Demystifying Offshore Visits for Business

Demystifying Offshore Visits for Business

Narasimha Kumar, Head of Regulatory IT Compliance at TCS, Bangalore, has been globe-trotting for business since 2002. In the recent times, Yamini W. Nafde, Senior Technical Communicator with the Communication and Design Group (CDG) at Infosys Technologies Limited, Pune, visited three different on-site clients in the U.S. alone.

Besides presenting a great learning opportunity on both the personal and professional fronts, Kumar opines,

"In today's global economy, it is good to have a well-rounded work experience in more than one geography."

Offshore client visits may be triggered by the need to interact with colleagues, subject matter experts (SMEs), managers, and so on. And as enthusiastic as I am about the emerging tools to facilitate virtual collaboration and communication, some face-to-face meeting is imperative for assuring that a team effectively achieves its goals.

In this article, we shall try to identify the impact of offshore business visits on productivity, price, profit, and wages, along with its surrounding difficulties.

For some odd reason, global sourcing and offshore sourcing have remained confined to the "Fortune" listed companies in large measure, though the spread has shifted a little towards the small and medium enterprises as well. Taking a leaf from this current trend, more and more global companies in India are sending their task force offshore for shorter and longer durations.

The task may range anywhere from a simple requirements gathering to a highly complex customer problem that needs to be resolved immediately. What's unique about these offshore visits is that the person making them is entitled to some monetary benefits in addition to his or her regular monthly income.

Let us try to find out what sort of companies or industries are encouraging such kind of visits.

Offshore Visits -- Voluntary or Necessity
In words of
Sumedh Nene
, Owner, CrackerJack WordSmiths,

"It is tough to single out a company or industry, since site/client visits across the seven seas is becoming more and more common across all companies and industries. I do not think such trips are voluntary anymore. As the world gets smaller and the outsourcing phenomenon gets ever so popular, these trips are becoming a necessity."

Recounting his offshore experiences, Nene adds,

"I have made many offshore visits for business, but the ones that I'd particularly like to talk about is a trip from Singapore to Australia (while I was working in Singapore), and another trip from Pune to Santa Clara (while I was working in India).

In Singapore, I took up a contract with Levi Strauss. Even though this assignment was to be completed at the company's regional head office in Singapore, it entailed documenting a pilot project at its manufacturing plant in Adelaide, Australia. I had to document the business process end-to-end, so traveled to Adelaide for meeting and interviewing the subject matter experts of various processes and gathering all the information.

Later, I joined nVIDIA Graphics in India and was sent to their US headquarters in Santa Clara just to meet in person the rest of Tech Pubs and QA teams. There was no agenda, except to meet the folks I'd be closely working within my capacity and have a face to put with the voice."

Perks related to Offshore Visits
According to
Richard Mateosian, a self-employed Computer Systems Consultant in the U.S.,

"When I worked for Hitachi America as a strategic marketing manager for microprocessors, I visited Hitachi's Musashi Works in Tokyo several times. We went to meet the engineers there."

Mateosian was not entitled to earn extra dough on these trips, but he was in for some interesting adventures with Hitachi.

"When we were in Japan, someone always took us out for food and drinks after work, then put us in a cab and sent us back to our hotel. The Business Class flights were nice -- except for the time, I was so sick after food poisoning in Tokyo the night before that I didn't want to look at food for the whole 12 hours.

When Hitachi executives came to the US in 1990 to visit some of their big memory customers -- IBM, Univac, and so forth, I was part of the team that took them around. I wrote a speech for one of the executives about the coming return of Hong Kong to China. Nobody gave me a theme. I just made it up. I have no recollection of what I said, but he read it without questioning any of it.

We had a private jet, though I only rode in it some of the time -- our party was larger than the jet could accommodate, so we took turns taking commercial flights. I remember taking off from the Teterboro airport and circling over New York City just for the fun of it. Try that today!

My American Express bill that month was $12,000."

During my research on this subject, I asked Mateosian about the different types of American companies that sent their task forces to India for business, and this is what he had to say:

"I have known writers from Oracle who visited India many times. Large American companies derive a great deal of revenue from abroad, so they send lots of people."

Duration of these Offshore Visits
Venkateswara S Iyer, Staff Documentation Writer for Eclipsys Corporation, offered his insights about duration of offshore visits in the IT sector,

"I have come across several job postings, where Indian companies are offering an overseas visit for a short time. The time can vary anywhere from 15 days to a year or two. For all kind of offshore visits, each company has its own policies. In my humble opinion, everyone benefits with an additional allowance (paid on a daily basis) in such short stints. However, for longer visits, this doesn't apply and one has to be satisfied with the salary component only."

