Maintaining staff engagement and being aware of cultural sensitivities are crucial to success when an Australian SME opts for offshoring.
People are the difference between success and failure in any business, never more so than if you are planning to use offshoring strategies.
In today’s borderless marketplace, small businesses have an opportunity to sell their products and services anywhere around the globe. To remain competitive, many are turning to offshoring to give them the edge, not only in terms of cost savings but to free up local staff for strategic (rather than process-driven) tasks.
Making the decision to employ an offshore team can be transformational for a business but it is not a case of ‘set and forget’.
Three key components in ensuring your offshore initiative succeeds are: putting the right people and processes in place; developing and maintaining staff engagement; and being alert to cultural sensitivities.
Create the right teams
Successful offshoring starts and ends with successful recruitment and effective management of those recruits.
One of the keys to success is having highly trained and professional local people on the ground to oversee the human resources aspects of the offshore team, from recruitment to training and engagement, and to manage the day-to-day operations.
In this regard it’s no different to your Australian operations – all employees require smart management if a business is to get the most from their investment in staff.
I remember a senior HR executive from a multinational company once telling me, with a shrug of resignation, “We hire all of our problems”.
With an offshore team, local input is crucial from day one, where expert knowledge on hiring and management can make all the difference.
Be aware of cultural sensitivities
In an offshoring location such as the Philippines, there are a number of considerations that need to be taken into account when establishing a team abroad.
The country has a 94% English literacy rate and direct exposure to western culture but subtle differences in culture and understanding can cause difficulties unless handled with care.
Filipinos are generally confident speaking and understand English but cultural nuances do crop up.
Some potential solutions include frequent and effective communication, including face-to-face meetings over video conferencing or preferably in person to build understanding and to align expectations.
Onshore staff also benefit from being educated about the cultural differences that might exist between local and offshore employees, and how both teams can best be understood.
Even an explanation of the importance of local festivals and holidays can go a long way to broadening understanding between offices.
Continuing with the example of the Philippines, it’s important to understand the integral role that parents, in particular mothers, play in an employee’s life – whether the employee is 20, 40 or anywhere in between.
It’s just as important to understand the need for speaking respectfully, saving face and not being confrontational when dealing with your employees.
Communicate clearly and consistently
Effective staff communication is essential to the success of any business. When geographic separation and cultural differences also come into play, communication becomes an even higher priority.
This is a two-way street. Both the Australian-based team and the offshore team need to understand and communicate with each other well.
Remember that distance and cultural differences can amplify a lack of structure or understanding in a role.
All roles should be documented carefully. Create clear position descriptions with defined and understood KPIs. It’s useful to clearly map processes and systems, especially for repetitive tasks.
Be clear about time frames and expectations: being specific and spelling out the details will help build understanding about requirements. Success comes down to the quality and consistency of staff briefings.
Recognise the importance of staff engagement
Creating a culture of belonging, innovation and understanding is crucial.
Having offshore staff who are engaged, and there for the long term, can allow you to achieve real cost efficiencies and accelerate your growth.
If you are using a specialist service provider, ask them to detail staff turnover rate. A good provider will help you to create real offshore team bonds, which can be measured by surveying staff engagement and satisfaction.
Team days, birthday celebrations, company outings and festive day celebrations (Halloween is huge in the Philippines!) can really bring the offshore team together.
Treating your offshore staff as a valued extension of your local team goes a long way to keeping staff engaged.
All businesses operate to a different rhythm. It is important to allow time for offshore staff to settle into their roles and get to understand the ebb and flow of the operations.
The twenty-first century will be the multi-cultural century, with telecommunications and the internet eliminating many of the borders of trade.
Offshoring gives Australian companies a head start in taking part in global opportunity, provided they remain sensitive to the backgrounds of their employees, no matter where they are based.
About the author
Angela Vidler is CEO of Diversify, a national offshore solutions specialist that works with large and small listed and private companies to help grow their businesses by establishing tailored offshore teams. With offices in Australia and the Philippines, Diversify helps businesses identify and solve their unique problems, by nurturing and fostering high quality, high performance teams.