All Things Upwork
by oDesk

Providers can now choose where oDesk related emails are delivered.

Today, oDesk email accounts (e.g. are automatically provisioned for every provider that joins the network. We will continue to offer this service which includes:

  • practically unlimited mailbox storage,
  • secure SMTP, POP, IMAP access to send and retrieve their email from the email client of their choice, as well as
  • a simple browser based email interface based on the open source product SquirrelMail.

However, based on feedback from many of you, we are adding the capability to enable email forwarding, thereby allowing you to have emails delivered to a place of your choosing. Any provider can set their email preferences by going to My Account screen. If a provider enables the forwarding, all emails addressed to their including all emails from oDesk (e.g., notifications, timelogs etc.) will be forwarded to their personal email instead of the oDesk mailbox. If a provider selects to forward their email, no copies of the messages will be kept in the oDesk mailbox. You can change your preferences at any time.

The debate behind the feature

While this sounds like an obvious enhancement, our decision to proceed with it was the result of a bigger debate. The question that we face on a recurring basis is the extent to which, we, oDesk, should try to enforce best practices in our marketplace-workplace or we should just provide options and let our users decide how they want to work.

The debate is meaningful not only for the email issue, but for every part of our service,

  • Should we require providers to communicate using only their oDesk email or not?
  • Should providers pick any userid they want or should we standardize the userids?
  • Should we allow providers to join oDesk with or without having taken a few minimal tests?
  • Should we expect that all buyers and providers speak one language, English?
  • Should we allow providers to apply to as many job openings as they want?
  • Should we require buyers to prove they have the money to pay before hiring? before posting?
  • Should we allow “offline hours” in the weekly timelog? Should we act when there are too many offline hours?
  • Should we contract with providers and buyers or just offer templates and let users contract among themselves?

etc etc.

One could argue that enforcing discipline and processes would add friction and would limit our ability to grow. Besides, it is arrogant to believe that we, oDesk, know better than our users.
On the other hand we have seen that efficient networks of individuals have to rely on common structures, processes, protocols to work together.
What is the right balance?

The answer to this question evolves over time. When the network was just getting started we faced many issues as a result of creating a completely new working model. This was compounded by the fact that providers often had little or no international work experience and buyers had rarely hired remote contractors. In that phase we opted to set a rather stringnent set of rules based on our own initial experiences. These rules and decisions shaped our marketplace and workplace into what it is today – they are responsible for the success we have witnessed. But things are different today, and it is time to start relaxing several of these rules. In the process we will probably make mistakes and may need to reinstate some restrictions to protect our users.

Discuss this in our blog