PATRICK LINTON is the Co-founder and CEO at BoltonRemote.com, a company that outsources talent in the Philippines. We discuss why companies are outsourcing, what they struggle with, how to work with time zones, management, and how to be “remote ready”.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great and we’re live. So welcome everybody to this remote interview. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely and today on the line I have Patrick Linton. You’re the co-founder and CEO at Bolton Remote and when I looked at your website, there is this great quote that says, oh it’s changed. “We’ve challenged traditional outsourcing to give you everything you need and nothing you don’t.” So we’re going to totally get into this…and you’re in Singapore right now, based in Singapore but let’s start with the opening question which is what does your virtual office look like and then we’ll get into all of about what you do. So, Patrick, what does your virtual office look like?
Patrick: Well, thanks for having me on. This is fun. I’ve been following the podcast for a while so always learn something new. So first of all, I work remotely probably about 50% of the time. We’ve got…I am based in Singapore but we’ve got the majority of our employees in Manila in the Philippines. We’ve got two offices there with about a 150 employees and our customers are mostly in the US, Australia, Europe, and, of course, Singapore. So, we’re kind of remote face to face, these two things for me are integrated pretty interchangeably. My virtual office itself is…I work at home, I work on my phone, I work in the airport, and usually I try to have as few physical tools as possible and mainly focus on using the right core productivity tools and communication tools with my team back in the Philippines.
Lisette: Okay. So let’s…let me ask then why the Philippines? Why would somebody outsource to the Philippines?
Patrick: Yes. I mean, we grew…we’re kind of…we call ourselves a sort of next generation outsourcing platform. The short description is that we help companies fill roles in their organisation and not just fill one role, a one-off part-time freelancer type of a role but a full-time, dedicated, long-term, remote employee that will be working remotely side by side with the team back home wherever that is, typically in a high-cost of labour location, like Silicon Valley, like New York City. We also help these same companies retain people over time and build larger teams because these are things that are very challenging to do when it comes to having a remote dispersed workforce and so these services that we do, yes, it’s outsourcing in many ways but, in another way, it’s more of an alternative to going on to an online staffing platform. So, for example, you’ve probably used Upwork or Freelancer or some of the many platforms that have sprung up in the last couple of years. We’re more of an alternative to going there, trying to find somebody for a full-time role, trying to find somebody who can be part of your team, which is very, very difficult to do if you’ve ever tried to do that. I think those are great marketplaces for tasks, for bits and pieces of work that you might need as especially for early stage start-ups, solo entrepreneurs, etcetera, but when it comes to starting to actually fill a position on your team, fill a job, or build that team, scale that team. Let’s say you’re a fast-growing tech company. You just received a series of investment. You need to blow out a team overnight. These platforms don’t exactly make it easy to do that. So we’re a service built for that particular market.
Lisette: Yeah. Indeed. I mean, I have used Upwork and a number of these online platforms and it’s true. It’s mostly task-based stuff and actually when I look for work as well, it’s mostly like oh I need a design for X and then that’s it and then yeah.
Patrick: It’s great. I mean…and freelancers who are delivering that as well, they like…they’re a little bit more entrepreneurial. They like the fact regardless of where they are in the world. They like the fact that they can do a piece of work here, piece of work there, manage a client roster of say, I don’t know, 10-15 clients that they work for on a regular basis. I think that’s a different type of individual than somebody who’s more career-minded, somebody who’s looking for a full-time job and our specialty is finding those people, attracting those people, retaining those people, in cost-competitive [telemarkets] like in the Philippines and that’s one of the reasons we’re in the Philippines is because the talent pool is incredible. The English language is a big plus but it’s a great workforce in terms of attitudes, skill-set. It’s a maturing talent market as well so what that means is over the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen a lot of big companies,[the IBMs] of the world come in, invest in training, the workforce so you’ve got a really great pool of talent to draw from and we work with small businesses start-ups who often need specialists to come in, join the team, hit the ground running, and labour market right now provides that access to that [unintelligible – 05:47] our customers need.
Lisette: Yeah, it sounds ideal. So you’ve hit on a number of reasons on why people go to outsourcing and I have cost of course, you know, the…it’s a huge savings. Companies can’t ignore the fact that somebody in the Philippines is going to cost less than somebody in the bay area, for example. There’s a cost…is that the main reason that people outsource?
