Outsourced and offshored: An Australian worker's story

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Graphic designer Vivi Octaviani shares her personal experience as a victim of offshore outsourcing.

THIS IS MY STORY: I'm a confused graphic designer, who tried to prove to my employer my dedication and passion for what I do.

I started working for an advertising company in 2011 as an "online specialist", dealing with digital design and content.

My then husband happened to work for the same company in workforce management and we were happy settling in Melbourne, investing in property and closing the year of 2012 with a nice Christmas break. Everything seemed to be perfect.

The company trusted me to share all my knowledge and skills with the offshore team to help “our” project succeed — the success of which, I knew, might cost me my job.

In February 2013, shocking news hit our workplace — the company decided to slash workers throughout the business. Our department was affected, our design jobs would be replaced by the offshore team in India. I never thought that graphic design jobs could be offshored, but I guess with the boom of cloud technology, nothing is impossible.

The ironic part for me personally was my husband knew about it a few months before. I didn’t blame him for not telling me because he was just being professional, but it is ironic. Some of my teammates were accusing me of being calm because they thought I must have known and kept the secret from them. No, I did not. I was a positive thinker who believed that I could work around this situation. Was I worried inside? Of course, I was! I had a mortgage and bills to pay too.

Approximately 160 online designers had to be laid off by the end of the year and replaced by 90 offshore workers. The chaos started with everyone losing their minds and beginning to protest, which I found useless since I want to stay. I went to work, as usual, did my job and tried not to think too much about it because I was sure my quality of work would be appreciated. I was right, I got chosen to stay for this special team of six members to handle escalation requests and got an offer to train the offshore team in Chennai for 12 weeks. At that point, I was confused. Should I go? Should I “betray” my colleagues? It felt like a betrayal to me, but I had to do it because it does measure my career progress and achievements. So I decided to go.

In October 2013, I flew to Chennai, with mixed feelings and confusion; it was awkward. The offshore members were trying so hard to be friendly and respect me as their trainer, but I couldn't help but be distant from them — they took my colleagues' jobs and they would also take mine sooner or later. I was tempted not to train them well, so the project would fail somehow, but that surely would affect my key performance indicators (KPIs).

The most interesting part when I was training staff in India was the huge “culture gap”, which was reflected in their designs. They were struggling to translate Australian clients' briefings into visuals to suit the Australian target market — especially with very tight deadlines. On average, they need to design at least five to seven advertisements for various businesses in a day. It wasn’t because they didn't have proper design skills, they just didn’t have the time to research and create a design that fit. Of course, it’s India — they have very distinct colourful ethnic designs! Their visual preference is so different to Australia's. I could feel their frustration when their designs got rejected.

Meanwhile, I saw the poverty there; my heart whispered to my brain that maybe these people really needed the jobs more than us. They worked so hard — more like robots. The office looked like a campus classroom with computers. All personal belongings were stored in lockers, no mobile phones were allowed and the break times were tight — seriously tight! They needed to tell the manager to go for a toilet break and got told off if they went too often. I felt sorry for them, so I decided to do what I could do best to help: I buried my ego, delivered all I had and helped them produce better designs. I hoped we could achieve the objectives and I was sure my employer would appreciate all my efforts. I went home for the new year, in 2014, hopeful. But the whole floor was almost empty and all my workmates were gone.

Years have passed and the company is still in decline. Well, the bosses never mentioned a decline but the job cuts are still happening every three to six months despite their claims that we were making "good progress". The uncertainty of where the business was going and who was going to lose their job next continued. What was that team really doing? Maybe they should go next. No one trusted anyone anymore. It was a mess.

The problem was pretty much the same throughout these later years — unhappy customers. They were unhappy with the work the offshore team produced and threatening to cancel their campaigns. Again, who would have thought that graphic designers could be offshored? The team I trained a few years back was no longer working for us. I'm not surprised. The high turnover rate was definitely one of the reasons the skills and quality that we imparted years ago was fading away as the staff kept changing.

Our team still had jobs last year because the company needed us to fix the designs, or whatever, that upset the customers. I still poured my passion into designing. I felt the satisfaction when successfully taking away our customers' anger through my work — but it wasn’t enough to save me from getting laid off. In November 2016, the company announced they would sacrifice the very last six people in online production: our team.

It’s such a shame that up to this point the company still didn’t realise that the whole thing wasn't working. Maybe they did? Maybe they were just in denial.

The management said that the decision didn't reflect our quality of work, it was just what the business had to do to survive. They said they never doubted our quality of work and dedication, and would try their best to support us.

They clearly trusted my dedication, but my trust in them faded away over the last four years and it’s impossible for me to trust their last words.

Now I’m looking for a new opportunity. I worry that big companies are able to pick the best-qualified people, but not me. I would be lucky enough to get offered a role that I’ve applied for to survive. Forget about the job security and stability as they can always use “the numbers” as an excuse to break the relationship we built.

Is this the norm that Australian workers live with now?

You can follow Vivi Octaviani on Twitter @voctatweet.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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