The statement, "We get a $10,000 phone bill every month just for communicating with our Indian office," used to be the common complaint from small to medium US companies with development centers in India.
Most companies couldn't afford dedicated point-point Internet connectivity between their India and US offices. These companies were forced to rely on regular phones for voice communication, though the quality of the phone connections was often poor.
To reduce the communication cost, employees were encouraged to communicate via instant messenger and email. These asynchronous communication mechanisms reduced the effectiveness of the message and increased the turn-around time for issue resolution.
Skype has single handedly removed the communication constraint for these companies. It has allowed employees from different locations to communicate freely without the fear of increasing the communication costs. (Plus, it's widely available; as of Dec. 2005, more than 216 million copies had been downloaded from the Skype Web site.)
Though we've performed no formal study on Skype's effect on productivity, the few companies we spoke to about it believe it to be as high as 10%.
Here are some of the ways Skype has revolutionized communication between global teams:
- The basic teleconference equipment is expensive; therefore, companies were able to buy only a limited number of devices. The use of Skype through computer speakers has reduced the need for expensive teleconference equipment.
- Teleconference bridges in most developing countries don't exist. In places where they do, the expense is out of reach for typical global teams. Skype's conference facility has reduced the need for teleconference bridges for conference calls with five or fewer participants.
- Skype has increased the ability of the teams to collaborate, since they can use voice and IM simultaneously. Written communication is still the preference for sharing source code snippets, Web site details, phone numbers, etc.
- Skype also allows for impromptu communication. Due to the time zone difference between countries like US and India, there's a need to communicate during early morning or late evening hours. Often phone calls during late hours catch people during dinner or after they have gone to bed. Skype allows users to see who is online before the call is made.
- The superior quality of Skype calls has encouraged users to communicate using voice rather than email or IM. This not only results in better communication but also helps in building better relationships between team members who are geographically distributed.
Here's a wishlist for eBay, which is buying Skype, that would make cross-shore communication even more efficient:
- The ability to make Skype calls from mobile phones.
- The ability to make teleconference calls with more than five users.
- The capability to integrate with video conference equipment.
Find more practical advice about working with offshore teams on the Zinnov Web site blog: