Talking About Remote Work and Offshoring with Integra Member Mark Cottle

Frontline has been a leader in remote work and offshoring since 2011 – can you tell us a bit about that? 

We kicked off our accounting firm in 2011, but we did it differently. We built our firm using an offshore model. Much to the envy of many firms we speak to, we have never had local staff. Our team are all based in the Philippines. This fact alone makes us very unusual. Being unusual also means we have not faced the same problems around capacity and cost issues that other firms have to navigate.

Many requests for help came from other firms to set up teams like we had done, and our offshoring business was born. We now help firms all over the world place teams of staff in the Philippines.

When the pandemic struck all of us, Frontline’s clients suffered less impact than other firms who had no experience working with remote staff. The way we all work now is about the same as it has been for most of the last decade.

What, in your opinion, were the biggest barriers to remote working before the pandemic? 

Embracing change, being forward-thinking and keeping an open mind.

I believe that these are the barriers to remote working before and even during the pandemic. But one thing is certain for firms who do not embrace change – what worked yesterday, and even today is fast becoming obsolete. By focusing on how you can utilise technology and offshore labour, your firm can be well-placed to respond to, and take advantage of, the opportunities that are here now, and the opportunities that are going to present themselves in the near future.

Can you comment on how to handle management and security concerns when working remotely? 

Management –The task of managing staff workflow and tasks rests with you. You need to manage your offshore team just like any other employee. This is the same message we have been preaching for many years, and now we have all been forced into a remote working environment thanks to the pandemic.

Setting clear expectations, providing sufficient training, and creating clear performance metrics are key elements to running a successful remote team. No different to running a team in your local office.

Security/Data Protection – We have hundreds of staff. They ALL know my stance on data protection. They ALL know I have zero tolerance for screw-ups. They ALL know the part they play in keeping client data secure. Set up a culture of awareness and understanding. And make no mistake – you have a far greater risk of a breach being made by one of your local staff than you do with your offshore staff.

Don’t be complacent. Lead from the front – make sure everyone working on your team knows data protection must be top of mind at all times. And any hint of a transgression, even an honest mistake, will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. Preach it loud and preach it often!

Putting appropriate technological solutions in place is important, but an issue I often see is firms stop just at the tech solution. Never forget humans are the weakest link in the chain and if there is a breach is more likely come from someone clicking a link they shouldn’t have clicked than some complicated cyber attack.

Now that firms around the world have accepted remote working, how can offshoring help firms recover in the Covid economy?  

The world is a strange place today and remote working has enabled many businesses to keep running. While we got hit at the peak of the pandemic like most other businesses, we have started to see clients hiring more staff, and new clients joining us – despite the uncertainty in the world.

While many firms I have spoken to over the years struggled to believe they could run a remote team, the pandemic has forced them to learn quickly. And I can report most firms have done a great job – whether they use offshore teams or not. Running a remote team is not that hard.

Our message is still the same. There is an abundance of talent in the Philippines – be it accounting, admin, IT, marketing, or any other knowledge-based role. If you struggle to find, retain, or afford local staff then exploring an offshore solution might be a good fit.

It is also a perfect time to hire staff in the Philippines. We are seeing many talented, but displaced people now available in the marketplace. Our clients are adding to their teams in preparation for the world returning to normal. Those firms will be positioned strongly against those who get stuck in the present chaos.

What do you see as the next step in the development of remote work and/or offshoring? 

Our unusual way of working all these years has become the new normal. And that change may well become a permanent way of working.

Having a team in the Philippines adds an element of resilience in your business. When things are going a bit nuts globally, our gang kept working. Circumstances are not perfect, but many of our clients and staff were able to keep up productivity with less impact than unprepared firms.

For firms who were concerned a remote team could not work for them, I would now suggest those doubts have either been removed, or at least reduced.  There is an old saying that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is today.

Explore the offshore option for your firm, and if it is a good fit, start building the team today. Do not stand by and watch while other firms build their teams in unconventional ways. You will be left behind.

My book, ‘Offshore or Die!’ is more relevant now than ever. Get in touch and I’ll have a copy sent to you – after reading it you will understand the big principles of offshoring, along with the often-overlooked nuances that can make or break your offshore model.

If you need a hand with anything ‘remote work’, be it offshore or local, let me know and I will do my best to assist any members.


Thank you Mark!