Archive for the ‘Employment’ Tag

CrowdFlower Under Fire: Lawsuit Threatens Employment Status

Friday, December 14th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

crowdflowerIt is not a good day to be CrowdFlower. The website, based on crowdsourcing, offers a service akin to Amazon Mechanical Turk: huge amounts of data handled cheaply and quickly by large crowds that are paid per task. But a new lawsuit leveled by an Oregon man who works for the company claims that its employees are drastically underpaid. According to the suit, CrowdFlower pays its workers much less than the federally-mandated minimum wage for employees, with some fees going as low as $2 to 3 an hour.

The sticking point in the suit is the classification of CrowdFlower’s work force. The suit claims that they are employees, like at any other company, and must therefore not only be paid the minimum wage, but also must have income and other taxes withheld. CrowdFlower, however, claims that their employees are independent contractors, and subject to less strict guidelines. The results of the suit will most likely hinge on the classification of their employees into one category or the other.

It’s tricky, though. According to the official IRS website, there is no one deciding factor that determines if an employee is or is not a contractor:

Businesses must weigh [behavioral, financial, and relationship-related] factors when determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Some factors may indicate that the worker is an employee, while other factors indicate that the worker is an independent contractor. There is no “magic” or set number of factors that “makes” the worker an employee or an independent contractor, and no one factor stands alone in making this determination. Also, factors which are relevant in one situation may not be relevant in another.

The keys are to look at the entire relationship, consider the degree or extent of the right to direct and control, and finally, to document each of the factors used in coming up with the determination.

In a nutshell, this means that the plaintiff’s side of this case will likely launch a large-scale investigation into CrowdFlower’s employment methods and worker duties, as well as peer into how the workers are paid, and by whom. If I can be honest, it does not look great for CrowdFlower. The lawsuit claims that some of their employees aren’t even compensated monetarily, and are instead given online gaming credits or points towards award programs. If it turns out that CrowdFlower’s workers cannot be classified as contractors, that is going to be all but a fatal blow. Further complicating the matter is the fact that CrowdFlower does not directly employ its workers, but instead hires them through channels like MTurk.

Further reading on the IRS site details what will happen if the employees are found to not be contractors. In the most likely scenario, CrowdFlower will have to pay both back taxes to the IRS and full retroactive compensation to the plaintiff, plus damages. Since the plaintiff is also attempting to get his suit into class action status, he may not be the only one who gets paid. However, CrowdFlower can claim that it had a “reasonable basis” for treating its workers as contractors, in which case they may not have to pay the aforementioned compensation.

There is also the possibility that CrowdFlower will be forced to reclassify its employees and give them all the tax- and compensation-related baggage that goes with it. Again, this could be a huge blow to the company since they’ve built their model on the idea that their workers are contractors. Without drastically increasing prices or dramatically cutting costs, they are simply not going to have the money to keep their namesake Crowd around.

It’s times like these that I am very thankful for how Ziptask runs things. We hire contractors as well, but with two major differences when compared to the CrowdFlower model: we are unequivocal about labeling our workers as contractors, and we pay them a fair wage. Crazy, right? But it turns out people like feeling like their time is worth something. There’s a reason that there isn’t a huge line at McDonald’s to be the next fry cook. Some work is menial and less-than-desirable, but it still has to get done. And if CrowdFlower wants that to happen, it’s in their best interest to not get sued for treating their employees poorly.

Simple stuff, really.

Huffington Post: You Can’t Outsource HR

Friday, December 7th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

HR

From Liz Ryan at Huffington Post:

[You] can’t outsource HR. That’s like running a business in Indianapolis and using contractors in India to water the plants on the desks. HR is local. It’s what’s happening on the ground, in the culture and among the troops. You can’t do that sort of work long-distance.

Good HR people are embedded, with at least one ear to the ground all the time. They may process vacation-time requests as part of their jobs, but their real value is in knowing where the good-and-bad-energy currents are flowing in your organization, and using that knowledge (and other skills, like sensitivity and emotional intelligence) to steer around the landmines that come with the territory whenever you work with people.

Luckily, the gulf between “process-type HR” and “people-intensive HR” duties is becoming more and more obvious every day. Much of what we used to view as standard job-description fodder for a typical HR person is now safely in the “process-type HR” arena. You can outsource that stuff, as long as you have a sharp HR person on staff and on premises to run interference between the troops and your outsourced-HR-process vendors.

