Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Good Help Is Hard To Find - Tips When Offshoring Development Teams

Good Help Is Hard To Find.

This is the sixth in a series of articles which will summarise my last half decade of hiring/outsourcing/offshoring experience as Head of Technology at the Cogworks.


Finding good developers is especially difficult during rapid scaling, and even more so when you have budget/time constraints. Offshoring is a potential solution, and can potentially save your company a lot of money.

I helped to set up our Krakow office way back in 2015. I tried to keep the Polish developers integrated as much as possible, and devised policies to help with communication and team building. Part of this involved travelling to Krakow very often. I got to experienced the culture, food and of course the vodka.

In this article I will present a few of the challenges I tackled when offshoring.


Before I get started on the real part of this article I just want to touch briefly on fincances.

Back in 2015 the Zloty was 1/6 of the GBP. Then June 2016 came along and the GBP took a nose dive. Suddenly our staffing costs and office increased by 20% literally within 1 day. All I can say in this scenario is, ensure that you give yourself a buffer to account for fluctuations in your exchange rate.

The next thing we didn't expect was that the Polish developer market started to boom. Much larger companies were opening offices in Krakow and Warsaw, so the competition for workers was fierce. Suddenly our devs were being offered double the amount that we were paying them. We couldn't keep up with the pay increases so we had to offer much more flexibility and other work perks.

If you believe offshoring is a great way of saving money, I hope this story prompts you to think about mitigating these issues. We definitely didn't think of the possible financial consequences when we started.

Understanding The Workers

There are stories that float around which can be quite damning of Indian developers, however the people complaining about them tend not to understand the type of developers they are getting.

Indian IT has a reputation for workers who do what they are told... to the letter. This can be a great advantage if this is what you need.

If you want to create an offshore office, then you need to understand the type of workers you are getting. Culture and work culture need to be understood.

Culture Gap

There are definitely some cultural, work differences, and faux pas which you need to look out for.
Offshoring from the UK to Poland and surrounding countries is relatively painless. Although, if you ask anyone from Poland about "Eastern Europe", they will remind you that they're not in "Eastern Europe", as they are actually geographically central to the continent. So don't tell a Polish developer that they are in Eastern Europe, as they might get annoyed at you.

Basically, you need to ask questions. Ask your new colleagues if there is anything that foreigners say/do which they find annoying or offensive. This is a great way to actually begin to bond with your new colleagues.

Time Zone and Office Hours

The time zones can matter if you need crossover hours for meetings, pair programming, code reviews etc. Even if you are in Europe, and offshore within Europe then you still need to consider differences in office hours.

For example, the Polish work life-balance is one to be envied. Generally, they drop their kids at school around 7-7:30am, start work by 8am, then pick up their kids at 4pm. It's is a very natural time schedule. Contrast this with UK working hours, and you essentially have Poland starting at 7am GMT , having lunch at 12pm GMT , then leaving the office by 3pm GMT . You realistically only have around 3hrs of crossover time once you factor in lunch. This is with only a 1hr timezone difference!

The issue of crossover office hours obviously becomes more prominent with larger time zone differences. My personal opinion is that it is far easier to work with offshore offices if your timezones give you at least 2hrs of crossover. You cannot realistically expect that someone living in Sydney can be on regular calls to the UK. You really need to consider how you can adjust your processes, and what type of crossover is acceptable (if any).


I have to say that my experience offshoring to Poland has been very positive. Polish developers are very high quality, they have a good work ethic, and give you opinions and feedback. They are highly educated, and can argue with you about architecture and design patterns. I couldn't ask for a better team.

I made a concerted effort to integrate the Polish staff with the rest of the company. This took a lot of work, and I personally flew to Krakow very often to ensure that they felt like we were all one family. I often came with office improvements, gadgets / equipment, and even pay increases. You could probably make the analogy of a father coming home with gifts after a long trip. Part of the integration was also daily video calls so everyone could talk about what they were doing. This also becomes a great perk for your staff. I personally love seeing a new city.

Remember that your offshore office is as an expansion to your current office. Don't call them your "offshore team". They're not another team. They're just working remote all the time. To avoid an organisational silo you need to put in the effort to make them feel that they are part of the family.

Team Building

Video calls are essential for ensuring that people feel connected. It is very easy to just use voice calls, or slack messages, however seeing people is far more powerful when creating human connections. So get your Internet connection fixed! No excuses!

Another important practice is physically sending people between offices. Nothing beats working across the desk from someone, small-talk at the coffee machine, and going for lunch. Do this every month. When a person is booked to come to your office, people will get excited about it, especially if the person has never come to their country before.

An important note about Polish culture... The first time you go out with your colleagues in Poland they will feed you more vodka than you ever thought possible. Team bonding drinks will take a year off your life. It might also costing you an extra cleaning bill at your Hotel/AirBnB *eyes rolling*.

Tips For Offshoring Your Development Team

  1.  Know your workers, and what you're getting
  2. Understand the culture of the people you're hiring
  3. Try to only offshore to a location within a few hours plane trip away
  4. Send staff to and from the offshore offices at every month
  5. Enforce a video policy
  6. Treat your offshore office as 1st class citizens in the company

Final Thoughts

Many companies treat their offshore office as an outsourced office. It takes a lot of effort to ensure this doesn't happen. Treat your offshore workers as 1st class citizens, and try to understand them & their culture. Be diligent and you can build far better relationships between your staff.

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