How to Get the Most Out of Your Offshore Resources
Having a remote personal assistant might sound like a dream. While you sleep, someone overseas in a country like India, Poland, or the Philippines is gronking your data and doing your busy work. As we stated in previous articles, we believe automation will play a big part of the future of market research. However, until that day comes, utilizing offshore resources is still a big part of how work gets done in the market research industry today. Unfortunately, for some, it isn’t the dream they expected.
Working with offshore resources can cause a number of unintended challenges. Language barriers, inaccuracies in the data, and lack of project context can create frustrating cycles of re-work. Further, you are ultimately responsible for the work your offshore resource produces. Telling a client, “My offshore team must have done it wrong,” is both unacceptable and unprofessional. The buck stops with you. Therefore, to avoid these headaches, we recommend taking the following approach.
Put Your Directions in Writing for Your Offshore Resources:
Back when I had the luxury of my own personal assistant overseas, I quickly got in the habit of communicating everything in writing. This was true whether we had a verbal conversation or not.
Everyday at 4:30pm, before I left work, I would write-out a list of instructions to be completed during my nighttime/his daytime. Sometimes, this would be a recap of the conversation we had earlier that morning. Sometimes, it would be a new list of instructions. However, I always created a written log of what I needed done and the deadline for when I needed it. In those instructions, I always included the directive that he should challenge or alert me if anything I was requesting was not clear or was unfamiliar.
This had several advantages:
- It created a written record of what was requested. If there was ever a dispute over the quality of a deliverable, we could look back at a common record of what was requested.
- It removed any spoken miscommunication. English is a complicated language full of nuance and colloquialisms. A clean, clearly-written Email removes some of that challenge for offshore resources for whom English is a second (or third) language.
- It made it easier to challenge and question me. Some cultures are less direct, or so polite that they would not dare challenge their client. By putting in writing a directive to ask questions I found I got more push-back. Further, in my own experience, I found the offshore resources I have worked with more willing to push-back in Email, rather than in spoken conversation.
In conclusion, if you are constantly calling your offshore resources to give direction, but never getting what you want, try to move or duplicate more of the conversation into Email.
Provide an Example of the Task for Your Offshore Resources to Replicate:
This sounds silly, right? The whole purpose of having offshore resources is to save you work, not create more of it. However, what I found in my own experience, was that fifteen minutes creating a template or example, saves hours of re-work and confusion for everyone.
Most of the market research work I required from my offshore assistant was data gronking. This could be creating large data pulls from Nielsen. It could be formatting miles of spreadsheet data a certain way. Or, it could be updating the same chart dozens of times. Whatever the case, I was always most pleased with the result when I provided an example to follow.
My examples weren’t anything brilliant. Sometimes I provided an old data pull I wanted replicated exactly. Other times, I worked the data myself and created all the necessary formulas that would be replicated thousands of times by my assistant throughout the spreadsheet. But, typically, I just provided a document with the column headings and the first few rows filled-in. Again, these exercises only took me about fifteen minutes. However, they were invaluable in getting the deliverable I wanted for two reasons.
The first reason was that I had to put myself in the shoes of my offshore resources. Rather than cranking out directions, I actually had to do the work. Often, I discovered that my in-going vision was different than what I needed in reality. Second, even if my written directions weren’t perfectly clear, my offshore resources had an example to refer to and replicate.
In conclusion, spending fifteen minutes creating a model to follow and another fifteen minutes writing clear instructions saved me hours of heartache later.
Know the Limits of What Your Offshore Resources are Capable of:
One of the biggest mistakes I saw my colleagues make with their offshore resources was making requests that couldn’t be met. Just because a virtual assistant is an expert at pulling data from Nielsen doesn’t mean she is an expert at regression modeling. Also, just because your offshore resources can put survey data into a spreadsheet very precisely doesn’t mean they can run statistical analysis on that data.
With so many talented people overseas — often with skill-sets different than their domestic counterpart’s — it can become easy to forget the limits of what they are capable of. Therefore, for a successful business relationship to take place, you need to understand the limits of your offshore resources’ capabilities. Will their work just be transactional? Can it be strategic? Do they promise to be more creative than executional? These ground rules should be set up-front or you can lose on both ends.
It isn’t fair to expect complex software programming from a data-entry expert, and it is a waste to make a programming expert a data-enterer only. If you know the limits of your resources’ talents, you will have clearer expectations for what you ask of them.
Set a Reasonable Timeline for Your Offshore Resources to Complete the Work:
Another mistake that is easy to fall into with offshore resources is understanding their capacity. It’s easy to imagine them being on the clock from the minute you hit “send” and leave work until the minute you arrive back at the office the next day. Overnight work does not mean all-night work.
Further, your offshore resources are people too. They have families. Sometimes they get sick. They have (lots of) holidays, and, occasionally, vacation days too. As their client/manager you need to manage their capacity just like your domestic subordinates. Make your deadlines clear, but make them achievable too. Build-in time for re-work, and give them license to push-back if deadlines are not reasonable. Otherwise, I have found, you’ll get the deliverable when they CAN complete it.
Make Sure to Compliment, Reward, and Recognize Your Offshore Resources:
Lastly, in that same vein, your offshore resources are people too. They aren’t just extra capacity for you. They are people with careers. Don’t lose perspective on that. When you deliver for your client and he writes a complimentary thank you to you and copies your boss, you appreciate it. The same goes for your offshore resources.
If you are following the four steps above, and you are getting great results, send that complimentary thank you. Send it to their domestic boss too. And, for the biggest projects with the best quality and results, copy the person who negotiates the contract between your two companies. Again, this doesn’t take much time, but it is extremely motivating.
In conclusion, having a team of offshore resources should simplify your life. If that is not the experience you are having, first, turn the lens inward. Maybe you are complicating things for everyone. Try the five steps listed above. Do your best to make the relationship a success from your end. Most of all, once you are getting the kind of results you want, make sure they know how much you appreciate them.
Any additional thoughts or advice? Any perspective from the “offshore” side? Feel free to add your perspective in the comments below.