Sep
24
2012

oDesk Mix, Mingle, & Sweatshops?

As many of the readers of this blog know, I’ve pretty much moved all of my outsourcing to oDesk .   I’ve been very happy with their platform and the workers / providers found through their system.   I’ve also met and been very impressed by their CEO Gary Swart & also their VP of Product StrategyMichael Levinson.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a “Mix & mingle with oDesk entrepreneurs”.    In the invite was the following:

 

Swing by, have a drink, grab some grub, and enjoy an evening of:

  • Networking with fellow business owners and oDesk users
  • Learning from our super-user panel of experienced contractors and clients who have successfully built their business around an online workplace
  • Meeting key oDesk execs, ready to answer your questions, listen to your feedback, and share cool product developments

It was a fantastic event!   I was happy to reconnect with a few of the principles of the company and also meet and learn from other oDesk  power users.  The highlight of the evening for me was the panel of 3 oDesk  users.  One of them was a young guy from Pakistan who started out as a provider on oDesk  and then eventually saved up enough money to move to the US and is now at Stanford!   He’s even evolved from an oDesk  provider to a buyer of services on oDesk !  It was great hearing from his very unique perspective!

During the panel the “moderator” said that the three best questions from the audience would get a free oDesk  tee shirt.   During the panel I asked the fellow mentioned above the following question:

“It seems that work done via virtual assistants has become commoditized to the point where one of the main differentiating factors used to choose between providers of services is price.   We know that there are many ways to compensate service providers beyond monetarily.   We also realize that many other factors influence how much a provider enjoys their job.  I’m curious, from a provider’s point of view, what can we do besides paying more money to increase the satisfaction a provider has with their job?”

There were a handful of answers that basically conveyed the same motivations and factors are the same as in-person jobs.  One main point that was emphasized was related to “job security”.   A provider really wants to know that they will have  consistent and ongoing work.   I’ve made it a point to convey to my providers that they are doing a great job and that I’d love for them to work for me indefinitely.

At the end of the discussions the panel member were asked which questions they liked best, and two of the three thought my question was one of the best… which meant FREE oDesk  tee shirt!!!

When I got home I pulled out the shirt to take a look at what I had won.   I first notiece they went with American Apparel.  A bit of a closer look at the tag and I saw the following:

“This t-shirt was sewn by 9 people in a sweatshop-free environment in Downtown LA, where they are paid fair wages and have access to healthcare and benefits”

Like any other guy, I dislike the thought of young kids working 15 hour days in terrible conditions.   With that said, I also subscribe to some aspects of the argument that many of the people who work in “sweatshops” are making more money and are possibly still in better conditions than their alternative options.   Sure, some of our friends sewing clothing in China, India, Malasia, etc. don’t have a standard of living that is even comparable to most of those in “Downtown LA”, but I’ll venture to guess that many choose to do that type of work vs. the alternatives.    For example:  work 12 hours a day in backbreaking farm work in the sun for pennies a day or work for 10 hours a day in a “sweatshop” making 10 times as much?

I believe that many buyers, and providers also subscribe to this idea.  I’d also venture to guess that the oDesk  principles and employees also believe in outsourcing to other countries and giving people the opportunity for relatively better opportunities.   This made me wonder:  Why didn’t oDesk  eat their own dogfood and outsource their shirts to another country where the costs would have almost definitely been cheaper and quality just as high?

So, here are my questions:

  1. What do you think are the best ways to motivate your virtual assistants and keep them happy?
  2. Why do you think oDesk  used American Apparel shirts vs. outsourcing their shirts to somewhere cheaper?

Written by in: Outsourcing |

1 Comment »

  • Sean says:

    Not sure about the whole American Apparel thing. Perhaps an oversight or just a deal from a buddy’s t-shirt shop.

    In regards to your first question, I definitely agree that sharing with your perspective contractors that if their work is of great quality, then there will be more for them.

    The more consistent the better!

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