The Way We Work
September 1, 2010 by Brian McDonough

Tamara wrote a great post for contractors to avoid embarrassing or career-damaging crises that could leave their employers in the lurch.  But an employer would be crazy to leave that kind of disaster preparedness solely in the hands of a contractor.

You are prepared for anything with your in-house team:  employees call in sick or take vacations, and you know who can take over their key responsibilities. You know computers might melt down, and you likely have IT staff backing up the network every night, and a plan to get a burned-out desktop repaired quickly.  Your have outlines for dealing with office-wide power outages.  So why wouldn’t you prepare for similar disruptions with your remote team?

With remote contractors, the same basic issues apply:  A tech problem could disrupt their ability to work. A major family crisis could make the contractor herself unavailable at a critical juncture. Anything can happen to take your worker offline and off-track. So how can you make the unexpected less painful to your business?

1.  Plan Ahead. Ask your contractors how they would handle technical disruptions like a hard drive failure or loss of Internet connection.  Go over the tips in Tamara’s post with them.  Have backup contact methods for your contractors — cell and home phones, a second email or chat account in case one provider’s servers crash on deadline day.

2.  Back It Up. Not only should you make sure your contractors are regularly backing up their work, you should be receiving it incrementally.  Set milestones for delivery of partially completed work, so you have it on hand in case you have to call in a pinch hitter to complete a project.  This is most important as deadline approaches, when you have less time to start from scratch after a meltdown.

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3.  Share It All. In addition to backups, use a shared online repository such as Google Docs or Codesion, so that if a hard drive fails, your contractors and employees have immediate access to the work in progress.  Make sure that you “own” the documents or code, so you’ll always have complete access and control.

4.  Know Your Pinch Hitters. Is there someone on your in-house staff who could step in if your contractor is called away?  Do you know another contractor you could turn to in a crisis?  This is most important when a deadline looms on the calendar.  Some projects can easily be pushed back, but if you’ve coordinated a full-scale product launch, you don’t want it held up because one small, key element went awry.  In some cases, you can arrange to have projects in development simultaneously, so that the second one can launch early if the first gets held up.

5.  Disaster-Proof Your Deadlines. Get your projects started early, and have the contractor finish early.  If you must roll out a new iPhone app by September 1, don’t give the designer an August 28 deadline.  Give them a deadline that would allow you to launch by August 15.  If anything goes wrong, you’ve got extra time.  If nothing goes wrong … then you’ve netted yourself some time for extra beta testing!

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6.  Motivate Delivery. If you’ve given a contractor an assignment that requires about ten hours of work, he might put it on his calendar for the two days before it’s due—which would make a last-minute crisis hard to manage.  Particularly with can’t-fail, can’t-delay projects, build incentives into your budget that will encourage the contractor to prioritize your work and strive to finish it early.  You can’t control how contractors manage your assignments … but you can encourage them to put your work at the top of their list.

Different projects require different disaster-preparedness strategies, but no initiative should leave you purely at the mercy of fate!

Any other tips for making disaster-proofing your remote work?  Ever been caught unprepared and learned the hard way?

Brian McDonough

Freelance Writer

Brian McDonough has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years, and has managed teams of in-house and freelance writers for newspapers, magazines and web sites.

  • Troy

    I agree with everything written in this article. However, if there is one thing that I would add after hiring over 50 employees is this: always pay them hourly in case for some reason they can’t finish the work. Set contracts rarely work, you probably dont even know the full scope of the project when you post it so of course your workers dont either. At the end of one you will almost always feel like you could have either gotten it done for less or you didnt quite get what you want for the money you paid. This is especially true if you need to build a website

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