Web publishing, social media, graphic design, accounting, inspection software, maintenance of CRM systems and so it goes on. The cost of adding additional administration staff can be problematic and prohibitive for many businesses.
In my own office, which is purely a property management business, we have traditionally had one full-time admin role, supported by another part-time position. Following some staffing changes we decided to explore the potential for offshoring to give us the potential for a full-time person. Having a second full-time admin role means we have admin support available to the property management team at all times, including holidays, sick days and other absences. There’s less stress for everyone involved and at a lower cost.
Now we have a fully-trained admin staff member who is part of our office, but works from a desk in the Philippines. I talk with her on Skype when I need to, and she has full access to our office computer server in the same way that our other staff do. She prints leases and other documents to our office printers, and logs into a computer that physically sits in our office. She is diligent and hard working, and during a recent week when our senior admin staff member was on sick leave she proved that she could single-handedly cover all the admin work we needed done.
Our offshore worker’s duties include:
- Updating the rental list
- Typing leases
- Entering new tenants into our property management software
- Placing ‘for lease’ ads via the portals
- Processing rent increases
- Updating our CRM system
- Updating inspections and property status on the rental list and inspectrealestate.com.au
- Preparing initial payment and lease pack
- Electronic filing
- Typing tenant and landlord correspondence
- Ordering signboards.
The list goes on, but what can be easily seen from this is that almost everything doable within the office on a clerical basis, can be done from outside the office with just a few tweaks to IT infrastructure.
At this point our office only has one offshore staff member, but there are many agencies that outsource many other roles, including office accounting.
Discovering what works
While we now find ourselves in a happy place regarding the offshore role in our office, it has taken some experience to discover what works for us.
There are many different structures used by companies providing these services to clients in Australia. We have found that a more structured work environment suits our needs, where there is attendance in an office with formal work hours and a supervisory hierarchy that provides support for both the worker and employer.
Our first experience with offshoring was with a company that employed home-based workers and provided less oversight and control. This largely left us with the responsibility of maintaining the worker, despite barriers of distance and cultural difference. It was often not possible to know whether our offshore employee was actually at her desk and available to complete a task or doing something personal at home.
We trained two staff using this initial company. It transpired that our first employee was attempting to work and take care of four children over an extended school holiday period – obviously not a success.
The second employee, while initially enthusiastic, was frequently away from her computer and provided us with more and more extreme excuses for her lack of availability.
The lack of control and oversight meant that the company was providing a very limited service. They acted as a simple conduit between a worker and potential employer, with almost no on-the-ground backup when there were problems.
While the simple financial cost for failure is not high, it is completely soul destroying for the Australian-based staff member to put so much effort into training, only to have to start again – and in this case, twice.
This is why I doubt it is possible to effectively maintain an employer-employee relationship, with a proper level of accountability, unless there is a meaningful on-the-ground presence with the offshore worker. There are also important cultural differences in managing the employer-employee relationship, which require local understanding.
The company we now use provides a professional office environment, technical infrastructure, supervisors, employee benefits and staff appreciation programs, on-site meals, IT support and high speed internet. The latter is extremely important as our staff member is based in the Philippines and internet can be unreliable in the domestic environment. The service is a little more expensive than that provided by the previous company, but the outcome has been far superior.
Using an offshore worker has proven to be a real boon for our office. We have an additional member of our team, who is as valued as our Sydney-based staff, and has added immeasurably to our ability to produce the work that we need to in a timely, professional and cost-effective manner.