Working Conversations Episode 171:

Remote Work Gone Wrong: Employee Secretly Outsources His Job


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Ever wondered if your remote employees are really the ones doing the work?

Imagine discovering that one of them had outsourced their entire role to someone else.

It's a scenario that rocked the corporate world, exposing vulnerabilities in remote work management that many overlook.

In this episode, I delve into a jaw-dropping true story that exposed a remote work nightmare—where an employee secretly outsourced his job to someone halfway across the globe.

The revelation of this audacious scheme exposes significant challenges in remote work management: the difficulty of monitoring productivity from a distance, ensuring accountability without micromanaging, and maintaining trust in a virtual environment.

I explore the intricate details of how this situation unfolded, the impact it had on organizational trust, and the crucial lessons every employer needs to absorb to prevent such breaches.

Join me as I discuss the importance of thorough vetting during hiring processes, robust onboarding procedures to clarify roles and expectations, and the necessity of regular check-ins to monitor productivity and adherence to company values.

Whether you're navigating the complexities of remote team management or part of an organization embracing hybrid work models, this episode offers actionable strategies to safeguard your organization's integrity and accountability.

Tune in to discover how to protect your organization and ensure your remote workforce operates ethically and efficiently.

Listen and catch the full episode here or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also watch it and replay it on my YouTube channel, JanelAndersonPhD.

If you’ve found this episode helpful, spread the word! Share this podcast episode with a friend whom you might think needs to hear this. Don’t forget to leave a review and 5-star rating, it would mean the world to me.



Hello and welcome to another episode of the Working Conversations podcast where we talk all things leadership, business, communication and trends in organizational life. I'm your host, Dr Janel Anderson.

Imagine landing your dream job only to discover that the person hired right before you wasn't actually doing the work themselves. Instead, they had secretly outsourced all of their responsibilities to someone halfway across the globe while they sat back, relaxed, watched cat videos and cashed in their paychecks. Sounds like something out of a movie, right?

Well, this isn't fiction. It's a true story that rocked the corporate world and left hiring managers everywhere scrambling to prevent such a debacle in their own companies.

Today, we will dive into this bizarre yet fascinating tale, explore how it happened and uncover the lessons that every employer needs to learn to ensure that it doesn't happen to them.

First of all, this isn't fiction. I first heard this firsthand from the hiring manager at a large professional services firm here in the United States. Now, this company has offices around the country, and since the pandemic, they have had a work from anywhere. Policy, well, you know, work from home, come into the office if you like, or work from really, anywhere, but it has to be in the United States, because they only have US locations, and due to security concerns, they do not allow employees to work from other countries.

Now I heard about this story, and I got a chance to interview the hiring manager of the person who outsourced his job, and perhaps he outsourced it to two different people. So here's what the hiring manager told me, and before I tell her story, we're going to call her Anne, a very generic name to protect her identity, and I will only refer to the company that she works for as a large professional services firm. Could be attorneys, architects, accountants, financial advisors, engineers, consultants, whatever I'm not going to name, even the specific industry or services offered. Our goal here is to be a cautionary tale, not to damage the reputation of any individual or firm.

So here's what happened to Anne. So Anne in the very last week of April of this year, extended an offer to an individual. And the way they this professional services firm often works is they will hire someone on contract to hire. So they will work through a third party contracting service to find a suitable candidate. That third party contracting service then puts the person on a three month, six month, maybe even a 12 month Contract Hire with the professional services firm, such that if it works out after three months or six months, or whatever the terms of the contract are, the person comes on as a full time employee of the firm. If it doesn't work out for whatever reason.

Then, once the initial contract is over, they go their separate ways, and all obligations have been fulfilled. This person was on a three month contract to hire up, and they were being compensated quite well. This was a six figure plus salary, and as Anne explained it to me, the person that she hired because she interviewed him on video was a Caucasian male, clean cut, clean shaven face, short hair, very neat and professional looking, with a slight accent, she said, barely noticeable accent.

So the end of April, the offer was extended, and the person was scheduled to start on Monday May 13. So on Monday May 13, after all of the equipment, laptop and so forth had been sent to this person, because this person was in Florida, and the hiring manager was in a different state, I won't even say which state. She was in a different state, and the equipment was sent to Florida to begin the onboarding process.

On that Monday, our new employee could not get his camera working, so was on but without video. Again, had a slight accent, but everything sounded okay. And then on May 15, two days later, after multiple urging, troubleshooting and so forth to have his camera on, he appeared on camera now and thought, oh, he does not look like the person that I hired in April.

