The Indian Onsite Dream
Every indian in the IT industry has atleast once dreamt for an onsite, discussed it with their reporting managers, negotiated it with HRs, demanded it during retention meetings; and for most, they have got the opportunity as well and for some, well they’re either living in that dream or are hunting for one.
The classic definition of an “onsite” is an opportunity to work at a client location out of the home country. Work mainly consists of management meetings, design discussions, business analysis, user acceptance testing, technical vendor support, etc. Most indian IT companies have clients in Europe (including the UK), North America, Canada and South East Asia which is a dream location for an onsite for most indians while companies that have clients at locations in the Middle East, Africa and South America are a secondary option for employees (This ofcourse is not true always).
This onsite expectation started years back with companies such as Infosys, Cognizent, TCS and many other IT companies started sending employees for long term assignments to developed countries and used these as retention measures which inturn helped them grow. These became the selecting criteria for an employee to choose an employer. What was also a notion back then was that one didn’t really require a special skill other than wait for their turn and wait long enough in the company to be sent onsite. This was not just a myth but was actually being implemented.
Companies sent employees to work on short and long term assignments with daily allowances or as host country salaries which is usually lower than what is being paid to employees out there. Because countries like the US and UK have a high currency value, Indians end up saving and earning a lot during their time while onsite. Its the other benefits and the work values that aren’t justified and goverened by the HR (of the host and home country) and sometimes the employees are exploited beyond justification. Managers usually ask employees that they need to work overtime but aren’t paid overtime only because they’re earning in dollars, much higher than the rupee. There isn’t a way to fight back using any law as you’ll be called back and you’re a mere slave. Working weekends is a usual norm and providing off hours support is just expected out of you.
To top this Indian employees usually try to save as much as possible by staying in low cost areas and travelling by cheap modes of transportation; which is alright as one would do otherwise. But it gets crazy when one starts looking at the way people stay and sacrifice personal life and time just to earn a few extra bucks. Staying in more numbers in one low cost apartment and sharing bedrooms and bathrooms with no attention to personal space and time for oneself.
While the management is aware of this, they leave the onus on the employees to decide on what and how they live rather than inculcating better values in employees. Nowadays employers have reduced long term assignments (as a cost saving measure) and started short term assignments where employees are sent on 2-3 months assignments and are allocated hotel stay and daily allowances for their daily meal and travel expenses. Any expenses up and above are entirely at the cost of the employee. This has obviously affected the average Indian mindset and made the onsite choice less popular.
Lately Infosys was involved in a law suit by one of its own employees in the US where the employee claimed that the company was flouting visa norms and regulations in applying for a visa for its Indian employees by claiming that it sends in so-called experts or SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) while they weren’t experts in either a technology or a domain and let alone their communication. This brought up an issue that most employees were hesitant to speak about but was in their face. The bias that this kind of arrangement built up in clients and team counterparts was incorrect as it had an impact on the career progression of many other capable Indian employees.
This mindset needs to be changed at grad school level where employees need to be taught that onsite is for the best and deserving and for that you need to work hard. But then again it is also requirement based. So if there is a requirement, then it will happen. It needs to have a set assessment criteria on which employees are chosen. Keeping apart the selection process, employees need to be trained well on how to live overseas, with their rules and regulations and how they are the ambassadors of the company and represent the company and the Indian people. Their actions will have an impact on how clients look at the rest. The HR and Management needs to take into account all the benefits that are provided to the employee (sick leaves, weekends off, overtime, public holidays) and that any exploitation will not be tolerated. This needs a strict check as employees feel that working on weekends and overtime usually impresses management.
Soon onsite opportunities will be nothing but a part of the past. With the indian IT economy growing at breakneck speed, and with more and more work being offshored and costs being cut, it will be close to impossible for employers to send employees onsite.
Let onsite not be a goal but an experience.