vWorker - Escrow Services, Work Tracking Systems and Payment Guarantees
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The AccuTimeCard Tracking System for Hourly Projects
Contractors who work on hourly projects make use of vWorker’s time management and tracking software, which the company calls AccuTimeCard. This is a desktop application that combines timecard, billing and monitoring functions. It allows workers to indicate when they start and stop hourly work on specific projects, and it collects evidence to prove that the work is in fact being done.
To use AccuTimeCard, the contractor must first download and install the application. It currently runs only on Windows, but there are plans for Macintosh and Linux versions as well. Once active, the contractor “punches in” to whatever hourly project he or she is currently working on. The program will keep track of time and log it to the project, and take screenshots every 5 to 6 minutes. The client can also specify to have webcam images taken by the program to prove that the contractor was present at the computer when time was logged; this is optional, and requires that the contractor have a supported webcam. Hourly logs, screenshots and webcam pictures are uploaded to vWorker where they can be reviewed by the client.
AccuTimeCard is similar to—and appears to have been modeled after—oDesk’s Team application; it is also similar to Elance’s Work View. The most important difference, from what I can tell, is that use of AccuTimeCard is required on vWorker, where it is optional on the other sites. If you bid on and win an hourly project, you are committing to the use of this software; only the webcam provision is optional. And many contractors have a pretty big problem with that.
The complaints about this system are pretty much the same as the ones leveled at oDesk and Elance: the fact that this application is spyware (whether the company admits it or not); the confidentiality concerns when screenshots and webcam images are taken; the inaccuracy of measuring work solely by what’s on the computer desktop or the webcam; and the general feeling that this is like “Big Brother”. Professionals don’t like being treated as if they were toddlers watched by closed circuit TV cameras.
However, the mandatory nature of AccuTimeCard makes matters worse. Other sites try to assuage contractors by saying that use of their tracking systems is optional, but vWorker does not. In fact, I believe this policy is probably at least partially responsible for the relatively low number of hourly jobs on the site.
The application itself also seems to be a little more invasive than the equivalents used by vWorker’s peers. It takes screenshots twice as often as the one used by oDesk, a “feature” that vWorker proudly advertises to clients. There doesn’t appear to be a way to delete screenshots, either, which the other sites allow. And the use of the webcam, while optional, seems to be fairly heavily emphasized.
My guess is that vWorker would respond to these criticisms by pointing out that its system is not intended for professional freelancers, but rather for employers looking to hire inexpensive workers where this sort of monitoring is important. But frankly, vWorker is not oDesk, and I don’t think this is a good fit with the site’s policies and stature. With this policy, vWorker also does not recognize the fact that quality freelancers sometimes charge on an hourly basis for work such as original writing, design and even legal work, where strict monitoring is inappropriate. They’d be happy to work on an hourly basis, but will never use a system that takes screenshots of their workspaces, and pictures of their offices.
As was the case for fixed rate work, vWorker has a complementary set of guarantees for clients and contractors. The fancy name given to this for clients is the “Honest-billing money-back guarantee”, which promises that clients only pay for hours that are worked on their projects, as proven by the data collected using AccuTimeCard. Workers get no fancy label, but are given the same guarantee: as long as they use the tracking program, they get paid for every hour they put in.
All of the information gathered by AccuTimeCard is made available for review by the client at the end of the week. The client is given three days to review and approve all of the logged time for the project. If the client takes issue with any of the time billed—perhaps because of screenshots or webcam images that indicate time was billed but not worked—he or she can dispute the time. If the two parties cannot agree on how to resolve the dispute, then the matter is referred to vWorker’s mediation/arbitration system.
Payment guarantees for fixed rate work are based solely on the number of verifiable hours worked on the project; a client can dispute payment if he or she can prove you didn’t really work the hours you claimed, but cannot dispute it on any other basis, such as poor deliverable quality. This is a sharp—and somewhat confusing—contrast to the fixed rate payment guarantee which is very much based on work being done to “industry-expected standards”. See the discussion of arbitration for more details.
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Last Site Update: December 13, 2011
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