As work becomes more remote, companies are looking to outsource much of their team’s workload to offshore companies, if they haven’t done so already. There’s plenty of pros and cons of doing so. But is it ethical?
It’s complicated, like everything is on a global scale.
Outsourcing has many advantages, like helping your country remain globally competitive, allowing people all over the world to access jobs otherwise unavailable to them, cutting costs, and creating greater diversity and cooperation. Upscaling and downscaling can be done easily as running out of pools to hire from is no longer an issue when you can hire anywhere. Outsourcing vendors or BPOs (Business Process Outsource) can do the work of screening and hiring for you. And you can maximize your in-house team’s productivity by outsourcing all those tedious administrative tasks that get in the way.
However, outsourcing also allows companies to avoid paying local workers the wages they demand, and instead hire those from areas with lower costs of living asking for lower wages. It takes away jobs from your home country, and while it does bring money into offshore countries it also takes away workers who might otherwise be contributing in their own communities.
Offshoring is touted as opening up opportunities to everyone everywhere, but it doesn’t really work like that. The allure of offshoring is high quality work from experienced workers for low prices. That, by definition, is going to cut a lot of people out and not make things fairer for everyone. Currently some of the hottest markets for outsourcing are India, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Ukraine. The fact that there are top outsourcing markets indicates that there are many places that do not make the cut. Most companies will look for a vendor or BPO so they don’t have to go around hiring people individually, meaning that even if you are a skilled, experienced developer living somewhere with a comparatively lower cost of living, if you aren’t working for an offshore vendor or BPO your chances of getting hired as an individual are slim.
With this in mind, how do you make outsourcing as ethical as possible?
The answer is that it’s complicated. Most of it comes down to the offshore vendor you go with, assuming you will be going with a vendor instead of just opening your job applications globally and doing the screening and hiring yourself.
Choose a few vendors and do a deeper dive on each individually. Look for any reviews from past clients you can find, and contact them if you can. Do your research on the vendor to assess the quality of their work, while making sure they treat their workers fairly. Do some market research to verify if offshore workers are being paid at local market rates. The more you know about the local market and standard working conditions there, the better. You are aiming to at least match, if not exceed them.
Then there’s security concerns around data leakage to consider. Putting sensitive client data in the hands of an offshore company can be risky, and you want to be certain the company will do everything they can to keep that data safe. And not sell it to any outside parties. This is where doing research on the vendor and speaking with past clients can really make the difference.
Clear communication is vitally important in remote work, and especially when striking a deal with an offshore company. Both parties must understand each other perfectly in terms of the quality of work, working conditions, what is expected, and what is unacceptable. Get everything in writing and have a lawyer go over it so there are no surprises and everything is transparent.
Maintaining a company culture can become quite difficult with offshore workers, especially if there are high turnover rates. It’s important to maintain not just the standards of the offshore location but your own standards as well - while keeping in mind differences in culture and living conditions. For example, gifting employees located in India a DoorDash gift card might not be appreciated if they can’t use it in their area. And any sort of virtual party or all hands meeting will have to have time zones taken into account. It’s not impossible to do, it just needs a bit of work communication to make sure you’re giving something that is actually useful and appreciated.
Whether offshoring itself is ethical is up to debate as it comes down to the particulars of each individual case. If you do choose to offshore, these are some things you can do to be as ethical about it as possible. Do your research, uphold your standards, and keep communication clear and transparent. You are building a global reputation as an employer. Make it a good one