Working with Offshore Teams: Keys to Success

April 8th, 2013 Leave a comment
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Working with Offshore Teams

It’s difficult to start a piece like this without producing the same old clichés about how we now live in a globalized world, where collaborative work can take place across huge distances, etc. Yet there it is – the reality is that for some industries in particular, it has never been easier to outsource work to offshore teams that are technically proficient and competitive in cost. It’s tempting to offload the work to people who are just as educated and proficient but do it for half the cost. However, with new working practices come new problems, and it’s important to anticipate these and take steps to prevent them. Here are simple tips on how to make sure that your relationship with your off-shore partners succeeds.

Your offshore team is still your team

Yes, you’re outsourcing, and yes, they’re not part of your company, but the project you’re working on is collaboration, and it is vital that you do your absolute best to foster the sense that you are all one big team. Because the moment there’s a hitch or a problem, a lingering ‘us & them’ mentality can poison the atmosphere and do serious damage to your project. Refer to them inclusively, using ‘we’ not ‘you’, and do this whether you are talking to your onshore or offshore team. It’ll make for a much better atmosphere, and likely a more efficient and productive relationship.

The offshore team is not an input/output unit

There is a lot of overlap between this point and the last, but it’s worth stating on its own: your offshore team is not a dead letterbox where you dump problems and collect solutions. You need to interact with them, help them when you can, and make an effort to understand problems from their perspective. Have knowledge of their working-hours, their decision-making process, and how they approach the work you send them. This is not necessarily about being nice – this kind of background knowledge is really important, and you should have it, as it will allow you to make informed decisions about what your offshore team can do for you.

Language difficulties

Difficulties with language are often overplayed, and many offshore teams will have superb English. However, it’s in the nuances that things sometimes get lost, so don’t be afraid to state the obvious or always reiterate verbal communications in writing. This last point is especially important, as many non-native speakers are much better at producing and understanding written English than they are the spoken language. You may prefer verbal to text-based communication, because your experience with native-speakers has been that nuances are lost when using email, but for a non-native speaker conversation is much more challenging, and whole words may be lost. An email confirming any verbal communication you have had can go a long way to preventing misunderstandings.

Culture clash

Offshore teams are often used to dealing with western customers, so this is not a major problem. However, turnover in countries like India is high, and the somewhat infamous (and exaggerated) tendency to avoid giving negative answers can create unrealistic expectations. Make sure you press for details rather than assuming that vague affirmatives are to be taken literally.

Time zones

It’s offshore. It’s far away. They’re in bed while you’re at work and vice versa. This can be a boon or a curse depending on your attitude, how organized you are, and the nature of your project. Be prepared to be flexible, and to factor potential time-delays into any critical phases of a project. Time zones are something that you can work around, but you’re never going to be able to ignore them entirely. Recognizing this from the get-go will save you a lot of frustration in the long run.

Conclusion

If you understand the limitations of outsourcing offshore, you’ll be much better placed to take advantage of its many benefits!

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