When Should You Hire a Contractor?
Assuming your company is comfortable with the process of off-site development, the obvious question is: is hiring a contractor right for you? While I have an obvious bias, there are many situations where contracting makes sense and a few cases where it really doesn’t.
When Off-Site Development Might Not Work
- High Security Work
- While reasonable security is easy enough to achieve with remote development, high security can be difficult. Few contractors can offer hardened development sites on a par with military contractors, top technology firms, and top tier data centers. If your work requires stringent adherence to rigid security policies that include limited access to machines and facilities, then hiring an off-site freelancer probably isn’t worth the trouble.
- Large Asset Manipulation
- The Internet has become a lot faster over the past decade, but it’s still not fast enough to share multi-gigabyte files on an hourly basis. If your project involves manipulating a lot of huge data continuously then the reality of the the Internet’s relatively low bandwidth, compared to a LAN, makes development impractical. Note that working with a large static data set is still very viable.
- Mandatory and Frequent Meetings
- Some corporate cultures really like frequent face-to-face meetings. Daily and weekly team status reports, company wide meetings, project reports, management presentations, and even impromptu hallway discussions can consume a lot of time, and an off-site contractor has a hard time participating. While conference calls and Webcams can help, this is only true if the timezone difference aren’t too great.
- “Fluid” Project Goals
- This one isn’t insurmountable, but it does make off-site work less effective. Since a remote developer doesn’t have the luxury of continuous communication with the rest of the team, a project’s scope and goals should be rigidly defined as much as possible. A “fluid” project with a lot of constant changes can force a freelancer into playing “catchup” a lot — he or she may be working off information that is eight hours old, eventually discovering that many of the changes made during that time period are now invalid or unnecessary.
- Limited Communication
- Sometimes a client can’t communicate effectively or in a timely fashion with contractors. For example, there may be significant language differences or availability issues. If your company is prone to going “off the grid” for weeks at a time, for example the project manager travels a lot and has limited email access during those spans, then remote development becomes more difficult. It’s not impossible, but sometimes answers to simple questions may take a few days which, in turn, affects the delivery schedule.
Great Reasons for Off-site Development
All those issues aside, external contractors make a lot of sense for most companies. If your company falls under any of the following conditions then you might want to look into a contract job
- Well Defined Project
- A strong specification lets everyone know what is expected, and a fixed length is ideal for outsourcing since the client does not have to increase headcount for a short term project. As a client, you know exactly how much the project will cost and, within a certain window, how long it will take. This predictability is very enticing, and it prevents the client from staffing up temporarily then ramping back down (or, just as bad, temporarily cannibalizing their internal workforce for a short term project)
- Require a Skilled Professional Outside Your Field
- Most companies are good in a few key areas but sometimes need a skill set that they don’t possess internally — your accounting firm might be great at sorting out the latest tax law changes, however you may not have a great Web designer on staff since that’s not really what you do. In this situation temporarily bringing in an experienced outsider is a more practical solution than trying to cross-train existing workers in a discipline far outside their field.
- Need Additional Short Term Manpower
- Another common scenario where contractors make a lot of sense is when you could really use some extra help but only for a short period of time. Maybe you’re finishing a big project with a few bugs left and a handful of features to implement — a freelancer can come in and work on those types of problems, allowing frontline staff to move on to new projects or priority firefighting.
If you still have concerns about hiring a contractor or remote worker, feel free to contact us contact us with any questions or concerns you may have.
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