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How the Corona Crisis can up your offshoring game

Closing a contract with an offshore IT supplier for IT infrastructure or application development delivery is just the beginning of the journey towards a) cost savings b) increased use of market innovations in IT c) increased focus on core business.

Although these are core reasons to make the decision to select an offshore IT supplier, achieving them takes more than just closing a contract. It requires an internal organisational change to accommodate a new way of working on the side of the client.

Imagine this; you’re an application software developer. You work in the same location every day, with a team of people around you working on similar projects. If you have a question on the infrastructure technology your application makes use of, you can walk three steps to the next desk, or at most one flight of stairs. You know who has the knowledge you need to have your question answered immediately.

Suddenly, your team undergoes a restructuring. Instead of being able to walk 3 steps or one flight of stairs to have your question answered, you need to enter a query into an Incident Management tool. Different people answer your question based on the day, time or topic. You have to think very carefully about how you phrase your question, and you are communicating in a language that you are not used to working in. The person(s) you are communicating with also do not always speak the language equally well.

Fig 1

Although these are two extreme cases, and most companies fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, unless you have processes in place to deal with these problems, they can prevent you from achieving your cost savings, your innovation goals or your desire for increased focus on your core business.

This Corona Crisis can help you kick-start (or speed-up) this organisational change. With all professions other than essential services currently working from home, there are many lessons to be learned from this crisis which, if properly implemented, can help organisations up their offshoring game.

Is working with remote offshore suppliers actually effective?

Based on research carried out by Quint, in the past 3 weeks, the Corona crisis has had a dramatic impact on how respondents view the effectiveness of remote working. In March 2020, only 36% of respondents had changed their minds regarding remote working. By May 2020 this figure became 60%.

Fig 2 a

 

The figures below indicate that there is a positive trend regarding how respondents view remote working. More respondents now feel that remote working can be more effective than face-to-face.

 

Fig 2 b

This is an interesting effect of the Corona crisis, but how can you apply it to improve the way your organisation collaborates with offshore suppliers?

The main challenges associated with remote working are resolvable

It appears that 3 out of 4 of the most important challenges experienced in remote working are associated with infrastructure and process, namely poor internet connection and following effective online discipline.

What is the biggest challenge you experience in online meetings?

  • Staying focussed/engaged – 40.54%
  • Bad (internet) connections – 37.84%
  • Understanding the other person(s) – 15.32%
  • Asking a question/clarification – 12.61%

Often in remote working, you miss non-verbal communication and cues. This was a recurring factor mentioned by 9% of the respondents, even though it was not included in the standard form. This indicates that having a visual (i.e. video) connection to your employees is extremely important in remaining engaged and effective during remote working.

Companies can help employees stay engaged and effective by investing in brainstorming and collaboration tools

41% of employees indicated that staying focussed and engaged was a challenge in remote working. Employees have been suddenly forced to become creative by the Corona crisis, and to make the necessary changes in their work style to maintain their working habits, but in a different environment. Although different people adjust in different ways, there is a clear trend in what employees have been focussing on.

It is evident that conferencing remotely requires a different skill-set to conferencing in person while in the same room. 57% of respondents have changed their style in managing and participating in online meetings. Applications which are available to assist in collaborating online have also been sought out. However, it appears from our research that there are still insufficient resources to brainstorm and freestyle in terms of design while at a distance. Presenting and discussing are easy to do.

What are you doing differently now in terms of remote working, compared to before the crisis started?

  • I have become better at managing/participating in online meetings – 56.76%
  • I have become more creative in finding online applications to make online collaboration easier/more effective – 47.75%
  • I have made changes to my workplace (new computer screen, table, chair, etc.) to work more comfortably – 37.84%

Our research also indicates that most employees were not actually ready to work comfortably from home for an extended period of time: working remotely requires a different mindset. The main reason for this is that respondents indicate that when working from home, they tend to sit for much longer than when they are at the office, as even socialising with coffee takes place behind a screen.

Some people just do not enjoy working remotely

While the research shows that many things are possible at a distance, there is also a group of people (11% of respondents) who have tried everything that they can, but just simply do not enjoy remote working. It is important to cater to this too. While many things can be done remotely, certain tasks can and must be done in person in order for work to remain enjoyable. This cannot be only the social elements, but must be collaborative. A proper brainstorm cannot enjoyably take place if online discipline must continuously be regarded and if the tools are not in place to make the brainstorm effective. Nevertheless, 61% of respondents have indicated that they would like to work more remotely after the crisis is over. This means that if the tools are in place for that time to be utilised effectively, the team can be located all over the world.

Main Findings

The research shows that companies can take certain actions to ensure that efficiency and enjoyability of work is maintained, while offshoring work to suppliers in order to reduce costs and take advantage of innovations in the technological market. It appears that following the Corona crisis, remote working will be voluntarily utilised by the majority of employees for at least a portion of the time.

  1. Employees can change their minds regarding remote working, but this may take some time.
  2. The main challenges experienced by employees in remote working are resolvable.
    • Ensure that the infrastructure is in place to videoconference comfortably. This means a large screen to see all participants and a strong network connection.
      • Ensure that employees can communicate effectively with each other. Communication takes place on several levels:
        1. What is the way of working we use? Is it Agile, Lean, Obeya, etc.? Are we using the same terminology?
        2. Who guides and manages the discussions we have? What do we consider “polite”? How do we ensure everyone gets a chance to speak?
        3. Are we speaking the same language? Both in terms of actual language, but also, do we understand each other the same way? Are we aware of cultural connotations?
  3. Companies need to invest in finding effective ways for employees to brainstorm with each other, within their relevant field of expertise. Presenting and sharing information is do-able at a distance, but brainstorming, sketching out and visualising ideas, and designing collaboratively still poses a challenge.
  4. Some activities will have to remain face-to-face in order to keep employees motivated. To make sure that collaborating with offshore suppliers remains engaging and interesting for employees, ensure that at least some activities can take place while being physically present with each other. It is worthwhile for companies to invest time and money to make this happen, as the rewards can be significant.

Quint’s approach to assisting companies in the process of offshoring IT services to a supplier consists of a multi-faceted approach, combining years of experience with Sourcing with extensive Agile/DevOps knowledge, as well as a strong focus on high-performance teams in a multi-cultural context, utilising best practices in all fields. The distinguishing factor in Quint’s approach is the importance that is given to managing cross-cultural communication within the context of Sourcing, Agile and DevOps.