"The offshore team needs to feel that they are part of the bigger picture. In order to achieve this, maintaining regular contact and visiting several times per year is essential."

Mark van der Ploeg, COO


How to solve resource challenges

by working with offshore teams


How to solve resource challenges by working with offshore teams

The number of vacancies on the Dutch labour market has recently reached new heights. Figures from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) show that the demand for staff in the Netherlands has never been so high. Many companies are feeling the effects of the lack of suitable staff. It often results in insufficient capacity for the amount of work, projects being delayed and slow growth. However, for some sectors such as IT, there are solutions to this problem. The lack of available or qualified developers can be remedied by working with development teams on site, also known as 'offshore teams'. What is the appeal of working with offshore teams? How easy is it to deploy an offshore team? In this article, we will discuss how to lay the foundation for an on-site team. We also give some useful tips for smooth collaboration.

The advantages of an offshore team

By working with teams at other locations, you can tap into other job markets to make up for the staff shortage. In practice, you can also gain access to highly qualified specialist IT knowledge abroad. In China, for example, there is a wide range of highly qualified, university-educated staff. These developers also have an attitude that reflects a high degree of ambition, dedication and pride. There is no question of compromising on quality when you work with an offshore team. Another major advantage is the amount of time that can be gained: with offshore teams, the time to market is shorter because you can easily scale up. This working method is also more appealing in terms of costs.

Building blocks for a sound foundation

This isn’t to say that building an offshore team doesn’t come with its own set of challenges. Yet all these challenges can be overcome with a good approach. You lay the foundation by hiring reliable, qualified developers. Our offshore teams include junior developers as well as intermediate and senior developers. The teams are comparable to our onshore teams in terms of age and experience, which benefits the collaboration. Another important point is that the developers speak English well, as this is almost always the only common language of the onshore and offshore team. For that reason, it is advisable to invest in training and coaching as an organisation in order to overcome any language-related challenges.

One of the other essential but most challenging tasks in building the team is to create trust. The physical distance from the offshore team means that you see them less, which makes it more difficult to communicate the company's values and vision, and also to understand each other. The on-site team needs to feel that they are part of the bigger picture. In order to achieve this, maintaining regular contact and visiting several times per year is essential. Stimulating informal mutual communication is a good way to get to know each other on a personal level as well.

What is the offshore team's working culture like? Familiarising yourself with this and identifying the potential risks at an early stage helps tremendously. Try to build a bridge between the different cultures - this will ensure smooth and friendly collaboration for both parties. Something that really helps is working with a local partner. They know the market in the country in question, they can better assess the developers at a higher level and can develop the teams. It is essential that the onshore team remains closely involved, especially in the start-up phase. An onshore team could be present on site for a few months, with this being brought down to, for example, a seven to ten-day visit, ten times per year.

Collaborating with the local team

Before you can start working with the new team, there are other aspects that first need to be addressed. For example, how do you ensure good communication at work? And how do you deal with the time difference? Each component requires a process - that is the only way to ensure efficient collaboration. Good communication and information exchange can be achieved by giving all team members access to the communication tools that are used within the organisation: email and video call programmes such as Slack and Skype.

The working method between the teams is another extremely important point. A clear work process provides structure, so that each team member knows what needs to be achieved and when the scheduled contact moments are. The Agile/Scrum methodology is a commonly used, successful working method between offshore and onshore teams. It involves working in two-week sprints with teams of three to nine people. During the two weeks, there are three fixed contact moments: the sprint planning, sprint review and sprint retrospective. There is also a daily stand-up, or daily scrum, in which you discuss what you are working on. This results in a lot of communication between the teams. With an onshore Tech Lead and Delivery Manager/Scrum Master overseeing this process, you can create a bridge between the two teams.

Another challenge is the time difference. Working with different time zones makes it difficult to schedule meetings and immediately clarify certain matters. In order to make teams less dependent on both time and each other, a degree of autonomy within the offshore team is important. The team needs to be self-managed and therefore able to make their own decisions. This reduces the need for the teams to be in constant contact with each other. You can also schedule a fixed contact moment such as the daily stand-up in the Agile/Scrum working method, with the Delivery Manager/Scrum Master as a permanent point of contact from the Netherlands. They will then function as the pivot between the offshore and onshore team.

Lastly, there are the technical conditions, which are important for a well-functioning IT team. A comparable infrastructure in both teams is essential for good collaboration. After all, the software needs to work well all over the world. The development environments used therefore need to be coordinated as early as possible.

An offshore team in your organisation

The above list gives you an idea of how to create a good foundation for an on-site team and how to tackle some of the biggest obstacles. Working with offshore teams offers many options: a good balance between collaboration, trust and processes enables you to implement attractive technological solutions. For almost fifteen years, rb2 has successfully worked with development teams in China and is happy to provide you with advice.

If you are interested in how offshore teams can help your organisation, please contact us for more information or to make a no-obligation appointment.

Do you want to know more about Mark?

As a People Manager, Mark moves from office to office. Thanks to his experience as a Delivery Manager, he knows the ins and outs of Scrum and offshore working. He currently strengthens the management team with his focus on 'People and Processes'.

Mark van der Ploeg
+31 (0)299 200800