Of course, it has now been nearly three weeks since she's seen him on camera during the interview process, and she starts kind of second guessing herself. Is that really who I hired? I thought he had shorter hair. Well, the person that she was talking to on May 15, had darker hair, was Caucasian, but a darker complexion than she remembered, and had quite a large bushy mustache.

And she thought, well, you know, somebody can grow a mustache. It's not my place to judge. And so she let it go. She just thought I interviewed so many people, and I can completely relate to and second guessing of herself when you're busy and you're hiring and so forth. You sometimes you wonder, like, really was that the one I selected? Okay, fine, okay, I guess I must have.

Now on May 20, so another week later, Anne was on a call, and she was to introduce this new employee who's now been working with the company for a little over a week to one of the senior leaders. And so she gets on that call, and our new employee, again, cannot get his camera working, and so she's getting frustrated, and so they get the call rescheduled.

And in the meantime, she's asking around to find out from the different business partners that he's working with how everything's going. And at first everything's going fine, and then not so much, people start telling her his accent is so thick that they can barely understand him. And she's thinking, well, that's odd. I was just on a call with him last week, and his accent was, well, it was more noticeable than I remembered, but it wasn't so thick I couldn't understand him.

Well, then finally, the following week, they get scheduled for the call with the senior leader, where she's introducing him her new employee, basically to her boss, and after much trouble with can't get the camera working, can't get the camera working, finally, he decides he'll log in on his cell phone, since the laptop doesn't seem to be working, and she's absolutely insisting that he have his camera on.

So he logs in from his cell phone, and now he has a much darker olive complexion and lots of shaggy hair, a big bushy mustache and a full beard. And she's thinking there is no possible way he could have grown a full beard since I saw him on camera a week ago. And sure enough, his accent was so thick she could not understand a single thing he said on that call.

Of course, she is terribly embarrassed in front of her boss that this is the person that she's hired, and he can't even speak like conversational Business English. And so she calls the staffing firm to find out, like, what happened? Did you vet this person? Have you like, what is going on? Well, then there was, like, an extra delay, because there was someone had a death in the family at the staffing firm, and on and on.

It went well, finally, they get this all tracked down, so the person and it also what really triggered, like, all the alarm bells to fire at full volume was she gets a call, our friend Anne gets a call from the security team at her company saying there's a login for the person that you recently hired from Greece, as in the country Greece. Have you authorized an employee to work from Greece? And of course, she says no, and that's when she calls the staffing firm, and all of this starts to unravel.

So then they were able to trace where the laptop had last logged in from. So it had originally been sent to an address not too far out of Tampa st, Petersburg area. Then it had logged in from the Miami Airport, and then the next thing it was logging in or attempting to log in from Greece, the country Greece.

Now, in the meantime, during a conversation with one of the other business partners, this person was working to support this new employee, somebody asked him, like, Well, that's an interesting accent. Tell me about your accent. And he said he was Albanian. And so, of course, Albania is right next to Greece, geographically.

So somewhere along the way, this person who ended up with a laptop probably had never stepped foot in the United States, was certainly not the initial person that Anne hired. And she thinks that either there were two people that the job was outsourced to, or the job was initially outsourced to one person, and either they didn't work out, or that person then outsourced the job to yet a third person.

Now, of course, the person was immediately fired, and the laptop was returned, and so kind of all's well, that ends well. But you know, Ann's situation, of course, is not the first time that this or something like this, has happened, and so I want to unpack what happened with Anne and look at what can we do? What can companies do to make sure that something like this doesn't happen to them?

Now again, of course, this is not the first time it happened, and perhaps the most notable case was way back in late 2012 early 2013 when a case surfaced that a highlighted a particularly audacious form of workplace outsourcing. And this particular incident involved a software developer working at a US based company, and the company's name, nor the individual's name, was never publicly disclosed, but was often referred to as Bob in various reports.

So Bob worked in the office, as was the custom pre pandemic, and he was a software developer, and the company became suspicious of unusual network activity, and they engaged a risk assessment team to investigate. They discovered that Bob had been outsourcing his own job responsibilities to a software developer in China. So Bob had mailed his security credentials an RSA fob that generated a code for his two factor authentication. So he had overnighted that little device to the Chinese contractor so that he could log in with the proper credentials. And Bob paid this software developer in China a fraction of his six figure salary while he spent his work day browsing the internet and engaging in leisurely activities.

