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Indian techies have edge over US rivals

Desi tech workers tend to have shorter meetings, and with fewer people than the Americans. As a consequence, US workers spend half their day in meetings and are more likely to take work home, writes Pramit Pal Chaudhuri.
By Pramit Pal Chaudhuri | None
UPDATED ON APR 27, 2007 05:04 AM IST

Asok, the IIT-trained Indian in the comic strip Dilbert, awed his US co-workers because he was trained to sleep “only on national holidays.” A more definite edge for the Indian techie lies in the conference room. Desi tech workers tend to have shorter meetings with fewer people than their US counterparts, says a study by the University of Tennessee School of Information Services. As a consequence, US workers spend half their day in meetings and are more likely to take work home.

The study covered the work practices of over 100 engineers and tech professionals in six firms in India and the US that dealt in infotech consulting, healthcare devices and telecom. The study, overseen by Professor Carol Tenopir, focussed on innovators in cutting-edge fields. Its results were released only last month.

The average US tech professional meeting lasted 55 minutes, compared to 47 minutes in India. More telling, and the real time-waster, was that US meetings averaged eight people compared to five in India. “Anecdotally, it seemed Indians were more focused. US firms tend to try involve everyone in the hope this would spur an innovative thought,” said Assistant Professor Suzie Allard.

One consequence: US workers were more than twice as likely to be doing something else during such meetings – reading emails, surfing the net. Another was that US workers often complained they needed to take their work home. “Indian workers rarely said anything about that. They seemed to get a lot more done at office,” said Allard. “US workers seemed to spend a lot of time doing other things and find it hard to get continuous work time.”

Indian meetings tend to be lead by one individual. “Everyone got to speak, but there was a big leader culture,” said a researcher. “There was more variety in US meetings with leadership often being diffused across several people.”

Indian techies also used information resources in their office more than their US counterparts. “Indian engineers were more likely to talk about using such resources than Americans,” says Allard. She suspects this is a function of corporate culture, with Indian firms more interested in training workers on how to use such resources.

Intra-office communication also showed slight differences. US workers were much more likely to use emails and less likely to communicate verbally. Allard said this difference needed more investigation. US researchers did note how many Western-educated Indians spoke of returning home or, if their children were studying overseas, their offspring indicating an intention to return because the “lifestyle tradeoff” was increasingly tilted in favour of India.

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