My company hired a remote freelancer to do some work (let's call him Joe). Joe's great at doing so, really quick and at a fair price. He's given us documentation about the process he followed, and is always willing to solve any issue that appears, even for free (if the problem comes from something he did/didn't do).

A relative of Joe's has lately had illness problems, so he has had to take him/her to the hospital which required him to be off work for several days. We wish the relative a quick recovery and let Joe spend some days without logging in. That's absolutely fine.

However, the situation changed today. We're close to the deadline and I asked Joe to solve a problem (that caused several disconnection hours of a server. Not because of his decisions, but simply because of a misconfiguration of the server), but he flatly refused to solve it, to the point of aggressively pointing out that it's stupid and I should solve it "the other way" which is to modify about 350 million entries and ensuring that nothing will break in an entire API. From what I know, the way I suggested may require Joe running a command in the server, taking up to a minute. He refuses to explain his decisions regardless of my concerns. He has then completely avoided talking to me.

The deadline is approaching and though he's done a great job, I assume Joe's having problems with his relative (maybe him/her getting worse), and he's refusing to defend his decision at all. This is clearly going to affect our professional relationship and might affect the deadline as well. How can I make Joe explain himself or do what I suggest?

To make it clear, if his reasons are powerful enough to prefer 2 weeks of work versus (I assume) 1 working minute, we could think of postponing the deadline a little bit.

closed as off-topic by Chris E, paparazzo, Jim G., Michael Grubey, Lilienthal Jul 26 '16 at 7:54

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    Guys, please don't vote to close without explaining why! – AndreiROM Jul 25 '16 at 15:38
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    Did you explain to him that you were looking for a quick solution? Plus what is stopping you from carrying out this 1 minute command yourself? Why does Joe have to do it? – Dan Jul 25 '16 at 16:13
  • @Dan I'd like to do so, but I can't be sure that the 1 minute task is the only thing I should do, or he configured anything else depending on this. Hence my "I assume" in the emphasised last sentence. Also, he knows the deadline, how long the other solution would take, the implications apply the long solution and why I'd try to avoid doing so. – Korcholis Jul 25 '16 at 16:20
  • @Korcholis How would you handle this if Joe were unavailable? – Myles Jul 25 '16 at 16:34
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    can't you login yourself and run the command yourself? Or have someone else do it? If it's truly 1 min job, even if you have to do a few hours of research, it will be quicker than dragging Joe to a meeting and trying to force him to do it. I suspect he is under a lot of stress and feels that a simple 1 min job is something you can handle yourself. I mean, he can't even bill it. If you've been going to him with a lot of small jobs such as this he might feel like you are talking advantage of him. – ventsyv Jul 25 '16 at 17:15

There are two possibilities here:

  1. Joe is simply stressed out due to his personal circumstances and lost his cool in the worst way possible (some shame over his outburst might be why he is currently avoiding you)

  2. There might actually have been some underlying dissatisfaction, and he finally "had enough".

Now, either way you look at things his outburst is unacceptable, however you seem willing to be forgiving, so offer him a second chance.

Simply write to him, explain that you don't mean to intrude in a difficult moment, however that with a looming deadline you need the situation resolved in a timely manner.

Tell him that to your knowledge his intervention is the quickest, simplest solution, but that you're willing to hear his suggestions. If he is unable to accommodate you at this time due to personal issues ask for an estimate as to when the work might be completed.

Express all this in a calm way, and give him a chance to recover from his previous outburst in a professional manner. If he continues to be difficult get together with other decision makers and reach a decision.

Unfortunately, personal tragedy or not, Joe still has responsibilities toward you, and if he can't meet them you may have to take some action against him.

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    Joe may have responsibilities to the OP but those pale in comparison to his responsibilities to family issues. I think it is OK for the OP to ask Joe about an issue but when it becomes apparent that Joe is not in a mindset to be helpful then it is totally ridiculous that the OP wants to ask for justification and become annoyed because of it. Perhaps the OP should have paid a bit more attention to the details of his contractor's work when Joe was available instead of nagging him in what is obviously a very bad time for Joe. If Joe were on-the-clock that's one thing but it sounds like he is not. – Dunk Jul 25 '16 at 22:20
  • So, @Dunk and AndreiROM, he finally solved it the short way. We resolved the whole problem professionally and are working on the next step. We've both preferred to move on and yesterday's issue will be just considered a "stressful moment". – Korcholis Jul 26 '16 at 8:11
  • @Korcholis - i had a feeling that would be the case – AndreiROM Jul 26 '16 at 13:01
  • If Joe's facing "family medical issues," please try to give him a huge "benefit of the doubt." He doesn't have to explain. Strive to be very calm and diplomatic, and understanding, even when you get an emotional outburst. If that sort of thing isn't typical for Joe, you might never learn why it happened this time. Just don't be confrontational yourself. Be calm, focus on the technical issue, and try to soothe rather than escalate the problem. Don't speak ill of Joe. If it seems appropriate to ask a manager or another colleague, do so. But, don't skewer Joe. – Mike Robinson Jul 26 '16 at 14:53

Your question doesn't make it clear as to the nature of the illness and the impact on Joe. It could be something as simple as 'drive his aunt to the hospital for a routine procedure', or something as harsh as 'spouse is dying of cancer'.

It sounds like you and Joe have a good history and once this is past you may have a good working relationship in the future, if you don't mess it up.

You need to follow your bus factor plan - do whatever you would have done if Joe had been hit by a bus and is hospitalized for the next month or so.

Trying to make him explain his situation in detail may backfire - you could learn more about his situation but lose him as a good employee.

  • Thanks. Maybe I didn't explain myself correctly. It's ok to keep what's really affecting him. I'd just need to know why he thinks spending 2 weeks instead of 1 minute is much more beneficial to the project. Sadly, those weeks need to be paid, so if the reason is not good enough, going for the other one might be better for the company. – Korcholis Jul 25 '16 at 15:43
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    I might have read too much into the question. To me it sounds like Joe is "load shedding" - he's overwhelmed and is doing whatever comes to mind to reduce demands that he may not be able to meet. – Dan Pichelman Jul 25 '16 at 15:50

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