I started building an offshore team in 2012 as a sole practitioner providing contract CFO services. Online accounting and collaboration software was emerging, and I saw the opportunity to add remote fractional accounting services. After a few years, I began hiring U.S. and Canadian team members, and rebranded to Nimbl.
During this time, I also saw the opportunity to build a second business, Nimbl Staffing, which provides in-office, offshore team members for North American organizations.
Over this 10-year journey, we've built a global team of more than 100 people in the United States, Canada, and the Philippines. In this article, I'll share some lessons I’ve learned about building offshore teams to hopefully help you avoid some of the many mistakes I've made!
Build one global team (offshoring vs. outsourcing)
The terms offshoring and outsourcing are sometimes used interchangeably, but I think they are very different.
- Outsourcing means you receive a deliverable from a separate entity without directly managing the process. For example, sending raw tax return data to a service that prepares the return and sends it back to you.
- Offshoring means having team members located offshore, functioning similarly to local employees. I don't mind the term "offshoring" because it's well-recognized, but I prefer calling it a "global team."
The distinction is important. I live in Utah, and view a team member in Florida the same as a team member in the Philippines. Of course, culture, time zone, compliance, and other differences are factors, but I see the two employees as equal team members. In fact, we view our entire team as one global team—not "us" in North America and "them" in the Philippines.
Create an intentional people experience (PX)
As one global team, it's just as important to be intentional about our offshore team members' experience as we are with our domestic team.
Early on, I learned that for our offshore team to thrive, we needed to create an environment that promotes performance and personal growth. By establishing transparent performance agreements and providing clear paths for career development, we help each team member feel valued and motivated.
Creating an intentional people experience (PX) is especially important post-pandemic. The Philippines' labor market dynamics are similar to those ours in the states. Increased acceptance of remote work has increased competition for Filipino talent; as a result, a stellar PX is critical for retention.
Address the differences
Data security, cultural nuances, time zones, and client perceptions are differences we address, but don't allow to be a barrier.
Data security. Data security can be the sole reason for some people's aversion to offshoring. Yes, we should all take data security extremely seriously, but data security is similar offshore as it is domestically.
For offshore data security, you must know relevant regulations and best practices, including FTC rules regarding personally identifiable information and IRC Section 7216 regarding safeguarding taxpayer data. Offshore staffing providers or IT security specialists can help you navigate these regulations.
Cultural differences. These are real issues, but we manage them with awareness and intention. For example, many Philippines team members hesitate to express concerns directly to their U.S. counterparts, especially in a supervisory relationship.
To address this when reporting lines cross the ocean, we maintain a dual management structure. An offshore team member reports to a U.S. and Filipino manager, while the Filipino manager can act as a communication liaison with the U.S. manager.
Time zones. Where we all live and work may be our biggest challenge. We've experimented with various solutions. For example, early on, our offshore team worked their regular daytime business hours; we created clear processes they followed mostly asynchronously with U.S. evening collaboration as needed.
However, this approach limited task complexity and client interaction, stunting their learning and career progression. As a result, we moved some roles to the night shift to match U.S. hours. This accelerated progression, but took a toll on health and family relationships.
Today, we have three shifts: early morning to overlap with the U.S. afternoon, daytime for roles where real-time collaboration isn't as necessary, and evening to coincide with U.S. mornings.
Client perception. Regardless of specific differences, you may be concerned about what clients think. In more than 10 years, my team has worked with hundreds of North American clients, and never once have offshore team members been a barrier. Sometimes, we must explain how we organize our team and manage data security, but it's usually a short, simple conversation.
Offshoring is the future
For years, large corporations have monopolized the advantages of offshore teams. However, the online software age opened the door to smaller companies and the post-pandemic period kicked it wide open!
I highly recommend exploring options for building a global team. I encourage you to:
- Create a global unified team mindset.
- Be intentional about the PX.
- Address, but don’t be hindered by the differences.
When done effectively, offshoring can be a game changer. Try it and see for yourself.