Enterprises have always explored offshore software development as a viable option to get the job done effectively. Offshoring enables enterprises to diversify and widen their talent pool, in a cost-effective way. Overall project costs end up about 20% to 40% less when deploying offshore resources.
With the pandemic entrenching work-from-home as the mainstream mode of work, most of the technical and regulatory challenges that previously inhibited outsourcing is now passé. But some key stumbling blocks that inhibited outsourcing remains. Among these, productivity and collaboration are a key concern.
Here is how enterprises ensure that their outsourced resources are as efficient and productive as their in-house teams.
1. Manage with Flexibility
Outsourced resources, hired for specific tasks, often come with specialist skill-sets. They are highly effective in their niche and often get the job done in a much better way compared to employees with generic skills. Offshoring enables a quick scale-up and scale-down of the IT team. It does away with the enterprise HR conundrum of hiring employees with specialist skills, to find them redundant after the project is over.
But staff augmentation through outsourcing does not automatically mean more efficiency. Harnessing the efficiency of the outsourced specialist depends on effective management. Very few specialist professionals can work in isolation. Their work output invariably depends on other team members. Their success is only a part of the success of the entire upstream and downstream value chain.
The efficiency of offshore development teams depends on effective management. Very few employees have a high locus of control and are adept in self-management. Some remote workers remain highly motivated. But for the bulk of the workforce, the onus is on managers and supervisors to motivate them.
Managing a remote workforce requires skills vastly different from managing an in-house team. Working on-site offers the advantage of physical proximity with co-workers. Supervisors may use such proximity to manage the workforce better. In the absence of visual cues, managing a remote workforce is harder. Supervisors cannot, for instance, respond to changes in work settings. A recent VitalSmarts survey reveals 20% of leaders remain unprepared to lead remote workers.
Here are some key tips to keep in mind when managing a remote workforce:
- Refrain from a one size fits all management approach. Remote workers work from diverse locations, with different needs and circumstances. Poor internet connectivity may, for instance, make live monitoring, or an always-online mode, unviable in some locations.
- Recognize diversity. Most members of a remote team are part-time workers or freelancers. Even when working full-time, they invariably end up juggling many responsibilities, such as childcare and attending to domestic chores. Many employees sign up for remote work for such convenience in the first place. Recognize such diverse needs when making policies and setting performance milestones. Successful management of remote workers requires striking the perfect combination of flexibility and accountability.
- Have a formal appraisal process for remote employees, with consistent standards of measurement. Factor in the special environment of the remote worker. Keep the review process simple and easy.
- Take active feedback. Give priority to proactive performance management over reactive appraisals. Be willing to accept live feedback from remote employees. Have a dedicated channel for remote employees to give their inputs. Act on such inputs and requests for help as fast as possible, and to the extent possible.
- Encourage accountability with online collaboration tools. Collaboration tools could range from free online services such as Dropbox or Google Drive, or it could be advanced options such as Basecamp. Collaboration through social technologies could increase productivity by 20-25%.
2. Manage Performance Proactively
Outsourced resources have absolute ownership of their tasks and work proactively to complete tasks within the set deadline. The deadline and the deliverable targets motivate them more than the clock. They put in more hours of work.
Also, offshore teams have better focus. Remote work spares the employee from unnecessary meetings, office politics, and other distractions. Free of such disturbance, the remote worker works at a comfortable pace and environment.
Enterprises, however, have to sustain the productivity of their offshore software development teams. When the remote employee works for extended hours for days at a stretch, it could eventually lead to fatigue and burn out. Sustained toil without reward and recognition could lead to low morale and even resentment in the long-term. There is also a big danger of the remote worker, free of active supervision and with the freedom of flexible hours, becoming engrossed in social media or other distractions. Or they may just get lazy and pile up work.
Here are some time tested practices to ensure they remain at their productive best:
- Help remote employees set and revise performance-based goals. Formulate a clear vision upfront, and break up the vision into specific, measurable goals.
- Set clear objectives, with clarity on the role and responsibilities of each team member. Set specific targets, and milestones to track progress. Frame realistic deadlines, factoring in normal working hours, breaks, and holidays.
- Remind the remote team of the goals frequently. Articulating a solid, achievable mission statement, and listing the purpose at the start of each project, helps. Take active efforts to make the remote workforce understand the “why” of each task.
- Offer continued support. Setting up a dedicated development team offshore is not enough. Actively guide and support the remote employee as they undergo their sprint cycle.
- Have a system to monitor the offshore development team, without micromanaging. Develop a structured tool to assign tasks, and keep track of deliverables. Do not confine the monitoring to ensure the employee is working. Make sure they take well-deserved breaks. Evernote, a handy tool, prompts team members to maintain a daily “journal,” with a list of to-dos at the beginning of each day and a review at the end of the day. Trello allows assigning tasks in a structured manner
3. Collaborate Well
Offshoring makes collaboration easier. When there is a structured, dedicated tool for collaboration, all communication pass through it, with a trail. Documents have version controls. Time zone differences mean the enterprise can get the work done round the clock, with the remote team working when the office sleeps. Round-the-clock work accelerates time to delivery.
But not sharing physical space with co-workers can lead to communication issues. An in-house worker can always reach out to their colleague for help or advice or simply pass on an update. The replacements, in the form of Skype meetings, or groups chats, have to be doubly effective. The success of offshore software development depends on seamless connectivity. Without a robust infrastructure, even the most motivated and skilled remote worker will fail to deliver on time.
