Contractors who exploit ‘Work From Home’ gigs risk landing themselves in hot water -- and you back at your desk

In response yesterday to a BBC article ‘The people who hate working from home,’ a fellow recruitment agent of mine posted, bluntly “No one I know”.

That tends to be my experience too, but that’s not to say ‘issues’ with ‘Work From Home’ do not exist and perhaps worse than that, instances of contractors exploiting WFH contracts do exist, writes Matt Collingwood, managing director of IT recruitment firm VIQU.

'100% remote'

Let’s start at the recent beginning. Working from home is still a pandemic-induced novelty to some but in the IT sector, you’d be laughed at to suggest it’s a new phenomenon. A bit like it has done to many things, Covid simply accelerated the WFH revolution in the tech space.

Even our once anti-WFH clients have made anywhere between a shift and a huge shift on work from home. Overall since covid, there’s now many ‘hybrid’ part office-part home contracts, and even quite a few ‘100% remote’ opportunities.

The home as a workplace…

In most cases, this opening up of the home as a workplace is positive for all concerned. Recruitment agents like me can cast their net globally to source contractors, giving more options to contractors and incurring fewer business expenses.

There are challenges intrinsic to WFH which you see debated on forums and the like almost daily. By ‘challenges’ I’m referring to the risks of remote working reducing the opportunities for in-person learning, and remote working slowing the type of professional development that comes only from shadowing. Too much work from home has even been linked to difficulties in building strong working relationships. At least on my LinkedIn feed it has been!

Contractors causing headaches

But beyond the challenges that result from the remote work model, there are actual headaches arising from working from home brought on over the last 12 months and, in a few cases, brought on by contractors.

Either buzzed by the idea of spinning multiple plates or just adding a second income stream, we know of one contractor who, unbeknown to us, secured two intensive contract assignments at the same time.

Problematically (at least problematically in the end for the contractor), neither were fixed price contracts just specifying the work to be done autonomously, with fees paid per milestone. Instead, both contracts required in the terms for the contractor to be available, potentially for briefings, walkthroughs and the like, both at and between certain office hours, albeit all via Teams.

Never the twain shall meet; right? Wrong

Perhaps the contractor thought that being at home and him being in charge of when he switched his camera on, meant he could run the two clients at the same time without each ever knowing about each other! But he couldn’t. The times clashed, his slots became duplicated, and he simply couldn’t clone himself. He refused to disclose he was on two, in effect ‘full-time’ contract assignments until right at the very end. It really wasn’t pretty.

But we know of another example of a contractor biting off more than they could chew, again because they hoped WFH meant they could pull the wool over client eyes.

In this second case, a .Net Developer secured an assignment with our client, a major retailer.

The developer was (initially) technically outstanding and clearly an experienced interviewee. Yet it emerged that the contractor was actually also running a few other contracts – but this time, and more entrepreneurially than the above Teams-fail, was sub-contracting the leg work to other developers overseas! And yes, the overseas team were being a paid a pittance, so he was cashing-in.

Undone by a VPN

On the face of it, you might think that this contractor is a genius. But the client had offered him the contract based on his skills and experience, not another person’s skills and experience. This sub-contracting contractor’s undisclosed ways only came to light when his VPN showed a great deal of traffic from overseas! At the very same time, the quality of work showing up client-side failed to match how he performed at interview.

While WFH is often a blessing, and almost always executed completely professionally by contractors, the developer’s ruse was only achievable because the assignment was remote. Sub-contracting work comes with a number of security issues and potential liability if there was ever a claim, not least because the contract can expressly prohibit it.

Spin those multiple plates, but only once you’ve made checks (including of the small print)

Spinning multiple plates sounds good. Lucrative. Entrepreneurial even. But actually, even where it is carried out successfully from the contractor’s viewpoint, we find that it’s likely that one client or project will ultimately end up taking priority over what gets deemed the ‘less important’ client or project.

If you do want to spin multiplate plates, please check what expectations of your time and availability there are. Or just disclose your available times to each client from the outset and make sure they don’t match! And if you are professionally looking at sub-contracting, make sure your written agreements allows for it; while ensuring the work-quality isn’t going to suffer and that such sub-contracting is fully disclosed. Otherwise you could be harming the future chances of being offered an entirely WFH contract -- your chances and everyone else’s!

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Written by Matt Collingwood

Matt Collingwood is the Managing Director of VIQU Ltd. an IT recruitment and project-based consultancy company with offices in Birmingham and Southampton. Matt is also the co-founder of the Recruitment Canaries, a network of West Midlands based recruitment agencies who encourage collaboration, best practice and upholding the standards and ethics of the recruitment industry.

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