Now, Bob had a very specific routine. He would arrive at work and log in, and then he would spend his day generally not engaging in any work related activities. But there was no reason to go into the logs and look at Bob's computer to see what he was doing, because his work was impeccable. In fact, he was one of the best software developers this company had, but he had a very, quite disciplined schedule. 9am arrive, log in and surf Reddit for a couple of hours, then he would watch cat videos at 1130 precisely every day, he would take lunch, and when he was back from lunch, he would log back in, and this was eBay time, so he'd be perusing eBay, perhaps bidding on things, basically online shopping and online auctions.

Around two o'clock every afternoon, that was time for Facebook updates and some LinkedIn posts and reading LinkedIn and catching up on his social media. 430 was the end of the day, more or less. So he would send an update to his manager, saying what he got done that day, progress report, if you will. And at five o'clock he would go home, pretty predictably every single day. Now, he paid this Chinese contractor around 1/5 of his US salary annually to perform his tasks.

This arrangement allowed him to draw his full salary comfortably while doing minimal work. Now it's suspected that Bob might have had even more than one such arrangement with other companies where he maybe also worked at the same time, perhaps doing the same thing for another company, obviously not going into the office, however, that would have been a remote work arrangement, which wasn't as common, of course, back in 2013 as it is now.

Now, as for performance reviews, ironically, Bob had received very, very positive performance reviews, with management praising him as perhaps the best software developer in the building, and this was due to the high quality work that was produced by his outsourced developer in China. So this scheme got uncovered when the company noticed that their VPN logs showed consistent logins from China during Bob's working hours using Bob's login.

Now, since Bob's whereabouts was known to be in the office. The company initially thought they were being hacked by some rogue Chinese bad guys, but further investigation revealed the entire arrangement where Bob had outsourced his job, of course, leading to Bob's immediate termination.

Now the story did go viral, quickly covered by a number of media outlets, and sparking debates about workplace ethics, security and the implications of remote work. This was again a decade ago or more, and it raised several key issues, the first being workplace security.

So this incident underscored the importance of robust security protocols and monitoring, particularly concerning remote access and VPN usage, even that little VPN key fob thing was not fallible, especially if you sent it to somebody else.

Another factor that it highlighted is employee trust and accountability, the need for having clear policies regarding outsourcing and the potential consequences of such actions, plus developing a trusting work relationship with the people that you work with, and feeling like you know them, that was highlighted and, of course, performance metrics. So the case illustrates that the limitations of traditional performance reviews, which can include sometimes just the output of your work could potentially easily be gamed to misrepresent actual productivity.

Now fast forward to 2014 and add in the work from home and work from anywhere work environments that have cropped up due to the pandemic in the past few years, and you can see how much more pervasive this issue has become these past several years now, both the 2013 incident and what happened to Anne serve as cautionary tales for companies and employees alike.

For businesses, it emphasizes the need for vigilance clear policies and the use of technology to monitor compliance. And if you've listened to the podcast for any length of time, you know that I don't really like monitoring employee monitoring, but in situations like this, we need to at least have some spot checks to make sure that somebody halfway across the world is not being nefariously outsourced to do somebody's job.

And for employees, this is a stark reminder of the ethical and professional responsibilities and obligations that are inherent in their role. So let's look at what organizations can do to prevent this from happening, and I've got five key takeaways for you. The first one is a thorough vetting process. Doing your due diligence is key. Now for this professional services firm, they have staffing firms that they work with all across the country to help fill those vacancies on a contract to hire, on a contract to hire process.

 So it's not just about your organization thoroughly vetting new employees or potential new hires. It's also about any third party services that you use, they must be doing an absolutely impeccable job of doing their due diligence and background checking everybody so conducting that thorough background check and reference checks. And in Anne's case, I'm quite certain this person who was initially hired the clean cut fellow in the Tampa Bay St Petersburg area, probably did interview for the job and have great references. So it has to go even beyond that.

So using behavioral interview questions, using just really all the tools available to understand how the candidate has not only respond responded to their responsibilities in the past, but what their work style is, and anything else that we can glean about them, because then if, when they start actually working, things don't match up, we then start very early on having some clues to track down. So this will help ensure that you're hiring somebody who's trustworthy and somebody who is capable, and then if the cards don't necessarily match, you have some data from different assessments and so forth to go back and look at to see what's not matching up.

All right. So the second guideline is having clear job descriptions and a strong onboarding process. So when we start with absolute clarity on what the job descriptions are and proper onboarding, including when cameras are meant to be on. And this was where Ann kind of caught this person not having their camera on and struggling to get the camera working. Part of the reason they were struggling to get the camera working is because they were trying to log in from a different country and the credentials weren't working so clearly defining job roles and responsibilities in the job description and during onboarding is so important, especially things like normative behavior, like cameras on how frequently are we going to meet, and all of those kinds of things, so making sure that the new hire understands what's expected of them.

