Offshore talent to the the rescue

Jo-ann Huang
Jo-ann Huang
July 1, 2021

Small and large firms often look offshore to make up for a serious shortfall in tech manpower.

But just how bad is the shortage?

In a June 2020 interview, Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative, noted that there were only 2,800 infocomm tech graduates joining the tech workforce a year. 

Compare this with the 60,000 professionals needed for the next three years, and that is a huge gap in supply.

At Redefining SEA’s Tech Talent Strategy, held on 23 June, speakers from startups and multinational firms discussed the pros and cons of hiring offshore.

For example, Indonesian talent can cost 30 percent less salary-wise, when compared with Singaporean tech grads. 

But even with access to a significantly larger tech pool, remote overseas teams come with its own drawbacks such as cultural differences.

The speakers shared their experiences in building remote teams, and dispensed some valuable tips for the 200-plus attendees at the event.

The event featured the following esteemed speakers: Gunawan Chiu, chief technology officer (CTO) of AIA; Shaun Chong, CTO of Ninja Van; Suresh Sukumar, Assistant Vice-President, Regional Partnerships and Singapore Businesses, EDB; and Yeo Puay Lim, commercial director of Glints and moderator of the event.

Here are 5 key takeaways from their hour-long chat.

Take baby steps

In order to prevent team burnout and disengagement, Chong took small incremental steps when it came to assembling his first Jakarta team.

“It is very different from having a face to face setup,” said Chong, who put his first Indonesian team in charge of test automation. 

“Remote working was new for us in terms of running the stand ups, doing presentations, and peer programming, where we could sit together,”

“Onboarding of engineers was also time consuming – for a non-mature company, information is stuck in individual people. We didn’t have the proprietary tech and the datakeeping of mature companies, so onboarding engineers took several months,”

Related: What is offshoring, outsourcing, nearshoring, onshoring?

Be prepared to navigate cultural differences and language barriers

Expanding from Point 1, Chong highlighted that his Indonesian teams prefer hierarchy in the workplace.

This was something new to him, as he was used to the “flat” organisational structure Singapore startups thrive on.

Language barriers remain a challenge till this day, said Chong.

“English is one of the key requirements for our offshore hires. As our product managers are working out of Singapore.  And that cuts us out from a huge segment of the talent pool,” he explained.

Engage and invest in your remote team 

AIA has 140 tech employees based in Nongsa Digital Park, EDB’s joint venture with the Indonesian government, located in nearby Batam, Indonesia. This is on top of another tech team based in China.

Prior to Covid-19, Chiu made regular visits to their Nongsa team. 

Close collaboration was key to engaging and motivating his offshore teams. Having the Indonesian team based in Nongsa certainly helped in fostering camaraderie. 

Chiu also spoke of the importance of investing in your remote team. They are still an integral part of the company, despite physical distance.

Whether it is rotating their responsibilities, or simply sending them for training, they need to feel like they belong, he noted.

Do your due diligence

Having to migrate work processes to the cloud opens frameworks to possible data security threats.

And just because your remote teams are employed by a Singapore company, does not mean local manpower regulations don’t apply.

Doing your research and due diligence is a must, reiterates Chiu, whether it is from a security or from a compliance perspective. 

This is to prevent any unwanted hiccups down the road. “Security is very important to us when it comes to setting up our infrastructure,” said Chiu.

“The majority of us are moving towards the cloud. It is no longer a serious issue for us as we have endpoint security for every device we use. It was a challenge in the beginning but we have overcome that,” he says.

Related: Gemstar & Vouch on: Beating the tech talent crunch to grow and retain your global clientele

Consider nearby locations for offshore teams

Companies should aim for minimal distance when it comes to building their first offshore teams. 

Apart from the obvious time differences, having a team close by makes checking in on them in person much easier, a routine that many companies can resume once authorities lift Covid-19 travel bans.

But there are other factors at play. Sukumar says Nongsa Digital Park offers Singapore-based firms an opportunity for deeper integration of both Singapore and Indonesian teams.

“Many companies choose to base their leadership management, digital technology, research and development and product engineering teams in Singapore. The talent they find here in Singapore is well-suited for such roles,” said Sukumar.

“They may want to save on costs by using offshore teams for implementation, in roles such as system support and development ops engineers,” he continued.

Just a 20-minute ferry-ride away, Nongsa offers companies the opportunity for regular physical collaboration. 

They could also send their offshore teams to Singapore for company events, training or upskilling.

“Doing that really helps to build a more integrated team,” he said.

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