Two of the four full-time jobs that I’ve done have been “offshored”. They’ve both involved working for the Bangalore office of American firms, with both jobs having been described as being “front end” and “high quality”, while in both cases it became clear in the course of time that it was anything but front end, and the quality of work depended on what the masters in the First World chose to throw at us.

In between these two jobs, I had done a “local” job, at an India-focused hedge fund based in India, which for the most part I quite liked until certain differences cropped up and grew. While doing that job, and while searching for a job while looking to exit it, one thing I was clear about was that I would never want to do an offhshored job again. Unfortunately, there came along an offer that I couldn’t resist, and so I ended up having not one but two experiences in offshored jobs.

Firstly (this was a bigger problem in the second job), I’m a morning person. I like to be in at work early in the morning, say at eight. And I like to be back home by the time the sun in down. In fact, for some reason I can’t fathom, I can’t work efficiently after the sun is down – irrespective of when I start, my productivity starts dipping quickly from 5 pm onwards. Huge problem. People say you can take calls from home and all that but that blurs the line between work and life, and ruins the latter. You are forced to stay in office even if you don’t have anything to do. Waste of time.

Then, there is the patronizing attitude of the “onshore” office. In both my offshored jobs, it turned out that an overwhelmingly large portion of the Bangalore offices actually consisted of employees who were there because even the stated reason for their existence in the firms was labour cost arbitrage. It was simple offshoring of not-particularly-skilled work to a cheaper location. I don’t know if this was a reason, but a lot of people in the “main” offices of both firms considered Bangalore to be a “back office”. And irrespective of the work people here had done, or their credentials, or record, there was always the possibility that the person in the foreign office assumed that the person in the Bangalore office existed solely because of labour cost arbitrage.

And then you would have visits by people from the onshore office. Every visitor who was marginally senior would be honoured by being asked to give a speech (without any particular topic) to the Bangalore office. In the first offshored company I worked for, people would actually be herded by the security guard to attend such speeches. The latter company was big enough to not force people to attend these talks, but these talks would be telecast big-brother style from television sets strategically placed all over the floors.

And these onshore office people would talk, quite patronisingly, about how Bangalore was great, and the people here were great, and they were doing great work. Very few of them would add actual value  by means of their lectures (some did, I must mention, talk concrete stuff). Organizing this lecture was a way for the senior “leaders” in the Bangalore office (most of whom had been transplanted from the firms’ onshore offices) to etch their names in the good books of the visitors, we reasoned.

Then there was the actual work. Turn-around time for any questions that you would ask the head office was really high, unless of course you adapted and did night shifts (which I’m incapable of). In the earlier offshored firm, there would be times when I would do nothing for two or three days altogether because the guy in the onshore office hadn’t replied! Colossal waste of billable time! Also, if your boss sat abroad, there would be that much less direction in whatever you did. In my second offshored job, there were maybe two occasions when I was on two-hour phone calls with my boss (in the onshore office), where he patiently explained to me how certain things worked and how they should be done. Those were excellent sessions, and made me feel really good. But only two of them over a two year-plus period? Apart from which, most one-to-one interaction with the boss was with respect to “global” stuff. Yeah a local boss can get on your nerves by creeping behind your back every half hour, but at least you get work done there, and can learn from the boss!

Then there is training. Because of the cost-arbitrage concept on which most offshored employees are hired, the quality of training programs in the offshore offices are abysmal. During my second offshored stint, I happened to attend one training program in Hong Kong, in common with people from onshore offices in the rest of Asia. None of the numerous training programs that I attended in the Bangalore office attained even a tenth of the quality of that program in Hong Kong. The nature of employees in Bangalore meant all programs had to start at an extremely basic level, so there was little value added.

I can go on, there is a lot more. But I’ll stop here, and let you tell me about your stories of working in an offshored environment. And I certainly won’t make the same mistake third time round – of working for an offshored entity.

8 thoughts on “Offshored”

  1. Your analysis isn’t complete without identifying the disadvantages of a “local” job.

    I used to work for a company which had both “local” jobs & “offshored” jobs. The only advantage of “local” jobs was – It wasn’t labeled as “offshored”. Everything else about it was a disadvantage to me.

  2. I used to work for an offshored office as well. And in the beginning we only got work that the main office didn’t want to do. Then I came up with an idea for a product which we implemented and showed to the management. And this was done entirely in the Bangalore office. After this we started getting good work.

  3. 0. Job opportunities are always oversold to candidates just like candidates oversell to prospective employers – one has to discount for that
    1. Even in an organization that doesn’t outsource so long as it adopts a hub and spoke model the conduciveness of work environment is always going to be the highest at the hub and less at the spokes (SBI Chikmagalur branch is not going to be as much fun to work at as its MG Road branch). Corporate budget towards office supplies, furniture, IT systems, infrastructure development etc etc will always lean heavily towards the center’s needs – further a firm will always draw the best people towards the hub where they can have maximum impact which starts off an unavoidable virtuous cycle in that direction.
    2. As Indians we’re constantly fighting offshoring stereotype that the world bestows upon us along with the good at math, nod strangely, worship cows etc etc.
    3. A person in a front office role, working out of the Bangalore office in India is really the “1%” so it really requires special effort on his/her part to differentiate themselves should they wish to do so. Further it is easy for visiting hubbers to address the 99% over the course of their visits (the price they pay of course is the indignance of the 1%)

    I am not being an apologist here and I agree with the facts presented but I think the correct response is skepticism rather than cynicism. I don’t have a solution to offer here but I don’t think the answer is to avoid the Bangalore office like the plague but really to understand these dynamics before signing on. I know of at least one US hedge fund manager and one equity research guy who reside in Tier 2 Indian cities, do the one trip abroad per quarter so it seems that there are ways to make it work.

  4. I could completely relate to what you have said.Had one such job and it turned out a nightmare.Quit after a couple of months.

  5. Agree about the timings bit. They do skew the daily schedule very incoveniently. Teams with mostly bachelors does hurt the married people’s careers. 🙂

    I feel that the points about turnaround time + interactions with boss being a direct function of this. (can’t work late => lesser interaction with people onshore => projects that you are working on are not significant => the work is not of urgent importance to your clients => not enough interaction with boss => projects of even lesser significance )

  6. – The individuals at offshore locations will keep getting critical work until they screw up which will lead to eventual elimination. Off-shored once will have to keep over performing in menial tasks and may be do something excellent in their “spare” time to prove themselves until they will be considered for something crucial
    – Off-shored guys will have to ensure they are plugged in as well as they keep their on-shored folks informed, no vice-versa in this.
    – I admire the ones who clearly admit they are cost arbitrage laborers, it’s worse when all of you know it yet saying it aloud is not an option, will be taken against you as you bring the collective self esteem of the group down
    – I guess we all need to choose what we value and at some point I started putting less premium on what we do in favor of what I make since I felt the workplace I would fit in India will be most likely be an off-shored job or a job with really low pay.
    – 100% agree on the patronizing part, surprisingly I could get really few takers of this whenever I have mentioned this in a group, and people take the praise seriously. We even kept praising a guy for many months because he asked a question in one such lecture!
    – For a lot of these things above there are valid logistical/convenience related reasons though

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