Over the last 25 years, while I was busy working, building a career, figuring out what I was good at, there were significant changes going on around me. I had no idea how relevant these incremental changes to how companies deal with challenges would be to me; my business is the end result. I was aware of them as an employee – they were either opportunities to be leveraged or threats to be avoided, and they were important.
What were those challenges that businesses were addressing? Reducing costs. Increasing profits. Retaining clients. Acquiring new clients. Staying ahead of the competition. Retaining high-performing staff. Staying agile and responsive to changing environmental factors.
In the ‘90s, telecommuting became popular. It may have been called teleworking, work from home, flexible working, but it arrived on the scene and offered great benefits to businesses. Two of the largest expense items for businesses tend to be real estate and human resources. Telecommuting offered a remedy to these issues, by enabling employees to work in their own homes, an attractive benefit to offer high performing staff. For the employee, working from home might mean reduced transportation costs, flexibility with child care arrangements, higher productivity, and a more relaxed working environment. For the employer, reduced office expenses and other administrative costs balanced out the cost of providing computers, internet lines and office fit-outs in an employee’s home. What was challenging for businesses, though, was the inability to physically see their employees. In the old-school management methods, telecommuting challenged the time clock mentality that linked performance and productivity to physical presence.
My own telecommuting experience started in the ‘90s too. My home office had been in place since the late ‘80s, with a dumb terminal and dial-up line for my university studies, so it was an easy transition to work-from-home two days a week while contracting to a large corporate. I loved the long hours of interruption-free work and in these pre-Skype days, working in my PJs and slippers.
The next change that appeared on my radar was outsourcing. Businesses started evaluating their workforces and considering which were the activities core to their business, and which weren’t. A publishing company might decide it really doesn’t need to own its IT function. Why not get a specialist IT company to run that for them? Outsourcing offered the same benefits as telecommuting and more – reducing real estate costs, delivering the work effort without necessarily having line-of-sight of the workforce. And with outsourcing, the pastoral care, payroll, leadership of the employees is also someone else’s responsibility.
In my time at AMP I worked closely with an outsource provider which supplied much of their IT support and deliverables. When I moved to Energy Australia, they were implementing a selective sourcing strategy; bringing key activities back in-house and my role was to insource one of these functions. At both AMP and Energy Australia, the relationship between the company and the service provider could be tense. The contracts were strict and tight and even the most trivial change required additional cost and a variation agreement.
In 2006 when I took up a position at Macquarie Bank, I found they outsourced very little. Its success was based on agility and flexibility and few vendors could accommodate its rapidly changing strategies. However, we wanted access to the benefits that the outsource companies offered – such as lower cost offshore resources, without giving up the employer-employee relationship. So, our decision was to offshore selected functions, the trigger for me embarking on my life-changing Philippines adventure. More than six years later, I put away my corporate briefcase and started my own business, and in the process, realised it was the culmination of this 25-year evolution of strategic resourcing models.
Corporations tested and trialled telecommuting, outsourcing, and offshoring. They made mistakes and found solutions and reaped the benefits. The missing participant in this evolution was the smaller business, which didn’t have the scale or budget to vary the way that they resourced their functions. Having not been on the journey, it was also difficult for small business owners to get their head around losing the “line of sight” of their employees. Fortunately, just as workforce solutions have evolved, so has technology, alleviating some of this concern.
In the last 5 years, a new category of outsourcer has emerged, and my business is one of them. We enable small businesses to access the benefits of both outsourcing and offshoring that were previously only available to companies that could commit to a certain spend. Yempo’s founders have been involved in every aspect of the workforce evolution, learning what works and what doesn’t, and how to apply it to the smaller enterprise.
With just one offshore employee, Sydney-based consulting firm “Learning Quest”, is delighted with their Research Assistant working from my office in Cebu. Managing Director Connie Henson engages with him as if he were sitting in the office next door, and she oversees his priorities and work efforts. I am her “eyes and ears” and provide a professional office environment complete with new infrastructure and equipment. Other companies start with one employee, gauge its success, then increase to two, then another. One of our Melbourne-based clients started with just one employee and 18 months later their 13th has just been hired.
I can see in hindsight how this new career of mine evolved. With the evolution of workplace practices in large companies, it’s a delight to be able to share the benefits of my experience with business of all sizes and from a range of industries.
About the Author: Michelle Fiegehen is the CEO of Yempo, a boutique offshoring company in three locations in the Philippines. She has lived and worked in the Philippines and India since 2009, building offshore capability for clients in Australia, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore and Hong Kong.