After 12 years of living in the Philippines, raising a family and managing staff here, I have learned some key cultural elements which will help you have a successful relationship with your Virtual Assistant. Once you adjust to these differences, you will thrive with your Filipino VA’s.

Family First. Above all else – even their job. Your Virtual Assistant is probably the breadwinner for his/her entire family. She is also the one who most likely takes charge whenever there is an illness or crisis in the family. They are often supporting several dependents such as putting their kids or their siblings through school. These family responsibilities and obligations sometimes take her away from work.

Most Filipinos Live with an Extended FamilyKnowing about a Filipino home setting can help you understand your VA better so be sure to show interest and ask questions about their family. Most Filipinos live with their parents, and some of their siblings’ families. Their home is often filled with kids, cousins, siblings and aunts and uncles.

Filipinos are very TraditionalFilipinos are very conventional. They celebrate holidays and traditional Filipino festivities – especially Catholics (the predominant religion). Fiestas, Holy Week and other local holidays can be expected every year. These are more than just days off and have very important cultural significance. 

Filipinos are ShyMost Filipinos tend to be shy, reserved and conservative. Sometimes, if you don’t ask if something is okay for them, they tend to just go along with it because they are too timid to talk about it. Having really clear, open communication and trust is essential to avoiding conflict that may arise from this situation.

Filipinos Don’t Like ConfrontationFilipinos are very pleasant and easy-going. In Filipino society confrontations are usually avoided. Instead of talking to you directly about an uncomfortable issue, they are likely to give you subtle hints, or actually just ignore the subject completely. If you are not getting an answer, it is because it is a confrontational issue to them. You will need to raise the issue in a softer, less direct manner.

Filipinos are SensitiveFilipinos are very emotional people. Sometimes, even slight changes in your tone of voice can make them think that you are upset, or mad about something.

Take note of the words you use, as they are easily hurt and affected by it and often carry it with them for some time. This can hinder productivity.

This is why regular voice communication is so important. Text & email messaging can be easily misinterpreted.

Filipinos are Very Polite and CourteousFilipinos are eager to please (especially their bosses!) and naturally polite. In the years I have lived here, I don’t think I have ever heard the word “no.” They may say “yes” even if they know they cannot do it. This is a big frustration to us westerners. You need to ask your question or deliver your task in a way which allows them to “save face” if they can’t do it. 

It is normal for Filipinos to address those older than them or in a high position, as “sir” or “ma’am”. This is their way of showing their respect.

Saving face – Filipinos find it hard to say “no” to challenges. They want to please you so much that they will say whatever they think will please you. If you ask “Do you understand?”, their response will always be “yes”. A better way to ask is “Did I explain that clearly enough?”

Socialize – Filipinos enjoy social time with their workmates. This is one of the many advantages of having an office-based Virtual Assistant. Treat them sometimes to take their workmates out for lunch. They will love to show their colleagues how great their boss is.

Filipinos are very Conscientious, Hard Working, Loyal and Easy to Please – A little motivation and encouragement go a long way with your VA.

Like all of us, Filipinos are very appreciative if you give positive feedback on their work. Often, we tend to ignore the good work and criticize the not so good.

It takes literally seconds to acknowledge them. Showing gratitude to your VA can motivate them for a long time. But this is beyond simply ‘motivating’ your VA. It is about mutual respect, admiration and enhancing your relationship.

Filipinos are Motivated by Incentives and Bonuses (Who isn’t?) Pay regular performance bonuses – even small ones. The money helps them, and you get to show your support. 

Gifts, such as gadgets, weekend trips, lunches, gift vouchers are a great token of appreciation, but they are always secondary to cash.

Just like the rest of us, Filipinos prefer cash. A cash bonus from you can be a great way to say”thank you” and further motivate your VA.

A very common trait of Filipinos is “utang na loob” or “debt of gratitude”.

When you give them something that they didn’t expect, or more than what you promised them, they usually view this as a notion that they “owe you one”. This can be a very good motivation for your VA.

Filipinos leave their work at work Many Westerners “Live to Work.” Filipinos definitely “Work to Live.” Although they dedicate themselves to you while they are working, once their shift ends, they leave work and go and enjoy life. We sure can learn a lesson from them!

Redundancy and SystemsTry to avoid having only one person know how to do something especially if you don’t know how to do it either. Cross-train other team members. One of the first tasks your VA should do for you is to document all your systems.

Put everything in writing – Use a project management system such as Asana or Teamwork. Filipino VA’s great at following processes.

Be clear. Do not just ask them “what do you think?”. Give them specific tasks.

Acknowledge their achievements, however small. Praise in front of their peers but criticize (gently) your Virtual Assistant privately. Always start by telling them something they did well.

This last tip will help you win over your onshore employees and convince them that your Virtual Assistants are here to make their life easier.

  • Integrate your Virtual Assistants with your onshore team. Your VA’s can be doing tasks that you and your onshore staff do not like to do. This frees up time for you and your staff to work on higher-level income-producing projects. Your Virtual Assistant will feel much more valuable if they are working together with you and your onshore staff.

It’s tempting to think, “well you work for me, so adjust to my culture.”  I can assure you that if you take these small steps to acknowledge and respect their culture, your relationship will be a lot less frustrating and far more successful.

I wish you the best with growing your business through the utilization of the amazingly talented Filipino Virtual Assistants that we are so lucky to have the opportunity to hire.

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