And of course, you'll also want to be telling them at that point that outsourcing their responsibilities is against company policy. Implementing a comprehensive onboarding process that includes training on company policies, on ethical behavior and so forth, is absolutely key here. So ensuring new employees understand the company culture, those norms I was talking about and the ethical standards, make sure they get all of that from day one.

My third guideline for you is regular check ins and performance reviews. You have to stay engaged with your employees, especially those first few weeks and months as you're bringing somebody new on. So scheduling regular check ins and performance reviews to discuss progress challenges and any deviations from expected responsibilities.

Now, when you've got somebody, as in a client services firm or professional services firm, and you're their boss, they might not just be working with you, there's probably lots and lots of business partners across your company, and maybe even direct customers that they're interacting with. So in addition to staying engaged with your employees, you need to stay engaged with the business partners and the clients that they are collaborating with and serving, especially in those first few critical weeks and months. So emphasize the importance of having again, cameras on during those virtual check ins to ensure accountability and emphasize also to the person that you will be reaching out to the business partners they interact with within the organization and with any external clients they may be servicing, especially through those first several months. And you might even call it a formal probationary period.

This is going to help you catch any signs of outsourcing or other issues. This is going to help you catch signs of outsourcing or any other issues early on, and it's also going to build that culture of transparency and trust that is, if the person is who they said they were. If they're not, then you've got other issues that you can follow up on.

Number four, create a culture of ethical behavior with clear consequences. So you, as the hiring manager, want to lead by example, and let everyone know that there are repercussions if you have a story like and or something similar in your organization where ethical standards were not followed, make sure you're working that in whether that's in a formal onboarding process, or if you are the hiring manager, that you're just bringing up those types of examples from time to time, of course, not to scare the employee, but to let them know, in no uncertain terms, that that kind of unethical behavior is not tolerated.

So you as the hiring manager want to promote and model that ethical behavior and also make sure it's being done at all levels of the organization. Reward integrity and when there is unethical behavior, address it promptly and get that person fired again. When you have policies in place on these things, it's really easy to dismiss a person. Regular ethics training can also reinforce the importance of following company policies and acting with integrity.

Now I do not train on ethics, but I have several close speaker friends who do so. If you need an ethics speaker or trainer, let me know, and I will hook you up with a trusted resource you want to make sure you are clearly communicating the consequences of violating any company policies, including outsourcing work and really doing that across the whole organization, so ensure that the consequences are in consistently enforced. as well.

If there are violations, because that will help maintain the integrity of not only the policy, but also of your company in hiring this person who has such a strong accent, such a strong Albanian accent, that they can't conduct proper business English conversations. So encourage that it's okay to report things like that, so reporting suspected unethical behavior really does support the employees who are not violating any policies. So set up some sort of a confidential reporting system where employees can report unethical behavior, whether it's outsourcing their job or something else, without the fear of retribution. This will help in identifying issues early and taking that corrective action before it escalates.

So you want to again model that, but then also cultivate a supporting and inclusive environment where employees feel valued and understood, and when they feel that there is foul play at hand or suspected foul play, they have a way of reporting it without fear of retribution.

All right these five lessons provide a comprehensive yet concise framework for hiring managers to prevent unethical outsourcing of their responsibilities, as we have uncovered today, both the story of Bob from 2013 and his outsourced job, and the story of Anne who hired someone who outsourced their job, and perhaps outsourced it, again serve as stark reminders of the vulnerabilities that exist in our workplaces, but more importantly, they offer us a blueprint for prevention by conducting thorough vetting processes, setting Clear job descriptions and onboarding programs, maintaining those regular check ins with accountability measures and cameras, on fostering that culture of ethical behavior with clear consequences, and implementing confidential reporting channels alongside a supportive work environment, we can safeguard our organizations against similar breaches of trust and integrity.

These five lessons are not just best practices, they are essential pillars for building a resilient, transparent and ethical workplace. Remember, the foundation of a successful company lies in the integrity and the accountability of its employees. Let's commit these principles to our workforce and to ourselves and to the businesses we run, and ensure that our workplaces are places of honesty and excellence and integrity.

Remember, the future of work is not only about technology. It's about the values we uphold, the communities we build and the sustainable growth we all strive for. We need to keep exploring, keep innovating and keep envisioning the remarkable possibilities that lie ahead as always, stay curious, stay informed and stay ahead of the curve. Tune in next Monday for another insightful exploration of the trends shaping our professional world. Until next time, my friends be well.

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