Friday, November 18, 2005

Offshoring caveats

Offshoring high-tech workers to developing countries is a hot trend for big business. It saves companies money in labor costs, while giving more bang for the buck. As far as competency goes, foreign tech workers are up to par with Americans. Foreign workers are also willing to work longer hours. These all make offshoring a very attractive alternative for businesses concerned about cutting costs while increasing production.

Before considering offshoring, however, a company should ask itself whether it can deal with the communication hurdles that come as part of the package. These barriers are: having to deal with thick accents, developing a tolerance for poor phone connections, and scheduling around the half-day time difference.

On several occasions, I've had to get on conference call at 9:00pm to India, straining to pick out what they're saying through their thick accents on top of a poor phone connection. Whether the problem is India's phone infrastructure or a weakness in trans-Pacific phone lines, I don't know. All I know is that I had to strain my ears to compensate for the low volume and muffled voices. I spent half my time asking for people to repeat what they said. It almost drove me crazy. (It should also be noted that, from the Indians' point of view, I was the one with the accent.)

For some companies, offshoring will be worth the 90% savings in labor. The company I work for is majority Indian, so most of the company is comfortable with the accent. This company flourishes on the offshoring/outsourcing model. They still have to deal with the time difference and the poor phone connections, though. As a Chinese-American raised in California, I've found working in this environment to be very difficult.

Basically, with offshoring, the added frustration on American workers shouldn't be disregarded. In your company, how important is communication? If you can get by with minimal communication, then offshore and watch your costs shrink. If communication is crucial, please think twice and also consider the sanity of your American employees.