Bill Swallow, Documentation Practices Leader at Pitney Bowes MapInfo, begs to differ with Iyer.

"Nope. Meals and other necessary expenses are reimbursed. That's about it."

What kind of Companies or Industries encourages Offshore Visits?
The offshoring phenomenon has pushed our world beyond the information economy towards a global, knowledge-based economy. It has allowed a variety of regional specializations to flourish as well.

Echoing the same sentiments, Iyer commented,

"Any industry that runs its production center or core activity offshore will encourage such visits. Some organizations send people for training/study/establishing teams, but such visits are more often than not meant for keeping an employee happy."

Bill, however, feels that such visits are arranged for anyone who needs it.

"If you have a client or development team in another location, at least one face-to-face should happen, whether they come to you or you go to them."

Robert Cloud, a senior techie with BEA Systems (China), went to the U.S. for some in-house training. When asked about the companies that encourage offshore visits, he firmly replied,

"Most companies that have international markets."

The Culture Aspect
Working at an offshore location may require certain adjustments to your lifestyle, habits, customs, language, code of conduct, food and so on.

Judith M. Herr, Principal at Well Chosen Words, fondly recalls her offshore experience,

"We lived for three years in Belgium and three in Malaysia. Since my husband had the work permit, I invented my own opportunities. In Malaysia, I coordinated cooking classes in my home – taught expatriates how to shop for, prepare, and enjoy local foods – and, the culture behind them. That worked because we lived away from the international community --- in University housing alongside the families of others working at the University – most of whom were Malaysians (Malays, Sri Lanka, India, China - few Australians and Kiwis.)"

According to Judith, the local salary was sufficient to meet her daily needs.

"We were on local salary which was entirely adequate. Only problem was that we had debt from loans we had received to finish our graduate degrees in the U.S. and could not afford to pay those off (they were in U.S. dollars). If someone were making house payments or had other debt that had to be paid in U.S. $, it would be difficult – but, in some cases, those loans are excused if one works abroad."

Jan Cohen, owner, the shining lamp, shared his insights about offshore visits.

"It's been quite some time and the role was instructor, but yes, I did make a trip to Turkey back in 1995. The company I worked for then made and paid for the travel and chauffeur arrangements. I was also allowed $90 daily for per diem."

Janice Gelb, Senior Developmental Editor at Sun Microsystems, traveled to Bangalore twice to do writer and editor training on the company's corporate style guide and documentation processes. She shared her personal anecdotes that were mostly related to local culture differences rather than work-related items.

"The only work-related thing I can think of is the use in India of "I have a doubt" meaning "I don't understand" -- when written in an email in response to a document submitted by an American engineer, this caused much fury due to an assumption that the writer doubted the veracity of the document. So the writers asked for my advice about how to make sure their emails weren't misunderstood by their American colleagues."

Factors that dictate Offshore Visits
Jan is of the opinion that such trips are sponsored by larger companies with an international presence.

"Today, though, such travel seems to occur far less and only if business requirements absolutely dictate it (the dotcom's burst bubble should help put that in perspective). In my humble opinion, a good portion of the need for business travel before ca. 2000 is now offset by advances in online communication."

Sirish Kumar, a technical writer, commented,

"I traveled to Paris and Brest (Northern part of France) as a technical writer for a five-week trip. It is common to get extra monetary benefits, but the size of these benefits depends upon the organization. I was paid 100 Euros per day as part of my daily allowance."

Janice feels that global companies will soon go the virtual way to connect with each other, making such offshore visits redundant.

"Global companies need their personnel to interact. However, I think most companies are getting by with phone conferences and online meeting software."

The Biggest Advantage of Traveling Offshore for Business
Nene opines that companies sending its employees on trips abroad is like an incentive in itself, a perk that companies hope would motivate the employee to perform better. He further added,

"Benefits that come with an overseas trip may not or do not always have to be tangible. For instance, in both of my trips, there was a swell hotel stay, a rental car at disposal, and expenses at actual. I booked the airlines of personal choice, bagged the FF miles and took a layover in a stopover city at no extra cost to my pocket. Not only does one add another ‘foreign country visited' tag to the resume, but one gets pampered by the hosts who take you out on lunches, dinners and for some lucky writers - sightseeing. There was some daily allowance component as well, but in either case, not worth mentioning."

Finally, one thing seems certain. Since offshoring is a natural evolution of how the global marketplace operates at the moment, many people will get a chance to travel abroad. One huge gain for anyone who goes abroad for business is the opportunity to learn interpersonal communication skills and cultural ethos, besides becoming a vibrant individual with personality, rather than an email ID, phone voice, or picture.