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The global marketplace for virtual work


28/10/2012 21:57 (535 Day 14:28 minutes ago)

The FINANCIAL -- “So where does Alma work?” one of the job applicants asks, while we are conducting an interview at a hotel in Tbilisi .



The job applicants have never met her, but they know her from the application process: she scheduled the interviews, asked them for missing application materials, sent them tests to be completed, and filtered out the best candidates. However, she doesn’t work in Georgia: Alma, who served as the administrative assistant for The International Spark Program, a nonprofit that I co-direct, lives and works in the Philippines.

Because Alma has a computer with an internet connection, and speaks English, she has been able to plug herself into the global marketplace for virtual work, performing tasks for people on the other side of the world who she has never met. We found Alma on a website called Odesk, but there are many other such as Elance, and Fiverr, where people from around the world offer their virtual services. Usually the website handles the payments and charges a small commission on every dollar paid to the contractor.

There are many different tasks that virtual workers can perform: Alma was hired as a virtual assistant, but anything that doesn’t require you working with someone in the same room can be done by a virtual worker. In the past I have hired people to create logos, design websites, and edit videos, but there are many other things that are often done by virtual workers, such as computer programming, and customer support.

For the employer, who is often just an individual, the benefits are clear. If you need something to be done, you now have a much bigger pool of qualified individuals to choose from, and the probability of finding someone who matches your profile is significantly higher. These intermediary websites also take the hassle out of hiring someone: you don’t have to deal with employment laws, and for the most common tasks, you can usually hire someone within a few hours. And because many virtual workers live in developing countries, the prices of their services can be significantly lower than those you would pay in your home country.

For the contractor or employee, this is a huge opportunity. Imagine you are a person with skills, but somehow you don’t have the opportunity to use those skills: maybe you are a programmer, but there are no software companies in your area, or perhaps you are a really good administrative worker, but there are no jobs that let you work from home. Being a virtual worker allows you to have access to jobs posted by people from all over the world, that you can do from your home, even while sitting in your pyjamas or taking care of your baby. Often the salary levels are low by developed-country standards, but high compared  to your local salary. Instead of being dependent on the local labor market, and the idiosyncratic demands of the employer around the block, you can now plug yourself into the global market for virtual work. I would like you to pause here for a second and think about what this means, and how this is radically different from the way the world used to be only a few years ago. Through these new marketplaces, a woman sitting in Buenos Aires can now work together on a project with a guy from a small village in Bangladesh, while the employer might be an individual from South Africa, without ever meeting each other, or needing to set even one step outside of their own house. The marketplace for virtual work has become truly global!

Another lady, also named Alma, who worked for me, described her experience and motivations as follows: “I’m doing this because, this is what I really want [..] to work from home. Actually, while writing this [..], I can see my daughter sleeping and it really makes me happy.
What really excites me in this kind of work is that I can go anywhere I want. Spend a vacation with my family without filing a vacation leave. I’ll just bring my laptop and go somewhere with internet and then I can work.”

If you live in Georgia, and you have a computer with internet access, you can become a virtual worker too. Almost everyone has some skills that they can market online. Do you speak good Russian, Georgian, or English? You can offer your skills as a translator. Are you good at writing? You can write blog posts or articles for people. Do you have skills as a programmer? There will be plenty of demand for your services online. Compared to local Georgian salaries, the money that you can make online is significant. Especially if you have skills for which there is not a lot of demand in Georgia, or if you want to work from home or have a flexible work schedule, being a virtual worker can be an excellent solution. And with Georgia’s level of unemployment rate where it is today, being a virtual worker may help you to escape the problem of joblessness.

There are a few important things to keep in mind when you decide to become a virtual worker. First, your cash flow may be unpredictable. Often you get paid by the hour, or per project, and depending on the amount of business you get, your income will vary. Second, reputation is everything on virtual worker websites. Employers usually rate employees, and if your average rating is low, or you don’t have any reviews yet, it will be difficult to get work. Consider lowering your price in the beginning to get some work and good feedback under your belt.

If you are looking for work, or you have work that you need to get done, don’t feel bound by the local labor market. The market for virtual work is truly global, and offers plenty of opportunities for those who are ambitious enough to get online and find them: you can become a global virtual worker or employer.



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