. Create Company Documents
I’m a big fan of creating “company” documents that outline my work processes as a way to communicate with new employees. If you need to explain a procedure or are adopting a new policy, you might as well make a standardized writeup that you can reference later or share with future employees.
Keep these accessible so the employee can reference them anytime they revisit a work process or problem that hasn’t come up in a while.
8. Be Clear About Expectations
When working with someone from a different culture, there are going to be differences in work expectations – it’s a given, so just start expecting it now. The best way to handle it is good old communication.
Again, put together some basic documents that go into your “corporate culture” and detail exactly what you expect from them. Of course, you can make this as official or informal as you choose, but make sure you do something!
9. Use Doc-Sharing Programs
It’s easy to slip into a routine of emailing each other back and forth all the time, but this can quickly become chaotic and messy. Before long, you lose track of your email threads and find it a chore to hunt down old conversations you want to add to or renew. Finding an attachment with some documents you’re working on together can especially become a headache.
Solve this problem by using an online document-sharing program, like Google Docs, Basecamp, or Dropbox. I recommend putting together a folder system that makes it easy to prioritize and track what stage each document is at as well if you’re working with a lot of them.
This is also a great place to keep your standardized processes you’ve created.
10. Be Prepared to Be a Boss
Your online employees, like any employees, are going to give your problems sometimes.
Work won’t get done. Hours will be fudged. A lack of honest effort may become habit as they get used to that regular check. You may even get cheated.
A problem common to hiring third world citizens is it becomes very hard on your conscience to reprimand these people, or fire them if it becomes necessary. But you’re a boss, and if you’re not willing to make the hard decisions and be a true leader, it may not be a good idea for you to take on help at all.
This issue can become a real drain on your finances, your patience, and your time if you let it.
Remote workers are manageable, but there is a learning curve. Read books about how to deal with people – or even about intercultural communication, if you are hiring abroad. Take it seriously. If you get it right, it can bring your online business from good to great.