India is currently suffering incredible tragedy as COVID-19 spreads rapidly. As folks in software development, and more specifically companies who leverage off-shore development, what can we do?
The Tyranny of Hourly Work
Okay, I’m not going to claim to be an expert on anything in India, but rather share what I’ve learned working with many off-shore teams. I can only write so many things, so there will be a lot I won’t cover.
Contracting companies work at an hourly rate. This means their income is based on two variables: Headcount and rate.
These companies make more money the more people they have billing. This is important as many contracting companies are dominated by their “Utilization” rate, which tells them how many people are billable. As the rate drops, they fire people until they get more contracts to hire more back.
That isn’t unique to anywhere, but rather how the business model works.
Consider one of these companies in the middle of a pandemic, and you have an intensely stressful situation. Their income relies on people billing hours, but a pandemic is making people ill or killing them. Their utilization drops. The pressure to keep people billable increases.
Now, lets take a look at why this can be extremely dangerous in an off-shore group:
- You can’t assume they have the same access to reliable infrastructure. They may only have reliable power or internet at work, so working at home may not be an option
- Physical safety is also a concern as some of these offices send people to and from home in groups to protect them
- Some of the managers are trained to protect their clients first
All this to say, for many people, the only option they have is to go to work or lose their job.
Is It My Problem?
I’d first ask those of you who have this question in your mind to consider what you did to protect your employees. Then I want you to consider those values that not only the company claims to have but you as a human have. More than likely, the thought of those folks getting sick and dying while they help you build a project won’t sit well.
Then again, from a purely capitalism-as-morality view, there is no problem until productivity suffers.
Hopefully, that last statement feels disgusting to you and spurs us all to ask the next question.
What Can I Do?
I admit, I’m not an expert on any of these things, so I’m considering options as I write this.
One option that comes to my mind is to contact the managers of your off-shore teams and ask them to show you what they’re doing to protect employees. It is important to see the precautions to avoid the manager who believes their job is to placate you.
Then, talk to the developers themselves in private. Things aren’t always what they seem, and this could be a life-or-death situation.
You can also begin to donate to charitable causes to help provide relief. You can ask your company to do it.
You can request specific changes in the off-shore offices to protect their people more. This may feel pointless, but remember the managers who believe their job is to make you happy? They may have a hard time refusing.
The most extreme measure is to send the workers home the same way you sent yours home and pay them. Yes, your projects will stop, and it will cost a fortune, but you won’t have blood on your hands.