Ryan goes on to emphasize the importance of delineation between human-based HR work and business-based HR work, the latter of which can (for the most part) be outsourced freely. The human side of things is best left to an attentive, in-house individual who is wise to the company culture and the ebbs and flows of employee opinions.

Ryan also includes a large, but by no means exhaustive, list of situations where an in-house HR professional would be infinitely preferable to an outsourced individual or firm. If an employee is being too sexually forward with his peers, or a sudden medical crisis arises for a worker’s family, or the entire staff fundamentally misunderstands the company’s business plan, an HR professional who is intimately familiar with the company will be a bigger help than a third party any day of the week.

Ziptask doesn’t outsource these people-oriented HR tasks, but the more business-and-administration purposes are easily within the purview of work we can handle. If you have a great HR worker on your staff, hold onto them for dear life! But also ask them if maybe Ziptask can handle some of their more number-crunchy work while they take care of that unfortunate “our receptionist got a DUI and is in prison” situation.

 

Connecticut School District On Track To Save $4 Million Through Outsourcing

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

Money

When I reported a little while ago on how some companies were outsourcing their custodial and sanitation departments, I thought it was a neat concept with some solid reasoning behind it, but I didn’t expect the decision to be an Earth-shattering one.

Well, I underestimated the power of outsourcing. In an article released a few days ago in the New Haven Independent, the Chief Operating Officer of the New Haven school district, Will Clark, extolled the virtues of the method. Last year, his district replaced one third of their union custodians with those provided by the private sector, and now they’re on track to save $4 million per year in cleaning costs.

New Haven struck an excellent balance between keeping union workers and hiring new private-sector workers, with most schools keeping two union workers full-time and adding up to seven union part-timers. Many of the old union workers were promoted during this change, raising their pay and responsibilities over the new hires; this is something that would have been extremely difficult if not impossible under the old union rules. In addition, the reapplication process for union workers meant that the district could scrutinize and ultimately trim off workers that had recurring attendance or disciplinary problems. When the dust settled, the district was left with only their best union workers.

The results speak strongly. The district now enjoys qualitatively cleaner schools, workers with more flexibility, and the ability to do more with fewer people. One particular school, Career High, used to have seven union full-timers on staff. Now they have just two, with the rest of the work being taken care of by seven new outsourced part-time workers. Due to the variance allowed by this system, the school can call in more workers for big projects, like when they tackled several gym floor repairs and saved the company an estimated $50 grand. With the abolition of  dedicated workers for things like the pool and lunchroom, workers can go exactly where they need to go without being tied down by red tape.

And in addition to more staff when it’s needed, the district now also has the ability to stop money bleeding from paying overstaffed schools. The current system in Career High has more total workers, but fewer billed hours; the new workers can do the jobs of their predecessors in two employees worth of reduced hours. If a worker needs to call out for the day, one of the other contractors can step in without the school having to pay them overtime hours. This saving alone has almost amassed $1 million this year. And if the work for the day is done, the contract workers can be sent home instead of the district continuing to pay them to hang around. “We don’t need you sitting there doing nothing” if the building is already clean, Clark affirms, and I agree with him.

New Haven’s smart moves have saved them lots of money, allowed more people to have jobs, resulted in cleaner schools in less time, freed up hands and money for other projects, and added heaps of overall flexibility to their work capacity. If it could happen for them, who else could benefit from this method? You, maybe! Take a leaf from their book and get Ziptask to add some extra muscle to your workforce, and you’ll find your business will reach new levels of capability.

 

The Interview Process is Flawed, Obsolete

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

Another day, another eyebrow-raising statement delivered to your eyes courtesy of Work 3.0. Today, I’m crusading against the ubiquitous Interview Process For Job-Getting, which as you may gather from the title, I am not the biggest fan of.

I’m not alone in this opinion. I went to the streets and talked to friends and colleagues about their feelings on the interview process, and they were quick to poke holes in it. The biggest complaint, they felt, was that the interview process creates its own separate universe. In this interviewniverse, they are encouraged to drastically alter the way they think, act, and speak, and all too often these forced changes are in no way indicative of their ability to actually get the job done.

