Successful outsourcing is the result of effective collaboration. And effective collaboration is the result of a good communication strategy.
A good communication strategy is an essential component in any business. But what makes a good communication strategy even more important when outsourcing are the challenges businesses face when offshoring.
The main challenges when communicating with an outsourcing team are:
– time difference
– cultural difference
– communication media gaps
Face to face communication, without a doubt, is the most effective form of communication. But these challenges can open up numerous opportunities miscommunication. That’s why it’s important to address these challenges early on by creating a unique communication strategy that works for you and your outsourcing partner.
Selecting Your Communication Channel
The best place to start when creating a communication strategy is to agree on a primary platform to use. To help you determine the ideal platform, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Would most of your communication be done through email, social media, project management software, chat, voice calls or video conferencing? What would be your secondary channel?
2. Does everyone in your team have access to these channels?
3. How would your secondary channel work? As support or back up for your primary channel?
4. Is it a platform that both you and your outsourcing vendor feel comfortable using?
5. Can your primary channel adequately support all the information you need to share? If not, how can your secondary channels or supporting apps help support the information exchange?
If you’re outsourcing to different companies, they may need different communication platforms based on their needs. Forcing different vendors to adopt the same system may end up being counter-intuitive because their communication needs differ. Your outsourced software developers may prefer Trello because it most resembles a project management board that you’re used to. Your offshore SEO or social media virtual assistant may prefer to use Gmail because it makes it easier to transfer files.
Identifying your primary and secondary channels for communication helps reduce any information loss. And if your outsourced team is comfortable using that platform, it would be easier for them to give feedback and share ideas that would be beneficial for the project and your business.
The Importance of Documentation
Once you’ve identified your primary and secondary communication channels, make it part of your communication strategy to document everything pertinent to the project. A documentation system that’s easy to follow and track will make monitoring the project is less stressful for everyone involved. Setting up the system would be time consuming at first but eventually it should help streamline the process down the line.
For example, if you and your outsourced search engine optimization agency chooses to communicate through email, maybe you can agree to establish an email thread for each milestone in your project. Or if you communicate through chat, you can have a system where you save the conversations in a document and clean it up so they can serve as guidelines for your SEO virtual assistant.
Again, the purpose of this technique is to avoid any communication loss and reduce any miscommunication. When everything is documented, you can always go back to your records for clarification, to troubleshoot any problems in communication, or to help set up clear instructions for your outsourcing vendor to follow.
Create a Template to Encourage Active Listening And Feedback
Hearing and listening are two different things. When a person actively listen, he hears and understand what you’re saying. Communication channels can only help you relay your message but it does not guarantee that the person on the other end understand what you’re saying.
Cultural differences can be a major roadblock to communication, especially when active listening and feedback is not enforced. To encourage active listening, set up a template for your communication channel where both have to relay the information back to the sender according to how you understood the message.
For example, say you have an outsourced search engine optimization expert. You asked him to give you a list of long tail keywords that you use but your competition is having more success in. Then ask him to relay your instruction back to you. If he replies that you’re asking for the long tail keywords that your competition is using, then it’s clear that your entire message was relayed correctly.
Most of the time, the problem is simply how you constructed your message; like putting your instructions in list form instead of several paragraphs.
Once you identify what’s preventing your message from being relayed accurately, you can then fine-tune your system for feedback. Something as simple as asking your outsourcing team if they have questions after they have understood your instructions is often enough to encourage feedback.
Evaluate your communication strategy on a regular basis and continuously improve it.
Communication needs change eventually. When your team grows, when you decide to outsource more tasks, or more communication tools become available, you’ll need to evaluate to see if your current strategy can still cope with your changing needs.
If you’re hiring more people from your outsourcing vendor, you may want to also include the occasional voice call or video conferencing to touch base. If you’re outsourcing more tasks, simple emails may no longer be enough and you might have to look at project management systems.
How you document your communication and who has access to that information might also have to change. Would you communicate mainly with your project manager and have her disseminate the information to the rest of the team. Or maybe you’d want to create a template that organizes all your communication so you won’t have problems training another virtual executive assistant.
Communicating effectively doesn’t come naturally. And any collaboration won’t have good outcomes without a good communication strategy. It take time, patience, trial and error to find the perfect strategy for outsourcing. But once you find the right mix, outsourcing will become easier and will yield better outcomes for your business.