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Outsourcing Experiment: The Frontiers of Space

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Outsourcing is supposed to experiment, and show clients how to do the work better. But that’s often not what happens. Less experienced or less motivated outsourcers may just “lift and shift,” taking your exiting services and doing the best they can to replicate them in a different labor market. Sometimes the results are a spectacular success, but more often than not the results are underwhelming. Little things go wrong, but the project did not allow for that and starts to under perform. Of course, the next project you outsource (and the, next and the next) will be slightly more difficult to implement and has slightly more financially difficult conditions. This is why a lot of firms start out with optimistic results, but find that outsourcing becomes less useful over time. But if you embed innovation into your outsourcing programs you greatly increase your chances of succeeding, even when there are unexpected setbacks.

Consider, for example, the space that will be used for your business functions. For the most part, domestic knowledge workers are office workers. That means that they either work in an actual office or, more likely, in a cubicle. The modern cubicle, which is a work area surrounded by three or four low walls, came into being in Germany in the 50s, and then became perfected in the 60s by Herman Miller as a modular design system. The cubicle was an innovation, at the time, aimed at creating greater interaction between workers. However, that was half a century ago. Today, different knowledge workers perform a much wider range of work functions, but the cubicle remains unchanged. To make matters worse, when you outsource many vendors think of space merely as an unnecessary expense. The typical cubicle is 8’x8’, or 64 square feet. Outsourcers often feel that this is an excessive luxury, and improvement is achieved by reducing this space as much as possible.

In some cases, and 8x8 cubicle may be reduced with little or no impact. But how was this decision made? Were different-sized cubicles tested? Were difference configurations examined? For example, if the worker was a programmer, creating a smaller cubicle but offsetting it with more screen space might improve productivitymore screen space might improve productivity. Monitors and flat screens have dropped dramatically in price over the past few years. In the past, it might have been “economical” to give a programmer a single small monitor. Studies have shown that more monitor space measurably improves performance for certain functions. Today, can your outsourcer tell you how much space a web programmer needs, and the optimal amount of screen space? Too many outsourcers are not only unaware of the latest research, they are unaware of common sense.

Consider job functions that require listening to a human voice, such as a legal secretary listening to a recording and transcribing the results. Cubicles can be a noisy environment, making accurate transcription overly time-consuming and inaccurate as the transcriptionist needs to play the recording repeatedly. You could move transcription work to a quieter location, you could use ambient noise reduction systems, or even provide each transcriptionist with noise cancelling headphones. It is highly unlikely that a law firm or law department provided any of these options to their secretaries. It is up to the outsourcing team to identify and implement these opportunities for improvement.

Any work function that requires comparing two versions of a physical printed document can be performed by placing them side-by-side or by changing the work process and doing the comparison on two side-by-side screens. Each option has advantages, but either is better than working in a space that does not allow easy editing work. How do you best design a space for this task? There are many options, from desk surfaces that can be angled for easier reading to walls that allow you to tack-up pages of a document. More important than the exact solution, is the mindset of looking for ways of tweaking your environment to find the best way to work, rather than just replicating the last way that the work was done.

The victory of the cubicle in the workplace meant that most work is performed in exactly the same space environment. Logically, that tells you that work is rarely performed in the RIGHT environment. If you spend just a little time, you can find simple ways to improve your space and elevate productivity. It’s time that you started your mission to explore space, and find new inefficiencies!

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