Offshoring has been part of the employment vernacular for a very long time, often associated with cutting costs and potentially inferior work output. But recently the practice has attracted renewed interest, as skill levels rise across the Asia Pacific region and outsourcing companies reduce many of the risks for local-based businesses. By setting up strong processes, these companies are able to ensure workers’ rights for employees and ease of management for employers.
In this article, Niche digital and content director Chris Rennie explains how he works with staff front-end and web developer, Martin Cipriano, who is based in Manila, The Philippines, with Bolton Remote.
“It is quite a time commitment but six months after hiring we are starting to see substantial efficiency improvements from the way we manage this team member,” Chris begins.
Niche’s relationship with Martin is slightly unusual since we have him on as a full-time employee (many outsourced relationships tend to be single project arrangements). He is involved in various web design tasks including rebuilding our company website (you’re looking right at it!), overhauling our other websites and assisting our in-house IT department with email template updates.
Coming from the competitive digital landscape of Manila, Martin has honed his unique skill-set that combines fine art with the technical coding aspects of web design.
He has the unique combination of being able to provide great design solutions as well as build websites from the ground up – something we struggled to find in a local candidate.
“There is no question the cost has been a huge benefit. His yearly rate is about a third of what we would pay here,” Chris adds.
On top of bringing these unique skills to the company, being based outside of Australia allows us to pay Martin well for standard rates in Manila. He is also awarded holiday pay and full employee rates which ensures the transaction between us is fair and equitable.
The hiring process
When attempting to hire within Australia, Niche faced a dilemma trying to find a talented web designer in a reasonable salary bracket who had both strong coding skills and an arts/design background.
“We were initially looking locally but it was incredibly challenging to find someone,” Chris explains. “It seemed in the Australian market-place the candidates who understood front-end design didn’t have the strongest graphic art background or vice-versa.”
Chris had previously worked with some very talented offshore people, but was worried about the prospect of managing someone day-to-day from such a distance.
“About the time we were looking for our local candidate, Bolton Remote, an offshore company with strong credentials, contacted us. The difference was that the CEO was travelling to all the major cities educating people about his service, so having the opportunity to feel like we had a local connection made us consider the option of a full time resource.
“The interview process was all handled on an HR platform where an initial video interview was recorded along with CV and references. The next step was to set a ‘test’ and run that through video conference software Sqwiggle. The candidate is managed on a day-to-day basis by a team in Manila, so he has HR support, and we have full support (IT and HR in case of absentee or similar issues) as you would in a larger organisation, which took away a lot of the risk for us.”
Martin has brought his skills to various aspects of the Niche business, helping us boost our strengths in the digital space.
One of his first projects was to redesign the Niche website into this beautiful web property that you are looking at now. He has also done major renovations on two of our event sites and assisted with the new-look Marketing mag site. Being only a Skype call away, Martin is also on hand to provide design support to our IT department, which is always receiving requests to upgrade email templates.
Other projects he has worked on have been for some of our custom clients, and he is currently working on an ecommerce platform.
“The benefit we are starting to realise is that he now understands our digital assets so we are getting him to build his skills and expand his scope of work to help us with SEO and other digital tasks,” Chris explains.
This has only been possible by making him a part of the Niche team long-term.
Chris and Martin regularly converse via Skype or Sqwiggle, which is a live video feed.
“We treat Martin as a team member, so it’s daily communication and depending on the project it can be a lot of communication throughout one day. Or conversely if he’s working on a larger project and we’ll just touch base in the morning.”
Working with Martin, the biggest challenge for Chris is micromanagement – he has realised the importance of setting tasks in a diligent manner.
“It’s also more difficult to convey creative tasks to someone through a screen, no matter the software solution,” he adds.
Aside from those commonly expected issues, having Martin based in The Philippines has caused some other interesting disruptions.
Once, Martin had to quickly shut down his Skype call with Chris and leave as a typhoon approached.
“I could hear the beeping from the building alarms in the background and could see the palm trees swinging wildly through the office windows (through my screen),” Chris recalls.
“There are definitely challenges with having an employee in essentially a third-world country.”
To Chris, Martin seemed fairly casual about the typhoon; large storms are quite commonplace in The Philippines. Martin rides his bicycle into his office everyday, and weather events often prevent him from arriving on time.
Chris is optimistic about the opportunities that outsourcing can provide to businesses: “I think the scope is really broad”.
Key skills areas that lend themselves well to this kind of arrangement tend to fit in the digital services space, including SEO, marketing and web development.
Chris’ two key warnings are: that outsourcing requires a lot of management, and that companies should limit their expectations around being able to snap up an extraordinary digital talent – most of them are likely to be employed by the larger businesses in their local areas.
“I think it ideally works best if you can have a team leader in place because that way you reduce the issue of micromanagement,” Chris advises.
“Ideally that’s what we would like to move towards. I think there would be real benefits in building a team offshore so they could be a little more autonomous and there would be less reliance on us to do so much direct management. But as it stands we would need a larger pipeline of regular projects to support the increased capacity.”
For now, at Niche we are continuing to make the most of Martin’s skills as we develop various digital aspects of our business across verticals. Maybe one day he’ll even pay us a visit.
“Interestingly, his uncle is based in Melbourne so we hope to get him over here one day for a Christmas party,” Chris says.