The Way We Work
April 13, 2011 by Brian McDonough

The first precept of remote work is that it doesn’t matter how far an employer has to go to find the right contractor. Even for small businesses, workers from around the world are within reach. For many employers, getting used to the idea that the web designer they need is in Lahore, or the graphic designer is emailing artwork from Buenos Aires, is the first conceptual hurdle to tapping the power of a global talent pool. The next step is realizing that not only is great distance not a disadvantage, it’s something that can work in your favor.

Jamie Swartz, who built marketing the agency Synergy Buzz from scratch with help from oDesk’s global workforce, told us that the mild inconvenience of an occasional late or early Skype call is well worth the advantage of having a 24-hour team. “I’m able to turn my projects around overnight,” she said. “My clients say they don’t understand how I can work so fast, so well, and be so affordable.”

But just like hiring and managing people in-house, making the most of remote talent worldwide is a skill you can develop. Here are five quick tips:

1. Consider Communication. The first barrier to hiring internationally is language, but be realistic about your needs. If you’re hiring a marketing writer, broken English is a fatal flaw. But if it’s a web developer you need, basic understanding and ability to communicate is what counts. So when you’re interviewing a Russian software engineer who just graduated from a prestigious technical university, make allowances if English is his slightly shaky third language. (However, if your international team will interact directly with each other, make sure your contractors in St. Petersburg and Sao Paulo have a common language that’s up to the job.)

2. Measure Workday Overlap. If your work — and your ability to send out clear, detailed assignments — means that your contractors don’t need very much back-and-forth communication to get started on an assignment, then it doesn’t matter if they’re living 12 time zones away. If your work style, or the nature of the task, tends to require a bit of discussion, then limit your hiring to contractors whose workdays overlap your own for at least a few hours. That way there’s time to nail down details before you clock out and they begin their workday.

3. Schedule for Overnight. If you’ve got contractors on the other side of the globe, ready to work while you sleep, build time into the end of your day to get them their assignments.   For most managers, it’s a bit of a shift to think of your business as a 24-hour operation, so formalize the process to make sure you don’t let the opportunity to jump ahead slip by.

4. Time Your Posting. The moment you put up a job post in oDesk’s marketplace, it’s seen worldwide.  But if you’re targeting a certain time zone, do the math and post it at an optimal time for that area. If you’re in California, for instance, 8 a.m. in Mumbai is about 8 p.m. for you. Manila’s 8 a.m. is your 5 p.m., and for Montevideo, it’s 4 a.m. (so for the Americas, you’d post first thing in the morning).

5. Think Portfolio, Not Price. Hiring locally, you know the market rate and tend to discount anyone asking rates excessively above or below that standard. Globally, prices range more dramatically, and it’s daunting to figure out the rate-to-value ratio when your candidates come from the diverse economic markets of Kiev, Cairo, and Kuala Lumpur. Here’s the trick: Once you figure out how much the job is worth to you, stop thinking about price. Within your range, weigh portfolios, feedback and work history. Then, consider your top candidates as a single market — compare what they offer to what they charge, and interview the ones who look best suited to your job.

The global marketplace gives managers access not only to the best talent and the most competitive rates anywhere on earth, it also allows even the smallest business to turn into a 24-hour powerhouse. Whether you’re getting work done overnight, or spreading out your customer service team to provide round-the-clock care, distance is an asset when you know how to use it.

Got other tips on leveraging the worldwide workforce? Please share your experience in the comments.


Brian McDonough

Freelance Writer

Brian McDonough has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years, and has managed teams of in-house and freelance writers for newspapers, magazines and web sites.