Reconciling Business and Culture

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July 9, 2013

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Accommodating Culture for Ramadan: Allshore Global Resources is Reconciling Business and Culture in their International Firm

Working internationally offers a lot of advantages, but sometimes managing two very different cultures in the same company can be a challenge. During Ramadan this year however, Allshore Global Resources is turning this potential liability into an strength by leveraging a balanced marriage of business and culture to to their advantage, and to the advantage of their clients and employees.

Norman, Okla. July 09, 2013

Ramadan falls in July this year, which means very little to most American companies. For Allshore Global Resources however, this holy month of fasting and prayer presents a delicate challenge: how does a company accommodate two vastly different cultures without compromising the business or the culture? It is a potential pitfall of working internationally and Allshore’s unique model is particularly vulnerable. This year for Ramadan, they are meeting the problem head on and turning a vulnerability into a strength.

Allshore is an IT staffing firm based in Norman, Okla. that offers outsourcing with an invaluable twist. Offshore meets onshore in what they call Allshoring™. This up-and-coming company provides clients in the U.S. with developers from their sister company in Pakistan, but that’s where the offshore ends: the American team based in the Norman office is present throughout every step of the process (sales, billing, customer service, daily oversight, etc.) and the developers work directly (and exclusively) with their client during U.S. business hours in total compliance with American business standards and expectations. The end result is that clients scarcely notice that they are offshoring (other than the reduced costs). This marrying of onshore and offshore outsourcing has given Allshore an edge, but vastly different holiday schedules can pose a challenge, and none more so than Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar. During this time, observers remove themselves from their comfortable daily routine to gain perspective on their own lives and come closer to God through fasting, prayer, charity, reflection and pious living in accordance with the tenants of Islam.
Ramadan requires followers to fast from sun up to sun down and spend significant time every day in prayer. These requirements lead many companies in Pakistan to reduce the working day to six hours for the whole month. For Allshore, who guarantees their clients access to their developer eight hours a day, this is not an option; but nor is it feasible to deny their employees the accommodation they need.

The ultimate solution during Ramadan for Allshore is that everyone in the company compromises to ensure the client sees as little disruption as possible. Translation: longer work days to accommodate extra prayer breaks without losing productive working hours.

The work schedule is only half the battle though—clients and employees will only tolerate things they view as inconvenient for so long before it starts affecting the relationship. Therefore, in order to make the solution viable long-term, both groups can’t merely be putting up with it, they have to understand why, and more importantly, want to do it. It’s all about perspective; the key is facilitating an understanding in human terms rather than merely in terms of business.

The toughest thing about Ramadan for Allshore is that there isn’t a good point of reference for Americans – it’s not like Independence Day whose date may be different for each country, but is pretty universally understood. Ramadan doesn’t have a good quick comparison, so it is easy for clients (and U.S. employees) who can’t relate to view it merely as a strange inconvenience and consider only how it affects their work. That is the perspective Allshore has to change.

Allshore is a client-based company, so their clients have been working with the same overseas team for months, many even for years. They have had a chance to develop a more personal relationship with their team and come to care about their developers as people, rather than regard them as faceless resources like in most offshore outsourcing. This human connection holds the key. Rather than skirt around Ramadan, Allshore approaches it head on and relates it to the clients in human terms, taking the time to try and educate about what it is and what it means to the guys overseas. And it has worked. Clients who began skeptical became supportive over time because they were able to understand Ramadan in terms of what it meant to their developer instead of as marker of a strange culture that runs counter to their own. Plus when given the chance, many of Allshore’s clients enjoyed the chance to learn about Ramadan and were genuinely interested in the chance to know more. In the end, the shared understanding has enhanced Allshore’s relationships with its clients and helped them further their own mission of promoting cultural understanding through business.

When it comes down to it, business is a series of personal connections, the importance of which sometimes get obscured by the bottom line. Any chance a company has to make business human again and add a personal touch is valuable, and at times even vital. Ramadan began as a challenge for Allshore, but in the end it presented an opportunity to strengthen their relationships and build a strong base for the future.

For more information on Ramadan, check out Allshore’s blog.

As Featured on The Boston Globe online.