How do organizations know that their employees are really working if those employees cannot be seen beavering away at their office desks, wearing looks of concern and glancing at the clock as the end of the working day nears?
The answer is that they often don’t.
In the remote work age, a gap for skilled professionals to work from home on multiple jobs at the same time has opened. This isn’t just some additional freelance of an evening, after the grind of the full-time daily has been done. This is two or more full-time jobs at the same time.
Such is the desperation for tech workers that measures like mandatory tracking software to monitor remote talent, unpopular even before the pandemic, have become issues about which a potential employee will snub a job offer and head into the arms of a competitor.
“Engineers are gaming the system. There’s no control,” Lonnie McRorey, co-founder and CEO of Tijuana-based Framework Science told Nearshore Americas recently. But given outsourcing’s recent history, this is hardly surprising, he says.
“They’ve been overworked and underpaid for years, so of course they’re going to do this,” McRorey added. “Vendors are billing out for full-time engineers and then putting them to work on three or four different projects. Vendors are making a lot of money from their engineers, so this is an act of retribution.”
A 10-month old forum post on the website of startup accelerator Y Combinator presents very clearly the current opportunity that the unique mix of talent draught and wholesale remote work offers.
“I currently have 10 fully remote engineering jobs. The bar is so low, oversight is non-existent, and everyone is so forgiving for underperformance I can coast about 4-8 weeks before a given job fires me. Currently on a $1.5M run-rate for comp this year. And the interviewing process is so much faster today, companies are desperate, it takes me 2-3 hours of total effort to land a new job with thousands to choose from,” reads the post.
Another user replies: “I currently run three full time contracts concurrently, and yes meetings clash, but it’s easy to get meetings rescheduled if you just ask. Sometimes I have two calls on at the same time if I know [one is] a call where I’m mainly going to be listening. Can always claim ‘bad internet’ and drop out of one to answer [a] question in another.”
Whether the actions of these posters amount to bold faced lying or business savvy will depend on your perspective. But clearly, it isn’t easy to juggle multiple jobs.
“Shit hits the fan when a company needs that engineer at these certain hours but they’re not around”
“Shit hits the fan when a company needs that engineer at these certain hours but they’re not around. The amount of unavailability starts ticking up and that’s when people start noticing something is amiss,” McRorey said.
The explosion of remote working at the dawn of the pandemic meant that in September 2021, more than a year after companies closed the doors to their physical offices, 45% of full-time US employees were working either full-time or part time from home, according to Gallup. Of that 45%, two-thirds were white collar workers; traditional office workers like engineers and developers.
The size of the tech talent gap is astounding. Only in the US in January, companies “posted roughly 340,000 unfilled IT job openings, 11% higher than the 12-month average,” the Wall Street Post reported in February.
Considering the number of employees working from home and the acute shortage of professionals available to fill positions, it is hardly surprising that some choose to play the system. The question for employers then, is how they can build trust with their employees to ensure the full-time job an employee is paid for really is full time and not job a few hours a week.
Building Trust Remotely
Adam Fenton, co-founder and CTO of Nolte, a fully remote, US-headquartered IT services and consulting company with a predominantly Mexican workforce, believes that creating the right kind of company culture helps generate trust between employee and employer.
“Particularly with new recruits we’ve found that by creating a culture of vulnerability employees feel more secure in reaching out when they face a problem. Rather than spending an entire day figuring out a problem, they can instead ask advice from those who’ve already been there, without being judged,” he explained.
For Fenton, Nolte is antithetical to the culture of horas nalga, translated literally as “ass hours” – a way to describe a company culture whereby a company places more importance on employees sitting at their desks (possibly doing very little) from 9 to 5 rather than the value that the employee delivers to the company – that dominates other industries.
“Lots of traditional companies in Mexico don’t seem to trust their employees. The horas nalga approach just means people don’t think for themselves. The rules are rigid and its generally very controlling. I strongly believe in giving trust and responsibility and bringing in the people who understand how to get work done,” he added.
Ivan Zavala, Latin America head and operations lead at Accolite Digital believes that offering a variety of benefits is a vital step in enticing employees to focus on their work in the remote age.
“Gamification of tasks helps incentivize employees by providing additional benefits, like vouchers for online stores. But before that, fair compensation plus additions like stock options, good vacation days and general flexibility is important,” said Zavala.
When problems arise with individuals, they should be addressed with the same approach that has always been used, he suggests.
“At the start of the pandemic there was the problem of people working at 3 a.m and being unable to juggle their work hours. But that has passed. When problematic employees turn up and work starts lagging then the same approach that was used before work from home should be applied: give them a call, ask them what the problem is and see what can be done to fix it,” he said.
McRorey, meanwhile, is taking an additional measure. Having found a couple of former employees moonlighting for other companies, he now makes thorough checks on potential hires and addresses the issue very plainly at the interview stage. In Mexico and certain other Latin American companies, employers can see how much individuals are paying into their social securities. Tallying this against what the employee is paid quickly provides a clue as to how much money they’re generating.
“We’re doing more background checks to make sure they’re only generating income from one full-time job,” he explained.
But for McRorey, the issue of tech talent working multiple jobs at the same time points firmly to the brokenness of the outsourcing industry, his criticism of which could just as well be focused on most other industries.
“This is happening because there is such a wide gap in earnings between the owners of most companies and their employees. Who takes all the money and who does all the work? If employees are prospering there is no need for them to look elsewhere,” he said.
It’s a very complex issue, I guess the main problem is the lack of transparency, that “other full-time jobs” are performed without notice to any of their employees or I would say, customers… Checks against social security in Mexico are insufficient, now more engineers are hired by companies as contractors, using different (hire remote-online payment platforms), hiding them not only from social security liabilities but also from IRS. I’ve heard some headhunters “blacklisting” this practice but not sure if that would help somehow. I agree, the industry is broken and we have to act differently. These guys are playing big and turning into what they once criticized.