The competitive creative landscape means publishers, agencies and brands are under pressure to produce quantity and quality simultaneously. It has caused many in-house agencies, media and packaging companies to adopt a hybrid approach of selective outsourcing, keeping some parts of creative operations in-house, while outsourcing others.

Creative outsourcing enables considerable cost savings, flexibility and scalability. A reliable outsourcing partner can deliver a quality service round the clock. In the early days of outsourcing (typically call centres or IT helpdesk) there were reports of outsourcing projects being unsuccessful. This was often due to a lack of cultural compatibility between the vendor and the client. Different approaches to task completion, contrasting attitudes toward conflict, and alternative decision-making styles were reported as the main challenges encountered when managing an offshore outsourcing relationship.

Nowadays, we are all increasingly working in a remote and global world. Technology enables better communication and enhanced collaboration that just wasn’t available in the early days of offshoring.

A pre-pandemic survey by RW3 CultureWizard showed that employees from 90 countries found that 89% of white-collar workers ‘at least occasionally’ completed projects in global virtual teams (GVTs). Team members are dispersed around the globe and rely on online tools for communication. In a globalised — not to mention socially distanced — world, online collaboration is indispensable for bringing people together. So whether you are working with an offshore partner, or collaborating with colleagues based in other countries, awareness of cultural differences is the first step to avoiding miscommunication.

To understand how culture differences occur, the late Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede identified cross-country cultural differences based on five key measures:

  1. Power distance
  2. Individualism
  3. Uncertainty avoidance 
  4. Long-term orientation 
  5. Masculinity

There’s a few examples: Western countries (US and UK) are more individualistic compared to the collective culture in Asia. Utkarsh Rai, author of Offshoring Secrets, highlights specific aspects of the Indian culture that show up while managing offshore projects. These include the compare and contrast culture, the workplace socialisation practices, the importance of age and seniority, the sensitivity to criticism and the difficulty in saying no. This is in direct contrast with some elements of the western culture – the directness of criticism and the focus on productivity in the UK and the direct style of communication and the ‘time is money’ approach in the US.

These cultural differences impact interactions, communication, interpretation, understanding, productivity, comfort and commitment. So how can we address them? Here’s a few suggestions that might help businesses to remove cultural barriers between their onshore and offshore creative teams.

Workshops 

Cultural awareness involves conducting workshops and sessions both offshore and onshore to make both sides aware of the other’s cultural practices. It’s essential to create an environment where it is fine to ask questions, to ensure clarity and avoid any ambiguity. 

Native account managers

Culturally compatible resource deployment involves having local, native onsite account managers to look after the onshore client relationship. This is something EKCS has deployed for a number of US and UK clients. 

Two way street

It is as much about the buyer understanding the supplier’s culture as the other way around. EKCS have worked with US and UK brands for nearly two decades, and are familiar with cultural differences associated with western businesses. Conversely, for many organisations it is often their first time working with an offshore partner.

Communication and individual thinking

Addressing cultural barriers requires a shift in individual thinking. Each culture brings in its own unique perspective, and that is exactly what’s required to solve today’s complex problems. Often, we listen to other cultures through our own judgments, and we have to be willing to let these go, in order to accept one another.

Unified design language to maintain consistency

It is imperative that both businesses involved in outsourcing should speak the same design language. Miscommunication often means that design specifications and briefs can create confusion among developers or designers. The ambiguity can be found on either creative or technical levels. For this, a proper briefing should be done. A set of understandable terms should always be part of a creative brief, to clear ambiguity and foster a better understanding between both the internal teams and the external partners.

The Benefits of Geographic Diversity

There’s a large body of scholarship examining the challenges of cross-cultural communication and collaboration. A review of more than 1100 studies published over the course of 24 years in the Journal of International Business Studies revealed that 95% of those studies focused on the negative effects of team member differences. However, these differences can often be beneficial for a team’s performance. Numerous studies have shown that less homogeneous teams often exhibit more creativity, which certainly pays off when it comes to creative production outsourcing! The truth is that projects which require creativity and innovation benefit from diversity. They are fully realised when team members freely exchange ideas and knowledge with opportunities for brainstorming, friendly feedback and discussions, as well as constructive criticism and disagreement.

EKCS works with global brands, agencies and publishers to successfully outsource creative production work across digital, video and print, helping them scale production, save money and resources. With experience in offshoring and outsourcing, our workforce is fully equipped to support cross-cultural creative production and communication.

To find out more about our business, or if you need support in creative production outsourcing, feel free to contact us at enquiries@ekcs.co

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