A recurring gripe was the constant presence of lies in every step of the interview process. Candidates are of course supposed to be truthful, but that doesn’t change the fact that resumés are embellished, piercings and tattoos are removed or covered, and you have to memorize answers that employers “want to hear” instead of truthful ones. Additional stress factors emerged; one individual noted the very relatable feeling of dread when an interview is approaching. Another pointed out that interviews are really the only time we expect a person will drop all pretense and straight-up brag about how awesome they are, which is something people tend not to do in real life.

Indeed, the disconnect between “what happens during an interview” and “what working at the company is really like” bothered many potential job-seekers. If the job doesn’t require a large degree of interpersonal communication, the interview will bear little resemblance to any work the candidate will actually face on the job. Additionally, being good at interviews is a skill unto itself, and a person sufficiently talented at this endeavor could potentially find themselves in any sort of position they want, regardless of actual talent.

It’s not just the people on the receiving end of the interview that have problems, either. Managers, small business owners, and team leaders who I talked to shared similar views. They reaffirmed the notion that interviews are a completely separate world from the rest of the job, stating that a successful interviewer must have a whole litany of skills that may or may not be relevant to their workplace.

The candidate interview process is a feat unto itself for hiring managers. They must know their company inside and out and have an exact idea of what they are looking for in an employee before the process even starts. And then come the fun parts. There’s the act of making sure the right people apply for the position, sorting through a stack of resumés which (we now know) are going to be at least partially fictitious, and the logistical nightmare of finding time in the work day to schedule these meetings. Then each candidate needs to be thoroughly vetted with secret unwritten “curveball” questions, inquisitions about their true employment intentions, validation of their alleged skills, and their fit with the company atmosphere. Oh, and all this time you’re also closely watching their nonverbal cues to see if they’re lying.

Fortunately, the age of the interview does not have to continue forever, and the Internet is greatly catalyzing its exit. Sites like oDesk, LinkedIn, and (you guessed it) Ziptask attempt to remove a lot of the guesswork involved in interviews by making it entirely about the qualifications of the candidate. Skills are verified either by the platform or by other users, and search tools help weed out poor candidates almost immediately. With Ziptask, the entire process is automated and completely hands-off; workers are verified, classified, and assigned work by the Ziptask team, and potential employers don’t even have to talk to them if they don’t want. And since it’s a skill-based marketplace, you don’t have to worry about accidentally hiring this guy based on his stellar interviewing skills.

Yeesh.

Ziptask vs. TaskRabbit: When You’ve Got a Task, Who Do You Ask?

Friday, November 16th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

TaskRabbit is what I like to refer to as an Online Quest Board, where clients post requests for work done and users answer the requests at their leisure. Complete the request, get paid. Think of it like Craigslist, where it’s basically a big community bulletin board that can be accessed by anyone with a computer. Ziptask, on the other hand, is like a cool Dr. Seuss machine where you put your work in one end, scribble instructions on a piece of paper, feed it through a slot, and receive your completed work out the other end.

The similarities to Ziptask certainly exist, but it’s also important to note where the two platforms differ. At the most basic level, TaskRabbit provides a lot more variety in terms of which tasks they’ll post. Ziptask mainly focuses on Microsoft Office and other computer work, while TaskRabbit has been seen to complete oddball tasks like delivering someone waffles at the airport or hand-sewing a Halloween costume.

From this main difference, we see the rough pattern that the other asymmetries follow. Mainly, Ziptask offers quick, professional solutions for those who don’t necessarily want to get their hands dirty with the entire hire-a-freelancer process, and TaskRabbit is a more relaxed, community-focused environment where two parties can define the labor however they feel is appropriate. This separation can be seen in many aspects of both platforms:

Ziptask TaskRabbit
Workers are anonymous to the client. Workers have public profiles and rankings.
Ziptask determines task price and maximum possible price. Task price is negotiated between clients and workers.
Quality control is handled by Ziptask employees. Quality control is handled retroactively through community ratings and feedback.
Ziptask supervises its workers via keylogging and occasional screen grabs. Supervision is provided by the clients, or workers complete the task unmonitored/independently.
Clients and workers do not interact, all communication is handled by Ziptask employees. Clients and workers are encouraged and expected to communicate as much as necessary.
Unsatisfactory work is automatically reassigned to a new worker, and the client is not charged any extra. Unsatisfactory or incomplete work is not reassigned and must be completed by the client, reposted to the website for a second attempt, or left incomplete. The client may still be charged if the work was unsatisfactory.
Tasks are kept confidential and only known to the client, the worker, and their Ziptask project manager. Tasks are posted publicly and can be seen by anyone.

