Common Challenges of Managing Offshore Teams (And How to Overcome Them)

Common Challenges of Managing Offshore Teams (And How to Overcome Them)

Many businesses nowadays outsource their back-office operations or at least some part of their workflow to offshore teams. Even startups and small businesses have some form of offshore operations—from hiring freelancers to do repetitive or creative tasks to partnering up with a digital agency and recruitment firm in the Philippines. This allows them to primarily save on costs and quicken their time to market.

In more ways than one, offshoring to the Philippines has become a common business strategy. While having an offshore team can help you reach your business goals, it also comes with its own set of challenges. If the right steps are not taken to avoid and resolve these issues, then the offshore strategy may result in significant business losses.

As a business owner, you need to be prepared for the common challenges of managing remote teams. Here are the things you can do.

 

1. Cultural Differences

Culture differences are inevitable. You’re partnering up with people who grew up in a different environment and have a different set of values and principles. Cultural barriers should be acknowledged from the very beginning. Even the subtlest cultural difference can have a significant impact on your workflow—from basic courtesy practices to work ethics.

How to Overcome Cultural Barriers:

  • Ask your recruitment firm to conduct culture training for both your offshore and onshore teams. This will help both sides to know and understand each other’s cultural practices and beliefs. Culture training will also help both teams identify each other’s communication styles.
  • Clear, regular communication is key to building an effective working relationship. Open your channels of communication and schedule regular meetings through video conferencing. As you hold constant meetings, you will become more familiar with each other’s language and communication styles, helping you read between the lines.

 

2. Scheduling Difficulties

Your offshore team is most likely on the other side of the world and lives in a different time zone. While some offshore teams will gladly adjust their hours to match your time zone, scheduling difficulties may still arise.

Your offshore team also has their scheduled holidays and traditions that are different from yours. There are days when you’re expecting them to be on duty, but there’s a national holiday they’re celebrating. Furthermore, each culture has their own perspective of time, leading to project delays, missed appointments, and increased friction.

For instance, the Japanese are very strict with time. A 9:00 AM appointment means that you have to be present and ready no earlier or later than 9:00 AM. In western culture, on the other hand, a few minutes before or after would be acceptable.

How to Overcome Scheduling Difficulties:

  • Find out key dates and holidays beforehand. This will help you map out your workflow and schedule beforehand and prevent unexpected delays. Factor in both working and non-working holidays. Take the time to ask your offshore team what they traditionally do during those holidays to have the right expectations in terms of their availability.
  • Establish a scheduling protocol. Schedule meetings and project sprints  during an acceptable time frame. Find out how many days your offshore team needs to prepare for a meeting and properly plot it in their calendars so that your onshore team can schedule accordingly.
  • Find a middle ground. Are there working hours that overlap for both time zones? For instance, your onshore team may be working the regular 9 to 5 hours, but the working hours of your offshore team may be from 3:00 PM to 10:00 PM your time.

 

3. No Presence of Leadership

In traditional work setting, there’s a manager who keeps team members motivated, makes sure that deadlines are met, and quality work is maintained.

However, when it comes to remote workers or offshore teams, there’s rarely a presence of leadership. Hence, it’s easy for offshore teams to feel detached from the rest of the company and disengaged from the brand.

How to Overcome Lack of Leadership

  • Assign a point person for your offshore team. He or she can be the region manager or project manager who will help mitigate the challenges of cultural differences and scheduling difficulties. The local manager can also keep your offshore team motivated and engaged with the brand. He or she can schedule team building events. A simple team dinner once a month will help your offshore team feel a sense of belongingness to the company.
  • Visit your offshore team. Taking the time and effort to personally meet your offshore team will show them how much you value their work. It will also help in strengthening your relationship with your offshore team.

 

4. Finished Products or Tasks are Not What You Expected

Miscommunication and misunderstanding are the most common causes of instances where expectations are not met. As a result, either the product quality is too low, the product specifications are wrong, or simply that expected deliverables were not met.

How to Overcome Mismanaged Expectations:

  • Make sure every communication is well-documented. Have all instructions in writing, so that your offshore teams have a tangible document to go back to while they’re creating the product or working on your project. This ensures that no crucial instruction or information is lost in translation.
  • Have your offshore team leader repeat back the instructions. Your offshore team may be nodding in agreement during your video conference, but little do you know that they don’t understand what’s expected of them. Asking them to repeat the instructions will clarify any potential misunderstandings during your meeting.
  • Conduct regular alignment meetings. Make sure that both the onshore and offshore teams are on the same track. Not only will this help build your relationship, but it will also help you ensure that both teams’ goals are the same.

 

You Can Overcome These Challenges

Managing an offshore team will always present challenges. Collaboration and communication can become tricky when employees aren’t all under one roof and are physically separated from the company.

There are many ways you can overcome these issues. With careful planning, you can create a strong team culture with open communication lines. Getting the best out of your offshore team will involve different management styles. But, successfully managing your offshore teams will result in highly engaged and productive employees.

Ron Cullimore