Patrick: I think, I mean, labour arbitrage has been around for a while now and…
Lisette: I haven’t heard this term before. Sorry to stop you. Labour arbitrage. Can you…
Patrick: Just balancing out your work force based on cost of living differentials. So I mean this concept of cutting cost, building work forces in countries that do have a lower cost of living, lower average pay, etcetera, this has been around for a while. So to us, it’s almost a no-brainer nowadays. The internet is strong, the tools are there, the perfect [storm] of being able to finally be effective and work remotely with people around the world, this is really been a recent phenomenon and so, for us, the cost thing is really a no-brainer. That’s one tiny part of the value of building remote teams, of hiring or outsourcing, building outsource teams for whatever you want to call it. We think it’s really more about access to talent itself and if you go into cities…I travel a lot, I go to San Francisco, New York, Sydney, wherever some of the most…if you Google some of the most tightlabour markets in the world, these cities will pop up time and time again and there’s incredible talent there. It’s very expensive and it’s also just not a lot of it. So I’m in Singapore and there are some greatpeople here but companies really do struggle in cities like this to hire a lot of people, especially if they’re growing really fast, which the companies we work with tend to be doing.
Lisette: Yeah. I can imagine. I mean especially if you’re a start-up and all of asudden you get funding and you have to build.
Lisette: You’re not going to find all those people in whatever city you’re in. I mean, it’s just not going to happen.
Patrick: And you know we come in and we have a conversation and we say, listen, if you’re…if you already can’t find somebody within the morning commute, if you are already struggling with finding somebody inside of your zip code, then everything else is remote. So if everything else is remote, whether that’s somebody in the next state, somebody in the next country, you know, you hear these terms near-shore versus off-shore. From our perspective, it’s all remote and so once you accept and realise that it is all remote after that, it’s a smart business decision to go to the most value for money locations in the world to bring people onto your team.
Lisette: Yeah. I can imagine. So, I want to talk about what people struggle with when they outsource specifically but the first thing I want to start with because [it] came up when you said near-shore versus offshore is time zones. Everybody asks me about time zones and I can imagine the Philippines and Australia, that’s very doable, I think. It’s what, an hour difference? I’m not sure but Philippines and Europe [unintelligible – 09:32]Philippines and the US, that’s a big difference. So what advice do you give for people or what do you see with that?
Patrick: You know, we, in our particular model and our employees and people that we bring on board, we do work 24/7. We work in everytime zone in the world so we do find that people have different preferences. I mean, some people may prefer a day-time shift versus a night-time shift and we try to match people’s preference with what they want and it may be for some reason like, hey, the traffic is really, really bad at normal 9 to 5 commute times so it’s really convenient if I work UK hours where I come in 2 or 3 in the afternoon and go home around 11 or 12 pm, right? Am. So for us, we work around the time zone issue. I would say that times zones can be challenging depending on the country that you’re operating in and with and I think eventually the way that things [roll] will shift is that people will learn to overlap more and more with each other versus one-side just latching onto the time zone of the other side and we see this more and more. I mean, we see customers of ours in California realising that, hey, you know, this is if they don’t need a 24/7 function. This is if they just have one or two people. Hey, our afternoon is…our early afternoon is morning in the Philippines and there’s a good 3 or 4 hours overlap that we can have with the team. That’s good enough. Let’s do that. Whereas in the past typically it would be okay these are US operating hours and this is when we work and that’s it, right? But [unintelligible – 11:32] awareness I think as well of global workforces being a normal part of business.
Lisette: Yeah and it seems like the whole 9 to 5 thing when you start working with remote teams, it kind of gets obliterated because it tends to be in the way rather than helping. I mean, if you have this set 9 to 5 structure and there’s ton of people that like to work late in the evening or early in the morning or for whatever the reason is. You mention the commute and I know in lots of big cities, the commute is really terrible, and I’ve heard that the commute in the Philippines can be especially bad. I want to talk about that for alittle bit. What have you seen?