Both platforms have the important things in common. Workers are vetted by the company before they’re turned loose on the world, jobs are assigned to workers based on experience and desired work, and ranks are applied to workers depending on how well they can complete a task. Both platforms also include an iPhone app for on-the-go job posting.

The differences boil down to what you’re looking to get out of the task process. If you have the time to personally devote to finding someone to complete your task, and your task is a little out-of-the-ordinary, TaskRabbit is your platform of choice even though the procedure may take some time and the somewhat shallow pool of available workers won’t guarantee expertise. If you want a fast, professional, hands-off job done on a project that’s more cut-and-dry, Ziptask will do just about everything but trim your mustache, and you can count on the results to be up to standard.

Never Hire a Freelancer Again

Friday, October 5th, 2012 by shawn@ziptask.com

Don’t get ahead of me.

Freelancers, for many industries, are a fact of life. Media outlets hire them constantly to get fresh perspectives on newsworthy events. Programming development firms often include a revolving door of freelance or third-party programming and QA teams. And many artists subside entirely on freelancing, taking different jobs every few weeks or even every few days. According to this survey from CareerBuilder.com, one in three companies will turn to staffing/recruitment firms and freelancers this year.

But the process of employing freelancers? Sucks. No denying.

At your basest level is the initial act of simply finding a worker you want on your team. You spend money on job ads and spend time posting and responding to offers on Craigslist or LinkedIn or Freelancer or oDesk, hoping against hope to find the one useful name in a pile of thousands. And we haven’t even gotten to the interview process yet, which you can bet will involve miscommunication about the parameters and expectations surrounding the work, salary negotiations in a field that has an extremely wide range of pay scales, and inevitably wasting your time on the handfuls of potentials that simply aren’t going to be a help to your company.

Yes, the process of hiring freelancers is a huge pain in the butt. But as I mentioned, it’s a necessary evil for the industries that take advantage of it. Freelancer community FreelanceSwitch highlights the advantages quite succinctly: freelancers are adaptable, shrink your office, cost less, and (best of all) are expendable once the work is done. “[Employees] cost far more than what they actually take home: payroll taxes, health insurance and other benefits, equipment for their use, even the coffee you provide to employees are costs that you won’t have with a freelancer. When you add up all those numbers, you’ll likely find that hiring a freelancer costs less on an hourly basis than an employee with similar skills — and you don’t have to keep a freelancer on when your project is complete.”So what is the savvy businessperson to do? If you’re reading this, you may already know the answer.

Try Ziptask.

Ziptask gives you the advantages of hiring a freelancer (or team of freelancers) to work on projects involving Microsoft Office, Photoshop, graphic design, and minor programming, without the hassle of actually finding them yourself. Ziptask has a team of thousands of freelancers on-call, already vetted for reliability and classified by the type of work at which they excel; you can omit the interview process entirely. The fees are fixed and by-the-minute, completely skipping over the need for negotiations; you pay only for the work that gets completed, and you’ll never be surprised when the bill comes. And thanks to Ziptask’s hearty QA and management staff, you can be assured that your instructions will be crystal-clear and followed out to the letter, ensuring results that are professional, fast, and on-brand. I challenge you to find a freelance portal or third-party firm with that sort of guarantee.

Instead of spending hours, days, or weeks gathering a team, sorting out assignments, communicating endlessly, and sweating over budgets, Ziptask simply asks for your project files and a description of the work required.That’s it. It’s submitted, and the only thing you have to do after that is hit the “work approved” button when it’s done. And instead of blowing money and effort on a crapshoot job search for the needle-in-a-haystack chance, you pay only once your work has been completed to your satisfaction. If you measure your business expenditures in time and money (and who doesn’t?), you’ll find that Ziptask, quite simply, blows the traditional freelancing model out of the water.

So if you’ve got a new project coming up and find yourself dreading the process of signing on extra muscle to get it done… relax. Take a breath. Put down the notepads, spreadsheets, and address books, and give Ziptask a try. Your stress lines, and your bottom lines, will thank you.
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