One of the most frequently cited concerns in offshore outsourcing is communication. But what exactly do people mean by the very broad and vague term ‘communication’? You might immediately think of the level of English proficiency in offshore staff. Is both verbal and written English good enough in developing countries? If you are outsourcing high level, meaningful work offshore, then the answer is most definitely a definitive ‘yes’. English language proficiency is the most basic level of communication and you should ensure that your offshore provider rigorously tests this in the interview process. Are they sourcing talent from tier-one universities, which conduct almost all instruction in English and produce graduates with near-native competence? Accents may take a little getting used to but high level, customer-facing English language skills are a basic prerequisite. If you still have concerns about English Language Proficiency in the country you are considering offshoring, check out the EF English Proficiency Index.
Much more importantly, cultural nuances are an important communication aspect to consider. Both local and offshore team members need to understand and accept how their different cultures impact what they say, what they hear and how they react. For example, things that are critical to teams based in developed countries may not carry the same urgency for offshore resources and vice versa. In some parts of the world, silence may be assumed as comprehension, whilst in others, it can equal the polite opposite. The willingness to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not ready” may vary across cultures, as do attitudes toward organisational hierarchical structures. Developing countries may have a more autocratic culture, leading to a more respectful communication style than is common in the First World. For example, managers may often be called ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ but this formality can be relaxed over time. Communication can also influence the way conflict is handled - different cultures have varying degrees of frankness for example.
To work seamlessly across these varying expectations, each party to the outsourcing offshore process needs to participate in building the necessary bridges. Ask your offshore provider if they actively manage cultural communication nuances? Do they only recruit good communicators and see excellent communication as an important core competency? Will they help you to understand the differences in communication styles - and fix communication roadblocks? Do they provide coaching and mentoring so all team members understand each other and miscommunication is avoided? Equally importantly, make sure your onshore team works on cultural understanding and encourage as much collaboration as possible between the two teams.
The ability of offshore teams to communicate easily with their onshore colleagues and customers is central to business success. For detailed questions around this and other areas to consider, click here to download the 'The 30 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Offshore’ resource. It will ensure you're informed and have the right questions to ask when considering the next step.