Financially Responsible Marketing

Top 3 tips to managing offshore employees

Posted by on Jun 3, 2011

In today’s business environment, many companies have employed resources overseas in order to effectively accomplish their corporate goals. From reducing costs, to longer working hours, there is a tangible benefit of adding offshore resources to a project team.

However, as with any business initiative, there can be some drawbacks that can cause unnecessary friction or loss of productivity unless you know how to identify and protect yourself from these challenges going forward.  Here are 3 tips based on our experience.

1. Understand the language

Many offshore employees have a terrific understanding of English. However, when it is learned as a second language, or even when it is simply learned in a different culture, there can be subtle differences that can change the meaning of what your employee intends to say or what they hear and understand. A popular phrase with some offshore employees is “Please do the needful”. It is important to develop a relationship where you can understand the difference between this phrase meaning “I do not know what to do to resolve this situation” and “I could resolve this but am worried about taking the responsibility upon myself”.

You need to understand how what you are saying is being interpreted when you speak or write. In particular, you need to be sure that when you give a suggestion that is different from what the employee was initially thinking they may misinterpret your words as support for their idea. You need to be constantly aware of what the offshore employee is focused on so that your communication is interpreted correctly.  Ensure complete understanding of your communication rather than just an agreement.

2. Get solid commitments

Another characteristic of an offshore employee is that they are always eager to please. They genuinely want to work long and hard to maximize the results that they produce. However, this eagerness can come as a double-edged sword. Be wary of an offshore employee who is too eager to please as this may lead to them being unrealistically optimistic in setting expectations of their performance.  It doesn’t matter if they have been consistently performing when asked to increase productivity they will always over promise and under deliver.

The same concept applies to understanding any tasks given. An offshore rep will only request clarification once before they will attempt to complete a task, no matter how much of it they actually understand. To avoid looking foolish, they will try to avoid asking too many questions about something and try and work it out on their own. This is amplified if they can contact an onshore subordinate employee in your organization for clarification. More often than not they will take the direction, agree with the outlined task and promise completion followed by contacting an onshore subordinate employee to try and actually understand what the task is.

3. Understand your employee’s goals.

What does your offshore employee hope to gain through their job? Are they trying to advance within their organization or earn experience to allow them to work in North America?  Organizing projects and tasks to offshore employees is a different approach compared to North America.

Offshore employees who are working towards advancement within their local organization tend to focus on tasks that will get them noticed by their manager.  Identify their stronger skills and allocate tasks to them that will help you achieve your goals.  This way you can both capitalize within the relationship by driving towards a mutual goal.  Provide positive feedback (with both offshore employees and their manager) as often as possible to drive positive results on an ongoing basis.

Some offshore employees are looking to expand their careers into other global markets including North America.  Again, ensure you understand their stronger skills and allocate tasks to them that will help them develop the experience they are interested in.  They will be eager to participate in these types of projects and help you achieve your mutual project goals.  Always ensure you recognize the offshore employee’s performance directly to continually motivate them.

To conclude, the greatest obstacle to working with offshore employees is understanding each other’s communication methods and culture. Ensure you are clear with your communication and an understanding of what the employee’s goals are.  Working with offshore employees can be very rewarding. However, it should be managed carefully and with constant communication to ensure you maximize the experience.