8 mins
You have 0 further articles remaining this month. Join LeadDev.com for free to read unlimited articles.

In the age of remote work, fears of people working multiple jobs at the same time may creep up.

Hi Mathias, 

I’m a CTO at a growing business. Our hiring budget is limited, especially on the engineering side. When we do make a hire, it’s important that we find the right person and that they can start creating an impact quickly. Before the pandemic, we all worked from a shared office, but these days, most of us work remotely. Though we tried adjusting our hiring practices to reflect this, we’re wary of hiring folks working multiple jobs at multiple companies. How can we make sure we find out if someone’s working like that as early as possible?


— Jamie

Hi Jamie,

Hiring the right people is difficult as it is. Finding out they’re doing multiple shifts and not giving you all their dedication can be difficult to navigate.

I’ve talked to folks in my community about this to gather advice that may help you with this challenge. Let’s be clear though: there’s no guarantee that any of these will filter out folks running two shifts.

After all, tens of thousands of folks have been laid off in the last eighteen months, so finding a new job or recovering from prolonged unemployment may not be as easy – they may simply need to work two jobs at once. I suggest you consider what is truly most important to you and your business as I walk through the potential signals of someone working multiple jobs below. If they deliver on their work, is it really that important how they do so?

Increase in-person interactions

Making in-person interaction a part of the hiring process may seem counterintuitive to the practice of hiring remotely as it implies traveling and also incurs a cost, but even this one in-person interaction can help increase a mutual level of trust.

Keep in mind that not everyone can attend in-person interviews easily, especially when on short notice. Folks with family or who are caregivers, may not easily be able to find someone to take on their duties in their absence.

Beyond that, you can increase in-person interactions throughout the working week. Regular pair or ensemble programming is a forcing function for collaboration as participants have to actively contribute, whether they’re leading or supporting. If you have a culture that does this regularly, and assuming your time zone overlaps allow for pair programming, you can create a window where folks need to be present.

Look for missed meetings 

If they consistently miss meetings, using excuses like taking care of something personal or family emergencies, even no excuses at all, this could raise some concerns.

But it’s important to remember that some folks do have families to take care of. As any parent will tell you, the day isn’t always predictable. There are times when you have to pick up a sick child from school, fill in for someone’s driving duties, or rush them to a doctor. Other folks have religious practices they need to follow that prohibit them from attending meetings at certain times.

To help understand where the line is, build a good rapport with your team and learn more about their general life situations so that you can empathize with their experience. If you don’t have that rapport yet, the easiest way to understand what’s happening is to ask. It’s okay to bring up a series of missed meetings, inquire about what’s going on (to the extent they can and feel comfortable sharing), and then discuss with them what can be done to improve the situation. 

A crucial aspect of these 1:1s is whether you have a good rapport with the team member. They must trust you (and you them) to tell you when something is up and discuss alternative approaches. Maybe meeting times could be moved to a different slot, or maybe they need to reduce their working hours overall to accommodate whatever’s going on in their lives. 

If you've established trust with them and still suspect someone is working two jobs, accept that you probably won't get them to admit this outright. Avoid asking someone directly because this creates a fissure in your relationship that’s hard to mend if they do indeed have personal burdens to carry.

What you may get instead are signals: if they’re avoiding the topic and how the situation could be improved or providing empty promises of improvement, there could be an issue. 

Smaller red flags to keep an eye on 

Assuming your company has a policy that cameras need to be on during meetings, someone may regularly turn their’s off. It may even stand out when there’s no such policy and someone still keeps their cameras off, possibly as they’re busy with secondary work or a different meeting on the side – perhaps you hear keyboard noises where folks should be paying attention to the conversation, or you hear them talking in what seems to be a separate discussion.

However, you have to factor in that things like Zoom fatigue are very real. It’s exhausting to look at virtual faces all the time, including your own. Not everyone may be comfortable having their camera on for extended periods.

Other smaller flags to register is whether their work is delivered outside of work hours regularly. This may be a significant thorn if your code review process still depends on synchronous work, or if your deployment pipeline and operational procedures are built around deployment windows throughout the working day, or if their after-hours changes keep causing the build to fail, remaining unresolved until the following day.

This may be especially telling if they’re frequently missing meetings throughout the “normal” working day as well. But what is "normal" in a remote setting? Isn’t part of the point to give people freedom in how they structure their working days? 

Ensure clear deliverables

Your biggest lever is setting clear expectations on their role and what they need to deliver.

Deliverables focus on outcomes, not output. Whether a person is in front of their screen every day or pushing a certain number of commits isn’t the concern here. However, if they’re not pushing or integrating their own code regularly, that opens up an entirely different can of worms.

Outcomes are about the value everyone on your team produces in service of the customer. If someone isn’t delivering on their commitments regularly, shows no signs of improvement, does not accept help, or does accept help without any effect, your performance framework may dictate a course of action. Or if there is no outlined course of action, you determine what to do guided by your company’s values and culture.

On its own, failing to deliver on expectations isn’t a sign that someone’s working another job remotely, but rather that someone isn’t living up to your expectations. If that means taking the step to remove people from your team you should base your decision on solely observable facts rather than potentially false assumptions.

So what if someone’s working two jobs?

Even if you’ve pursued all avenues to mitigate against this issue, there may still be folks that fly under the radar. They somehow manage to come to all meetings on time and deliver on the work assigned while working more than one job...so what? You’re still getting your end of the bargain. 

It may feel like a breach of trust, for sure. But let’s face it, there are CEOs who run multiple companies simultaneously, including Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, and Jeff Bezos. We don’t chastise them for doing multiple jobs at once. Quite the opposite, they’re revered and rewarded for it.

With tens of thousands of engineers out of a job, folks may still be trying to make ends meet. Working two jobs isn’t the norm in our field (yet?), but it is elsewhere. With artificial intelligence on a steady rise, maybe working several jobs will be the norm rather than the exception. So, why are we so peculiar about it if we’re getting our money’s worth for their work?

You may argue that folks are there to work for you for eight hours or more. True, that’s what it says in the contract as well. But knowledge work is about the outcome. If they deliver, show up for meetings when it matters, and do all that in less time, again, so what? In the end, this comes down to two things:

  1. Are they living up to the performance expectations in your organization?
  2. Is their work and behavior in line with the culture as set out in your company values and procedures?

Both of these questions are important whether or not you have a remote team, regardless of concerns about people working two jobs. If both these things are true, seems like there’s little for you to worry about. If one or both of them aren’t, then you can decide what to do with that. If they repeatedly don’t live up to expectations, performance, and culture, it’s your prerogative to let them go.

Final thoughts 

In the end, the question of how you can avoid hiring people working two jobs is good old-fashioned management work: being clear about the behaviors you do and don’t want to see and what you expect from your team. It’s about culture and clear deliverables. Focusing on that work instead of the flags will naturally weed out folks not performing to these standards.


This column was created using input from my German CTO and the LeadDev community. I thank all folks who contributed for their candidness and for challenging the underlying assumptions of the question I responded to.

If you need a secondary perspective on a problem you're having at work, our coaches are on hand to help! Submit your challenge here