The Australian Small Business Blog

Monday, December 15, 2014

Do Australian attitudes ruin productivity?

by Derek Stewart

"What do you mean you don't have a maid?" is one of the most common questions I would get after moving to the Philippines. This meant the conversation moved beyond the more frequent questions of "Where are you from?" and "Are you married yet?". Answered in the negative, the follow up questions would normally be, "Not even a personal driver?" and "Why aren't you married yet?"

Aussies have a wonderful level of equality and do-it-yourself-ness ingrained in our culture. We do broad tasks within a white collar job and aren't afraid to roll up our proverbial sleeves, no matter who we are. This is a great attitude, but often comes at the detriment to overall labour productivity. If experienced staff are doing repetitive and tedious admin tasks as part of their job, they're missing out. They're wasting time, the most valuable resource of all.

As a child, if I asked my parents to do something for me, they would ask "What's wrong with your arms and legs?" This creates well rounded individuals who know how to do a lot themselves. However, in a globalised world of ever increasing job specialisation with vastly different labour rates between countries, it equals missed opportunities.

Why not batch the lower value tasks of multiple staff and have it done cost effectively by a full time staff member in the Philippines, at 20% of the cost? Offshoring is not about lifting jobs from Australia and shifting them to a lower wage country. It's about using technology and globalisation to benefit your business. The same way that people utilise online shopping.

Done in this way, hiring offshore staff in a remote back office means Australian staff are free to focus on higher value tasks, are happier and more productive. Companies are more productive, more profitable, no jobs are lost, processes are improved, efficiencies are gained and roles can be created that didn't exist before. A natural continued evolution of Adam Smith and his pin factory theory.

Living in the Philippines the culture is the opposite, where it's common for many households to have maids, cooks, nannies and drivers. People aren't afraid to outsource large aspects of their lives. Even in Australia, you're already outsourcing because you wouldn't think twice about paying someone to do your tax return, fix your computer or paint your house.

However, jobs and functions on an individual scale are not evaluated through the same lens. This can be a shock to people used to doing everything themselves, like most small business owners and entrepreneurs. Until you closely evaluate what can be delegated, and how to build something that scales in a cost effective way, you will be limited to just the hours you have in a day, a finite resource.

I see the future of Australian white collar roles, functions and global sourcing change in front of my eyes. Roles being broken down into tasks, and tasks being re-grouped and re-created into new roles split between continents. A new paradigm is opening for Aussie SMEs through the magic of the internet, open minds and some forward thinking.

Derek Stewart is an Aussie expat helping Australian and New Zealand SMEs set up their back offices in Philippines. Visit

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