Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Telecommuting Sensibilities

As the need for Progress and QAD professionals heats up – and it is heating up – contractors are once again trying to sell their services remotely, i.e., the "telecommuting" option. There are many facets to landing a telecommuting gig, and the biggest two are value and trust. Following is my advice to contractors in marketing their remote services based on my understanding of these two critical issues.

Many contractors are extremely poor sales people to begin with and their attempts to snag remote work are nothing short of laughable. One guy's pitch to me was that a stipulation of his joint custody agreement was that he remain within a certain geographic area. That alone does not merit throwing his résumé into the "when hell freezes over" pile, but it does earn a trip into my "don't call us, we'll call you" stack, maybe not at the bottom, but certainly not the top. It's simply too difficult to remarket skills when they are attended by certain kinds of baggage.

I usually try to explain to remote contractor hopefuls that trust is a big issue and that anything that might call said trust into question is a deal killer. It's different if you've already worked for the firm to whom you are marketing your remote services. But even then, there remains the expected and actual level of service and availability which is lower with a telecommuting professional by nature. This affects perceived value for the good reason that, for most consultants, working remotely usually impacts actual value. Even assuming absolute conscientiousness on the part of the consultant, usually he/she cannot react just as quickly to user demands nor contribute as effectively in meetings and conversations outside a facility. Simply put, there is a certain "X factor" missing where X can be loosely defined as "being there." This is true even if the firm is utilizing state of the art online meeting technology and the managers aren't shy about calling teleconferences and video conferences and the consultant is and extremely good communicator.

To make up for what is lacking in a telecommuter's virtual presence as opposed to his/her actual presence I've only heard one good recommendation. It came by way of a contractor and it is simply that he would be willing to accept a 25-35% rate discount for doing remote work. I didn't have an opportunity to place the consultant with the client, unfortunately, but I did notice that the proposal has a double-effect. First, his lower amount became competitive even with off-shore rates which gets the attention of the hiring firm very quickly. Offer someone an off-shore rate deal with no cultural or language barriers and you might be accused of selling a pipe-dream to an IT manager.

Secondly, it tacitly acknowledges the value/availability discrepancy and shows the willingness to adjust the rate accordingly. After all, the decrease in drive time, mileage and travel costs are lower for the contractor, sometimes markedly so.

The dramatic "off-shore" comparison will not always be there; the rate still may be higher than the client firm wants to pay, for senior consultants especially, and the price difference may have little effect in those cases. But regardless, when contractors learn to implicitly say "I want to add value to your IT department" rather than "I want to charge a market (read: high) rate" they will have more success at landing a remote gig.

1 comment:

Arthur FInk said...

I used to be a consultant helping companies set up and manage telecommuting programs. From that perspective and experience, I'd offer the following:

1. Often the productivity of somebody off site is higher. There are fewer distractions, and the only hours billed are hours worked.

2. Good management is required. Management by proximity (I can see you in your glass cubby, so assume all is okay) just doesn't work. Manager and employee or contractor need to have clear goals, clear agreements, well defined periods of check-in and review.

3. One of the biggest problems is getting visibility for the off-site telecommuter. Just having contact on a "need to know" basis is not enough.

4. A strong face to face meeting at the start is essential. That can pave the way for lots of remote work.