- Invest in communication tools and technology. Provide remote workers with communication tools to engage with team members easily.
- Make sure meetings and check-ins are engaging and add value. A recent Harvard Business School report reveals a 13% increase in meetings from April 2000, when lockdowns and stay-at-home mandates started. Too many presentations and meetings can inhibit productivity.
- Set deadlines as per the time zones. Equity demands a team member working out of Manila needs the same number of daylight hours to complete the task as his teammate from Uppsala.
- Schedule team meetings and other calls during periods that are convenient for every team member. For instance, a manager in Singapore scheduling a meeting at 9 AM local time, wanting to get updates the first thing in the morning, would mean a remote worker in India having to be ready for the meeting at an unearthly 6:30 AM.
4. Promote the soft culture
Offshore resources enable flexibility in business models. The business could, for instance, hire a remote development team to build a prototype within a budget. They could gather a versatile team of designers, coders, and quality analysts for a specific project, and adjust the team based on the budget, resource, and business scalability. Yet another model is a dedicated team, working from different geographies under the project manager, to widen the talent pool.
Regardless of the offshoring model, effective software implementation depends on the synergy between the offshore team and the in-house team.
The most productive teams have shared values. Shared values refer to how employees relate to one another, and with the enterprise. This manifests as common work attitudes and principles. It also refers to how the employee’s values align with the values espoused by the enterprise. A sense of belonging and shared values motivates the remote employees to go that extra mile.
If the enterprise does not develop shared values with remote employees, they may leave fast, leaving the enterprise in the lurch. A freelancer, who juggles multiple commitments, may not give priority to a project where he feels less included. Enterprises may get away with such a mercenary workforce for small, one-off projects, but a strong cultural bond is important for the offshore team to put in their best effort, and remain motivated at work.
- Make the remote team feel valued. Check on the remote team member who is taking time off for illness. Ask them about their recent vacation. Listen to their concerns. Productivity takes a nosedive when the remote worker perceives they are just another virtual tool.
- Encourage remote team members to communicate both formally and informally. Create opportunities to connect with remote workers on a personal level. Introverts make about 40% of the population, and a good chunk of remote workers will invariably be introverts. Such workers do not look forward to virtual team breaks or derive energy from such initiatives. They rather prefer small groups or one-on-one conversations.
- Have structured meetings that include task-focused activities. Go the extra mile to promote social and personal interaction.
- Celebrate diversity. Identify the cultural frameworks and contexts surrounding each member of the remote workforce. Strive for a common ground of values, even while recognizing such differences. Organize cross-cultural training programs for familiarity with varied cultures. Recognize language barriers, understand the misunderstandings it may cause, and work towards resolving such issues.
- Promote transparency. Successful remote working requires a free sharing of information and a flat structure. Remote workers should be able to access the information when needed. Have strict protocols in place to safeguard sensitive information such as customer data and trade secrets. Remote employees may need access to such information but have clear protocols to ensure traceability and accountability. Encrypt the transmission of such information. Have non-disclosure clauses that specify the liability for misuse or disclosure of sensitive information.
5. Support Employee’s Home Office
One of the major advantages of outsourcing software development is savings in office infrastructure. The enterprise does not have to invest on office infrastructure. But offshore workers still need good infrastructure to work at their productive best.
Many outsourced resources have ergonomically-poor workstations, which impede productivity. Still, others do not have a distraction-free space, where they can focus on their work unhindered.
- Assist the employee is setting up a cosy work office. Assist them to buy high-quality and ergonomic equipment. During the COVOD-19 pandemic, many tech companies supported work from home by shipping out chairs and workstation to the remote employees’ homes. Likewise, offer a list of high-quality enterprise-grade equipment such as speakers. The equipment available to employees may suit home usage, but might not be up to the mark for professional usage. Likewise, advise remote employees on the need to set up a secure, exclusive corner, free from disturbances.
- Make available reliable tools and devices to facilitate distance working and seamless collaboration. There is no magic list of the best tools and resources. Consider what fits the unique needs of the enterprise best.
- Do not reinvent the wheel if ready-made solutions exist. For instance, many cloud-based collaboration suites offer platforms with great convenience and a high level of features. But make sure the tool allows customization to sync with the way the enterprise works. Adjusting the way of work or workflow to suit a generic software is a recipe for disaster as if forces change on an unwitting workforce.
Offshore software development is a win-win approach. Remote work enables the workforce to save on commuting time, and the associated stress of jostling in subways or driving through crowded streets. They could use the time and energy to do more work, and increase their output. They could also spend the extra time with family for better work-life balance, and indirectly boost job productivity. The option to have flexible work timings, instead of a rigid 9-7 rigmarole also boosts productivity. People working from home 50% of the time save between $2,000 to $6,500 in a year, in the US. The savings come from skipping commuting and parking costs, outside lunch, professional outfits, and childcare. The incremental cost of energy as the remote worker spends or time home is minuscule compared to these savings.Staff augmentation through outsourcing is an idea whose time has come. A FlexJobs report estimates 66% of professionals believe they would be more productive with remote work, compared to working the traditional way. Forbes estimates 50% of work will soon be remote. Smart enterprises harness outsourced resources and help them become as effective as their in-house teams.