Anna Frazzetto's Blog

Digital Innovations and Technology Solutions

Neutralizing IT Offshoring's Biggest Barriers: Time, Language & Culture

In my experience, there are two ways to doom an IT offshoring solution from the start. On the provider side, you sell clients a fairy tale that goes something like this: "Working with our team in China/India/Costa Rica/etc. is exactly like working with your team in the U.S. There are no language or culture barriers." Right! And you also get younger and better looking by offshoring. The fact is, you can't erase cultural and language differences, and any provider that says they can is selling snake oil.

The second bleak scenario occurs when a client insists that "the offshore team simply needs to work the way we do." If a business expects all offshore process flows, communications and reporting to be carbon copied from local standards, it's time to prepare for disappointment or simply keep to one shore.

What I have learned from managing global IT offshoring solutions is that many of the perceived disadvantages of offshoring--time differences, language differences and cultural differences--are actually advantages. Let me explain with examples of how Harvey Nash offshore IT teams and processes neutralize and then capitalize on what's often perceived as barriers.

The Time Difference
The #1 offshoring concern I hear from new clients is the time zone factor. Vietnam is either 11 or 14 hours ahead of business in the U.S. depending on where you operate, so I get it. It's hard to picture how teams can work together effectively when their schedules are literally night and day. 

To address the time gap at Harvey Nash, we always have an onshore delivery team in place. These U.S.-based, onshore IT professionals are working the same hours as the onshore clients and are able to address client needs, concerns and opportunities immediately. Clients never have to wait a day, much less an hour, for support or an answer.

Secondly, we build a thorough communications plan that starts with the client's own best practices. We find out what works when the company engages its own remote offices. For example, we might ask, "How do teams in your New York and San Francisco offices best work together?" Perhaps it's daily or weekly Web meetings? Using a team discussion board or blog to discuss issues or post needs? Perhaps it's appointing local office team leads who oversee the collaboration? Once we understand the client's best practices in remote management and collaboration, we can adapt the Vietnam team's communications and workflows to better reflect the onshore process.

We also infuse client solutions with operational best practices we have refined over time, such as our daily "Scrum of Scrum" meetings for Agile projects. This is when our scrum master in Vietnam has a daily meeting with an onshore counterpart to come up with an action item list based on the daily onshore and offshore standup meetings. For some clients, we schedule Vietnam-based teams to work evening/late shift hours one or two nights a week so that IT teams can collaborate live.

Once the offshoring is underway, clients find the time difference becomes a way for a project to move forward continuously. As Vietnam teams work, the U.S. is at rest. As the U.S. teams work, Harvey Nash onshore delivery teams support them and Vietnam rests. It creates a constant and efficient workflow, which results in powerful forward momentum.

The Culture Difference
You can't ignore cultural differences and in offshoring you don't want to. Culture is often what motivates and inspires people in their work and in their lives. I have met hardworking IT professionals the world over, but I have rarely seen the level of loyalty that I see in Vietnam. Loyalty is a central tenet of workplace culture across the country and it means turnover rates are remarkably low.
Vietnam is also a country of entrepreneurs and big ideas today. You can see it in how quickly the tech industry has grown. In our offices, you can see it in the creative thinking of our employees.

To help bridge cultural gaps, we use cultural understanding training to educate clients and our Vietnam-based teams. These learning opportunities help both teams prepare for and understand any difference in work styles or communications.

The Language Difference
In Vietnam, English is taught in schools and is widely spoken. Each member of our senior Vietnam staff is fluent in English. However, just as pronunciation and vocabulary differences vary from England to Ireland to the USA, accents and jargon can make telephone communication harder in offshoring solutions.

At Harvey Nash, the aforementioned onshore delivery team is key to addressing language, differences. While Vietnam teams and U.S. teams communicate openly and often, it is the onshore delivery team that can step in should any communication challenges arise or should clients need information very fast. For clients, it's a way to have double the support while benefiting from the speed, cost and skill set advantages in Vietnam.

While gaining an understanding of the differences between onshore and offshore teams is critical, leveraging those differences is one of the keys to successfully collaborating across oceans. Every culture, every language, every time zone has its advantages. The key is finding them and making them work for you.