Thursday, September 11, 2008

From Valleyway: Good advice on how to avoid getting your job outsourced

Here's a nice piece of advice from Valleywag. If you're worried about you job being sent offshore, then stop telecommuting.

Telecommuting is kind of a proof of concept for offshoring. People who telecommute give an excellent baseline for the viability of sending a role overseas.

I'm not a huge fan of telecommuting. It is awesome to spend the day, pug in lap, working from home, but it isn't the same as going in to the office. 

For a long time I've preferred face to face conversations over email and telephone conversations. I couldn't put my finger over why I prefer them, but I think the biggest advantages I see in them are the opportunities to get on the same page with the other participants, we're all in the same room and we all can see each other. We can read body language. It's also difficult to blow each other off.

As a group leader I can't measure how much I prefer leading team members who are in the office over people who are located offsite. At my last company, we had a very good communication infrastructure. There were ample phone lines, conference rooms, teleconference rooms, etc. With those tools, communications to offsite people were far more challenging than they are in person.

My one offsite team member could shut me out any time he wanted. He was a terrible performer. I had to meet with him every other day and push him to get a one line code change into production. It took six weeks for him to write one line of code and promote it to production.

I did whatever I could, short of writing that line of code. When all was said and done I probably spend 40+ hours leading a guy to make, test, and promote a change that I could have probably completed myself in 4 hours.

At the time I was leading ten projects and that one project caused me more stress than any other. We delivered the project on time, but it could have been delivered about a month sooner had another engineer been put on it.

Several of my other projects had team members who the company had conveniently labeled as threshold, or poor performers. The big difference between them and Mr. Offsite is I could sit down with them every day. Those projects all finished on time, and within a reasonable amount of time.

The benefit I had leading those guys is I would visit them every day. I tried not to micromanage, but I sat down with them and asked how things were going, asked if there is anything that they needed, and asked how they were doing. Any opportunity I could find to help them, I did it. 

When they had difficulty with some technical pieces I sat down with them and worked it out with them the same way one of my mentors did it with me. I didn't presume to know exactly how it should be done and dictate it to them. That gets them over one hurdle, instead I lead them through how to find the resources to learn how to do the technical pieces. 

By going through a discovery process with a team member I'm elevating their perception of themselves. As the technical leader I'm not acting like the person with all the answers, instead I'm saying I'm a person who can find the answers. And I show them how I do it. They may learn how to solve that one problem, but what I hope they learn is how to find a solution for their challenges.

In addition to giving technical guidance, I asked my team members for their opinions and encouraged them to give their input into projects. I tried to make the projects their projects. I was just the leader, they were doing the work. I wanted them to feel good about it.

The other big benefit in sitting down with them face to face is they knew I wasn't going anywhere and they would have to meet with me. They couldn't tune me out they had to face me. I did my best to make these meetings pleasant, but I also made sure that they knew that they would be held accountable for their progress.

But probably the biggest benefit of sitting with the local guys is I could see that they were in the office working. I could see what they were doing, and I could see that they were making progress. I didn't need to rely on what they told me. The offsite guy, he was in a black hole for all I knew. I could go a couple days without hearing from him or being able to contact him. The longer the no contact periods were, the more stress I would feel. 

The results of meeting with the team members this way were great. The team members contributed to their projects and the projects were successfully delivered on time.

The two threshold local guys still have jobs at the company. The other guy's contract was not renewed.

There's value in face time that is easy to overlook. 

When you telecommute, you make yourself an offsite employee. When you telecommute, you give up face time for that day. You also take away one of your biggest competitive advantages over the offsite workers.

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