“People are people regardless of location.” 

Our founder, Isaac, says this all of the time. It is great advice for any accounting firm owner with a remote team.

Whether you are hiring your first team member in The Philippines or your tenth team member, it is mostly about showing up as an empathetic leader. Taking the time to learn more about your new team member’s background and culture can help you lead effectively and build a more unified workplace.

However, it is also important to keep an open mind and remember that The Philippines is a sprawling island nation, and each team member you work with is going to have different experiences based on where they grew up, their upbringing, and various regional and socioeconomic factors.

The reality is the same when working with remote team members across the US. Someone who grew up and has only ever lived in Paducah, Kentucky, may have a very different communication approach and cultural frame of reference than someone who has lived their entire life in Chicago or Los Angeles. The same applies to your team members in The Philippines. Someone who grew up in Manila is likely going to have very different experiences than someone who grew up in Davao City. 

That’s why for this post, we sat down with Lala, our Senior Recruiter who lives in Cavite Province in The Philippines, and Isaac, our founder who lives in Portland, Oregon, for an open and honest conversation about some of the similarities and differences of working in the US and The Philippines. 

An Overview of The Philippines 

Before we dive into the highlights of our conversation, here’s a quick overview of The Philippines. 

The Philippines boasts a rich and multifaceted political, geographical, and religious landscape.

Politically, it operates within a democratic framework, yet there are complex power dynamics and regional interests at play, similar to what you might find in the U.S. This diversity of perspectives can sometimes influence workplace discussions, calling for increased sensitivities. 

Geographically, the Philippines' archipelagic structure offers stunning island beauty alongside logistical challenges. Disparities in resource access and opportunities across the islands can affect workforce mobility and development. Additionally, the country's resilience in the face of natural disasters, such as typhoons and earthquakes, is a testament to the adaptability and resilience of its workforce.

Holidays hold profound significance in Filipino culture, with celebrations like Christmas and Holy Week often extending into the workplace. Catholicism is the predominant religion, shaping societal norms and practices. 

In addition, The Philippines as a whole operates in a high-context collectivist culture, which prioritizes the group over the individual and where non-verbal cues, body language, and even seniority all play as big or even bigger factors than what someone says out loud. But unlike high-context collectivist cultures like Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, which largely keep emotionally expressive language out of it, this isn’t the same for The Philippines, which is one of the most emotionally expressive countries.

Communication Style & Approach 

With a quick history lesson complete, let’s dive into our main conversation with Lala and Isaac. Throughout this conversation, you’ll find that there are some subtle differences but as a whole, “people are still people.” Regardless of where someone lives, we all tend to have similar goals and aspirations. 

But let’s dive into communication style first.

Both Lala and Isaac demonstrate openness and adaptability in their communication styles. They prioritize clear and honest communication while remaining flexible and responsive to the needs of their team and the context of their work. However, there are some subtle differences.  

Isaac demonstrates openness but in a more efficient style. He values efficient communication and prefers to get straight to the point when discussing, analyzing and making decisions without much preparation. This is the opposite of Lala, who wants to prepare, gather information, take notes, and collect her thoughts before presenting the info and making a decisions. 

He also acknowledges his tendency to overshare at times, which is something that Lala doesn’t do naturally, but he also emphasizes the importance of being constructive when providing feedback.

"I think I'm direct, and I think I tell you what I'm thinking,” he says. “I don't hide it very well. Sometimes, I overshare, I tell too much. Lala’s got the thumbs up on oversharing.” 

Isaac's adaptability is also evident in his ability to recognize cultural differences, such as when discussing the concept of ‘work as a family,’ which is prevalent in The Philippines’ and understanding the need for different communication styles among team members.

On the other hand, Lala's communication style and approach are mature and reflective. She’s direct, honest, and proactive. She also values open communication, feedback, and constructive criticism. 

"Well, similar to Isaac, I like direct communication,” says Lala. “I like being honest and transparent at the same time.”  

Additionally, she emphasizes the significance of building trust in professional relationships, particularly through open communication and personal connection. 

Receiving praise and constructive feedback

Both Lala and Isaac have growth mindsets and value feedback as essential components of professional development and team collaboration as long as it is genuine and constructive.

Lala expresses her appreciation for receiving both positive feedback and constructive criticism and views it as an opportunity for growth and learning. 

"Receiving feedback, that’s one thing that I'm actually excited about,” she says. “I want to hear any thoughts about, let's say, my performance, anything that I need to work on or that I need to improve. Because, of course, from my standpoint, there are things that you might not really be aware of. That's why if that person, let's say Isaac, is seeing my performance, how I work, and there are things that I may not be aware of. So, I like receiving feedback; I'll be able to work on those things if there's anything that I need to improve. It could be with my communication style, with the way I work, or whatever.” 

She also mentioned that she has matured over time in handling criticism. For instance, she acknowledges the importance of learning from her mistakes, evaluating the root cause, and not letting “saving face” or ego protection prevent her from learning or actively seeking growth opportunities. 