Patrick: Yes. Traffic can be pretty challenging. Our eventual goal is to really…all the people who work for us and who work on projects for our clients work inside of co-working spaces that we run and manage so we do like the office space model. We’re not a huge fan of working from home and probably our version of remote is country and culture specific so whereas I think working from home in maybe the US where you might have a nice big home office, you’ve got great internet, the power’s not going out. That can be a really great way to save time on not commuting and to be productive. That’s not always as attractive in places like the Philippines even in spite of the traffic just because internet connectivity at home might not be up to what is needed to even do avideo chat. Power can go in and out. There’s just additional risks that come from working from home and in a place like Philippines and that will change over time obviously but, for now, we believe in the office space model and so back to your question about traffic, we try to make sure that people’s commutes are optimised. We find that we do have data that we look at and we do try to understand the optimal maximum commute time and we also look at things like what method, you know, how are you commuting, what types of public transportation are you taking, or your own car, etcetera. We do look at all these things because these are part of the risk profiling that we do and nobody wants to sit in traffic for four hours so we…
Patrick: …we have most of our people living within our reasonable distance to our office.
Lisette: So you have co-working spaces that you’ve set up and are managing for your employees. I think that’s really interesting because I can imagine, I mean, I know the majority of remote workers get quite lonely working at home by themselves and lots of people love to be around others. So a co-working space really works out.
Patrick: Yeah. Well, and in a, I would say, in a lot of countries and especially in the Philippines, which is a culture of community and connecting with your co-workers and your friends and really that’s such an important part of what attracts people to work at an organisationis their peers. In a place like that, for us, making sure that we create the right community that is fun and people can connect with people doing all sorts of different things, that’s a huge reason to have these offices where people can work in because I think without that, we’ve heard stories, we’ve done interviews with people who have done work from home jobs and are just itching to get back into an officeenvironment simply for the reason you mentioned which is it’s pretty lonely working from home and I’m an extrovert as well so I think that’s why I max out on 50%.
Patrick: I need to go see people and be face to face and, you know, enjoy working with people. So I like a combination of the two.
Lisette: And if….I want to get back to the challenges at some point at what people struggle with outsourcing because I think that’s an interesting question but now that you’ve mentioned the hybrid version where you have partially in the office and partially remote, what is it there that you…what do you struggle with there because I can imagine…I’ve heard that people find that challenging.
Patrick: Yeah. I mean, so, our definition of remote, like I mentioned earlier, is really about not being face to face and understanding the different structure and different processes that need to be put in place because not everybody is sitting around the same table. So some people might be and, you know, in our case, with teams that we have, they are a co-located team but they’re also working with another team on the other side of the world who is also co-located and you still have to set up the same type of remote structure, processes, tools, etcetera, that you would if you had two people, one working from home somewhere, one working from home somewhere else, and so for us the second that things become like that where you’ve got these two teams on the other side of the world, that’s where all these new considerations start to happen when it comes to managing and working for a manager both ways.
Lisette: Indeed. Okay so let’s get back to the question. What do you see people struggling with when they first go to outsourcing?
Patrick: I think that as long as they’ve made the mental hurdle that, hey, it makes sense to have a global work force, as long as they are kind of past that point, then understanding the benefits and why this makes sense, the first thing is really management. If you’re a bad manager locally, you’re going to be an even worse one remotely and then you throw in a different culture, you throw in a different country, potentially different time zones, and it’s going to be really, really difficult. So what we try to do is there are learnings that come from doing this over time. There are leanings if you…even if you are a good manager, let’s say you’ve never managed across cultures, let’s say you’ve never managed remotely or you’ve never met the person face to face. These are things that you can learn by trial and error and just, you know, over time figure it out or what we do in part of our service is helping companies fast track that and kind of, you know, move to the front of the line, not have to go through all those learnings because we’re there to absorb, we’re there to support, we’re there to say, hey, these are the five important things that you need to look at in this particular case and so I think that is the biggest challenges always is just, okay, how is this different what I’m doing now. I’m managing my team now. I’m managing my people and what do I need to do [unintelligible – 18:53].
Lisette: I really like that actually because a lot of people are going to reinvent the wheel over and over again when they first go outsourcing. So actually by going through a company like yours, they get all of your experience and knowledge. Like, you’re going to say, okay, here’s the five road bumps you’re about to hit. Well, let me help you with those. I think that that’s probably a huge benefit of going through you guys.
Patrick: Yeah and I think we also…it’s both ways, right? It’s also with our employees that we hire and making sure that they are, you know, remote ready, that they’re going to be now working for a manager on the other side of the world and there are things that they need to do to ensure that they are visible, that they understand how they’re being measured in terms of what does success look like. These are things that you have to do anyway if you’re an employee. If you’re working for a manager, you should do that anyway but they become amplified if somebody is remote because you just don’t see them.
Lisette: How do you know if somebody is remote ready when you hire them? What are some of your tell-tale signs?
