Working Off-Site: 5 Golden Rules(or at least, five of ours!)
Mattched IT is now in it's 5th year and over that time, we have undertaken a mixture of on-site and off-site consultancy.
Being an off-site contractor can be tricky - it's all about the quality of the relationship you have with your client - so we wanted to share some thoughts about maintaining a healthy off-site working relationship.
Note: This article is aimed more at off-site contractors than agencies - working off-site is quite normal if you're a development agency!
Like almost every situation in business, a fundamental requirement when working off-site is that the client trusts you to do the job.
Gaining a client's trust is crucial, because like "home workers", if you aren't trusted then their impression may well be that you're doing everything BUT the work they're paying you for.
How do you establish trust?
The best way is to have successfully delivered a project in the past. If you've already delivered code on time and to specification then there is clearly going to be some trust in place. If this is the first time you've worked for them, they need to be able to put a face to your name - you'll need to meet them, probably several times, during the tender, negotiation and specification phase at least.
If you feel trust is thin on the ground, offering to deliver progress reports on-site can help, especially during the early stages or when the deadline looms.
Unsurprisingly, it is rare for someone to offer remote work to a contractor they've never met!
2. Infrastructure and Communication
Make sure the necessary infrastructure is ready before you start - the facility to connect to a client's network, a test server - and possibly the ability for them to connect to it remotely.
Consider a dedicated work phone (perhaps VoIP to keep costs down) and be sure to keep an eye on your email so you can field any queries in a timely fashion during working hours. Some like to use other communication tools e.g. Instant Messaging.
Avoid updating your Facebook status! If you're an off-site employee it certainly won't help you establish trust! Many companies see the fact you work off-site as a privilege, rather than part of your contract, so don't lead them into thinking you're abusing your position.
If asked to attend a video conference, be dressed for the part, remember, you're working for them - just not from their office!
3. Constant Updates & Test Sites
When appropriate, try to report your progress at least once a week (if not more often). Each client will have their preferences and sometimes circumstances will dictate the best way to do this, but consider:
- phone/conference calls detailing where in the project plan you are
- on-site meetings to discuss and demonstrate progress
- for web-based deliverables, a password protected test site which the customer can log into
- for other deliverables, regular zips/installers/packages with a change-log detailing progress since the last distribution
Always remember, the client can't see you working, so the next best thing is to show evidence of progress.
4. Fixed Price Work & Clear Specifications
Most customers will not want to pay a daily rate just to reserve your time - this doesn't just apply to software, but to most trades.
This is why we offer fixed price quotes on projects we undertake - firstly it helps differentiate between using Mattched IT and employing contractors via a recruitment agency! Secondly it gives the client protection against over-runs - while at the same time doing away with the doubts that arise in these situations (do you really think all tradesmen are honest and work the full hours you pay for?)
Sometimes this tactic is suitable for remote contractors too, but if you do give it a try, make sure you get a specification written and agreed detailing the client's expectations and how you will measure project completion.
You may need to split the work into phases - particularly if you work alone and are concerned about cash flow (or if it's the first time you've worked for a client).
5. Offsite rates
While agency rates are often higher than those charged by self-employed contractors, you'll find it can work in your favour to offer clients a discount if they permit you to work off-site instead of on-site. After all, if you trust each other, why wouldn't you consider something mutually beneficial?
With trust, good communication and clear specification (as well as a good pinch of understanding), you can form great off-site working relationships with your clients and "employers". And I hope you enjoy it too - after all, it's where the idea of Mattched IT originally came from!