“I think I'm mature enough to receive feedback constructively,” she says. “And before when I started working, sometimes I used to, there were instances during my first job that I cried sometimes. Eventually, as I progressed with my career, I became mature enough to handle criticism and feedback. And that is a positive thing for me.” 

Isaac also demonstrates a positive attitude towards feedback and constructive criticism. 

“Sometimes, I have a hard time telling people things that are negative because I'm a people pleaser and so I always make bad news sound very good,” he admits. “But if I have something that needs to be fixed or something that you need to do better, I'm not going to pretend that it's not there. But I'll find a nice way to say it."

He also mentions the importance of honesty and transparency in communication and encourages building a team culture where feedback is given and received constructively. This means building trust and positive relationships through open communication and recognition within the team over time. 

Handling conflicts 

Both Lala and Isaac prefer to work in calm, drama-free work environments, focusing on collaboration and problem-solving rather than getting caught up in office politics. However, when a conflict arises, they are both proactive and pragmatic in how they calmly address and handle a conflict. However, that’s where the similarities end. 

For instance, Lala acknowledges the importance of picking her battles and sometimes choosing to remain silent in a conflict. 

“I like telling things proactively, but when it comes to, let's say, when there are challenges, or let's say when there are problems, I used to think of ways on how I'll be able to solve the problem first before, sometimes before I communicate that there's this problem."

Additionally, she values openness and transparency and demonstrates a flexible approach to conflict resolution. She is going to change how she responds based on the situation and the individuals involved.

On the other hand, Isaac is more likely to address issues head-on rather than letting them escalate. However, he mentions this only works once you’ve built trust and positive relationships with your team. 

“Trust is built over time,” he says. “And there are easy things you can do. We talked about getting to know them but also constantly asking them for feedback. And even for the little things, things that don't even matter, ask what they think about it, and if they have a suggestion, actually implement the suggestion, especially if it's small, doesn't cost you anything, and it's not a problem. And that builds their trust in you so that when you have something more important, they're going to be more confident that they can trust you.” 

Work as individuals or as a group 

Both Lala and Isaac exhibit a strong commitment to their work, but they have different perspectives on certain aspects of their professional lives.

Lala, like many workers in the Philippines, views work as an integral part of her life, and values the importance of building positive relationships with colleagues and maintaining a supportive work environment. She values open communication, transparency, and honesty in her interactions with coworkers and demonstrates a proactive approach to conflict resolution and personal development.

Not to mention, her dedication to her job is evident in her willingness to receive feedback, learn from mistakes, and contribute positively to team dynamics. 

This is also something that Isaac mentioned, which was a bit rare when he first started working with Lala.

"One is Lala is actually I think somewhat unique among Filipinos in that she's very direct and she takes feedback very directly,” he says.

Lala also acknowledges the cultural influence of workplace hierarchy in the Philippines, where there is a tradition of respecting seniority and authority. She mentions that some Filipinos may be hesitant to communicate directly with their superiors or clients, fearing that they might come across as too demanding or disrespectful. 

When communicating online via Slack, Teams, or Zoom, workplace hierarchy may also influence how greetings and small talk are exchanged, with junior employees often showing deference to their superiors through respectful language and formalities. 

Isaac also demonstrates a strong work ethic, like Lala, but, like many US workers, has a more individualistic approach to work. For instance, he cringed the first time he heard a team member in The Philippines use “work as family” as a compliment. In the US, if you see/hear work as family, this can be a signal of a toxic, controlling work environment. In many workplaces in The Philippines, it is the exact opposite, where coworkers are generally friendly and go out of their way to take care of their coworkers.

"I understand that this is going to be a difference between American versus Filipino,” says Isaac. “And so this is why I've never said this to you, Lala, I don't actually use that phrase, “work as family.” You haven't said family very much or at all. But at Summit, Isaac’s bookkeeping business, they use that word a lot. And it bothered me. I never said anything because I understand there's a cultural difference here, but I like the word team because you choose who's on your team. You don't choose who's in your family. And if it's a family and we have a real problem with somebody because of love, you keep that person forever. But in a company, you can't keep people forever who don't belong. So I see it more like a team, like a basketball team.” 

Key Takeaways 

In sum, when it comes to managing your remote team members, we’re big advocates for prioritizing a people-first mentality. Regardless of where someone is located in the world, treating everyone with respect and mutual understanding fosters a positive, inclusive work environment and is ultimately good for business.

That being said, taking the time to understand not only an individual's background but also the country they reside in can help you avoid accidentally offending your new team member or embarrassing communication faux pas. 

As you noticed in our conversation with Isaac and Lala, while cultural differences influence their approaches, the essence of effective teamwork remains consistent. People's fundamental desires for honesty, respect, and growth shine through. 

Ultimately, leading a remote team is all about understanding and embracing diverse perspectives while recognizing that, at their core, people share similar aspirations and motivations.

Written By
Jessica Malnik
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