Near, far, wherever you are: outsourcing project work

'Near-shoring' and 'off-shoring' are forms of outsourcing, which is essentially a company investing in the labour market of another. As the name suggests, near-shoring hits a bit closer to home with different countries being in a similar geographic region or time zone, whilst off-shoring is usually a bit further afield.

There are pros and cons to each and the differences tend to exacerbate themselves as the distance between the company and the workers grows, as some of our Great State colleagues might be able to tell you from working remotely in France, Spain, and even as far as Australia, with near-shore contractors having helped us out from Poland and Bulgaria, amongst others. As the distance and the differences grow, we are provided new opportunities alongside new challenges and, in my opinion, there is not a definitive answer or debate to be had of which is 'better', rather that the business should assess its needs on a case-by-case basis and consider the implications at the project and company level.

The idea of outsourcing project work can cause some concern for permanent workforces if they think that they are slowly being replaced by cheaper alternatives. However, the reality is that if used effectively, we can benefit from outsourcing by taking help from around the world as and when it suits us, freeing-up our local colleagues to get stuck in to the more exciting and intricate projects we are keeping at home.  

There are a few different aspects a business should consider when deciding whether near-shoring or off-shoring might be a good option for them.

Worldwide talent

Simply put, the wider net catches more fish. When a company opens itself up to seek potential contractors from abroad, you discover a whole world of talent out there waiting. This can alleviate issues with labour supply in the home market, whether related to skills shortages or because of demand outstripping supply.

Following the pandemic, the pool of workers available from abroad has grown especially quickly, given that most organisations are equipped to support, and many employees decidedly prefer remote work. The benefit is symbiotic in that companies and workers who are open to outsourcing both have greater opportunities to find their perfect match.

Hitting the ground running

By outsourcing labour, companies can fill vacancies more quickly - a helpful boon during particularly busy periods or times when one or a few key staff may unexpectedly not be available. However, good project management and senior oversight is the key to making near-shoring and off-shoring a success.

When joining any new company, there is often some time needed to adjust to their working practices and expectations, and this could be more pronounced when joining an employer based in a different country. During this transitional phase, it is important that we ensure any new colleagues are supported and guided appropriately to promote success, including peer reviews and a strong oversight system where needed. Luckily for us, Great State continues to develop our experience and grow an organised and effective onboarding process with detailed documentation that should give a newcomer everything they need to put the right foot forward. Then at the end, we always try to push for a comprehensive off boarding stage as well, to minimise any knowledge loss even when project team members are coming and going.

Near, far, wherever you are

In 1878, Sir Sandford Fleming developed the system of time zones which remains the basis for those in use today (remember that one for your pub quiz!); 24 sections, 15 degrees of longitude apart. Under a nearshore arrangement, time zone differences tend to have a limited impact, as overseas workers will generally be able to follow the same working pattern as the local workers. This is beneficial as it offers greater 'live' communication options, and presumably improves response times when asking colleagues questions. The talent pool is restricted to an intermediate level between on-shore and off-shore, but by being in a similar geographic region, there tends to be cultural, educational and occupational similarities.

Off-shore means we are looking further afield for colleagues. With a wider net, there is a bigger pool of candidates, but it does not come without some additional considerations. The further away the business is, you see greater differences with regards to working cultures and approaches you will find. In the EU, many countries learn English as a second language, but further afield this may not be the case, which is an important consideration if the project requires it.

Wherever you are resourcing from, chances are there will be some time differences, ranging from barely noticeable through to being so big that they define the working relationship. You might think that time differences would only act as a drawback, but there are some benefits that are easy to overlook. One is that, when we are sleeping, they can be working, meaning that there can be continuous development on the project. A drawback however, is that if they have a query then chances are we would not be available (or awake!) to respond. Oftentimes offshoring can speed up a process, but sometimes it can slow it down. Again, watertight project management and strong governance and documentation can make all the difference here.

Some final thoughts

Personally, I have collaborated with nearshore contractors on a couple of occasions. On one of the projects, we were tasked with migrating the client's static campaign website over to their Sitecore instance, providing a CMS-friendly version of the solution. As we were approaching our annual Christmas break, we decided to engage with a nearshore company located in Serbia to help the project steam ahead, and they provided us a backend developer to work over the period. Come January, the project found itself two weeks ahead on development, kicking the year off with a brilliant start and allowing us to agree an earlier go-live date for the client. Following a thorough onboarding at the start, knowing that the developer would need to be comfortable working solo, the core project team were reassured that the project was entering the break in good hands.

Knowledge, cost, time and flexibility. Overall, there are various pros and cons of using near-shoring and off-shoring. Like many things, one size does not fit all, but I think the best way forwards for a company considering using overseas contractors, is to assess their needs on a project-by-project basis, use the results to find the perfect fit for them and remember than any extra time spent on-boarding your colleagues, will pay dividends later down the line.

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