Offshored

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 ┬áby 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.

Working Hours at Work

There are some people in my office (and in every other office that exists) who believe in “face-time”. That they need to be present for a certain number of hours every day at work irrespective of whether there is work to do or not. I find this wasteful, and distasteful. I don’t see why I need to spend time in office if I don’t have any work to do, and I consider time spent in office when I’m not working to be a positive waste of time.

Yes, there are times when I do get sucked in to this face-time crap, and just sit on in office when I don’t have anything to do (either there’s nothing to do, or I’m in such a bad state of mind that I’m unproductive). Sometimes, it does make sense simply for the option value – when you’re sitting there, there’s a chance something might strike you and take you past the mental jam you’re currently caught in. But most of the time, this option is worthless.

So recently I was trying to do an analysis of how I spend time at work, and if I get rid of the unproductive stuff (like random chats with colleagues, random reading, etc.) I can divide my time at work into two important components – times when I’m actually doing work, and times when I’m simply waiting to talk to someone, for their inputs, or comments, or whatever else. And when I did further analysis, I realize that the latter took up more time than the former.

Teamwork, integrated teams, helping each other, regular feedback, all these are important. But at the cost of spending several hours in office without actually doing any work? When you could’ve spent that time at home, doing what you really like to do. Especially when you have been given a Blackberry and so can read the inputs at any point of time? And when you have a mobile phone, and have the luxury of being able to log in to work from home..

Of course, the other side of this is that if you bring your work home, the fine line between work and home disappears. You are now always on call, have to be constantly checking your Blackberry. You think twice about leaving home, and the blackberry and the mobile phone, and going off somewhere. It doesn’t make you feel all that good..

Wondering how I can balance this all out. And spend as little time as I need to in office, while still doing the amount of work that I’m expected to do. I guess I simply need to get practical about this and stop bothering about what other people think about my hours, and all such. As long as I do the work.

Last Thursday, working in one long burst, I finished the work I’d set myself for the day and dashed off an email by 4pm. And then realized that it would be at least another 2-3 hours before I could get a response. And so packed off home, since I had some work there (true to expectations, the replies came in after 7pm). I felt good about leaving office when I knew I wasn’t going to be productive. But then there was this strange guilt that the system puts on you for doing like you please, without regard to the system.

Anyways, I need to be more practical about all this, and screw signaling. And to turn around an old Hutch ad, which says “Blackberry from Hutch, to keep daddy away from office”. I say “Blackberry from Hutch, to keep daddy at work even when he’s away from office”.