Patrick: I mean, we hire for attitude first, we hire for skills second, and then everything else we can teach. So, I mean, we obviously like to, I mean, most of the people we hire in their generation anyway will be used to using, you know, remotely communicating on apps, chat, social media, Skype, etcetera. So I mean that comfort level’s already there. For us, it’s less about, hey, what tools do you use? That’s less important than how you use them and why you use them. So, for us, we have a framework and we help…after people join us, if they check all of [our] boxes and they’re really a great fit for us, they fit our culture and community, and they’re good with your clients, then it’s a path to being…to excelling in that type of a remote working relationship and pieces of our framework will have things like, you know, you…decades ago, you come into the office early and you stay late and, you know, that’s probably factored in somewhere into your productivity report. They say he always stays late, right? And subjectively managementprobably thinks that that guy’s got promotion written all over him and now all of a sudden that’s out the door, you know. Unless you’re pinging, you’re on chat and you’re saying hey I’m still here working late and hey I’m still here working late, unless you’re doing that, there’s no way to see that. So, it comes down to really focusing on results, focusing on what is actually getting done, and we help people set up that structure in the first place, set up that process in the first place, the feedback loop. All these things are set up at the beginning and then we help monitor those over time to ensure success with them.
Lisette: Yeah. I can imagine. It was the first in, last out was the way to go in the corporate world before and now it’s what did you get done which is…
Patrick: Exactly, yeah.
Lisette: …yeah, which is even better and I really like that you said being visible. So I call that myself working out loud and setting the expectations, like, what is success? I think that’s a really important one.
Patrick: Oh yeah.
Lisette: How do you help people do that? I don’t know if you can think of a story or of an example of how you’ve set expectations for both the client and the employee.
Patrick: I will say one great thing to do and this may or may not fit perfectly into setting expectations but I think it relates to it is if you have a meeting…if you have a meeting with somebody, it’s usually over a call or a video chat in a remote setting and especially if it’s a call, there’s not always the facial cues to pick up on. There may be silences where you’re not sure if somebody is nodding or shaking their head. There are a lot of things open to interpretation and so we do this we train that after every single conversation that takes place like that that is not documented, that is a verbal or a video conversation, you follow up summarising all the key points. Doesn’t have to be a meeting minutes but just follow up, summarise all those key points [for] confirmation. That can be in an email. That can be in Slack. That can be in whatever tool is being used, the principle’s the same. It’s saying because we’re remote, I’m going to make sure that I’m 100% absolutely clear that this is what we discussed and these are the next steps that we’re taking and I think that that also helps with [setting] expectations in terms of, you know, let’s say in a conversation, the manger might say, hey, this is due on Friday? You good with that. Yeah, I’m good with that. Maybe, maybe not good with that so that’s why it’s always good to kind of put that down in writing and make sure it’s a 100% clear.
Lisette: I really like that. That’s a really good tip actually for remote workers because people…a lot of things get misinterpreted especially across cultures when we do this. So summarising key points for confirmation after every call is a really good tip and you’re frozen so I’m wondering are you still there? Alright. So we’ve got some technical difficulties and I’ll just wait for Patrick to come back on the line. I’m speaking with Patrick Linton, co-founder and CEO at Bolton Remote located in Singapore with employees in the Philippines. And if you’re watching the video portion of this, Patrick looked really bored for a while but he was just frozen so I’m sure he will be coming back on the line very shortly. I’m trying to reconnect. This is one of those things that happens with technical difficulties on going remote and I am searching right now for one of my [super cards] which would have been very handy in this situation which is…Patrick? You’re frozen. So I’m sure that he is just going to try and reboot and get on the line so we’ll see how quickly that we can make that connection again. So, otherwise, there will have been an error and we’ll stop the video call here but we’ll just him one more second to come on the line. We’ve been talking about outsourcing and all the different things that need to go into hiring teams, why are we outsourcing, what people struggle with, dealing with time zones, finding talent in other places, commuting, and co-working spaces. So we were just talking about feedback loops and summarising your key points for confirmation after every call. Super interesting and hopefully we’ll just wait a couple more minutes for Patrick to come back on the line. We’re not sure what happened there but these are the things that happen when we work remotely. So, a little bit of patience and a little bit of amusement at the same time. Well, I think we’ve waited a bit for Patrick, not sure what happened, but these are the things that happen and so I think I’ll just go ahead and end the conversation here and say until next time, everybody. Be powerful.