All Things Upwork

Did you know that you can find a CEO on oDesk to run your company? Or that you can hire a contractor in a country where your family is from, to research your family history? You can — and both have been done before, as we heard at the latest Bay Area Client User Group last week.

The user group — oDesk’s second to date — featured an introduction from oDesk CEO Gary Swart and a presentation on product initiatives by oDesk Vice President of Product Strategy Michael Levinson. It also included a panel with Sigma Partners Senior Associate (and former oDesker) Josh Breinlinger, TalentBin founder Peter Kazanjy, and Stanford Fulbright Scholar Tayyab Tariq (an oDesk contractor). The panel, moderated by oDesk’s Client Marketing Manager Shareen Lal, centered on online work best practices. Here were some of the most helpful tips from these veteran users:

1. When evaluating candidates, ask contractors for sample work or hire them for a small test job. Tayyab said, “That to me as a contractor is more important than an interview over Skype. There’s only so much you can know about a person’s skills from a 10-minute Skype interview, and you don’t want to miss out on a great contractor because they’re having a bad day. It’s very important to take the time to work out a small mini project on the fly that they can do, and use that as a benchmark for short-listing or hiring.”

2. Speaking of test jobs, think outside the skill-evaluation box with real-time tasks. Tayyab noted that one client he has worked with requires contractor candidates to write code in a Google Doc, so they can observe the coding process in real time. This can be a great way for clients to get a sense of how a contractor works, and for contractors to showcase their skills in action.

3. Leverage long-term relationships; they are a powerful thing. Both Peter and Josh are no stranger to long-term projects. In fact, Josh’s oDesk contractors are almost all long-term, since it’s more efficient than finding and training people for each short-term project, he said.

From a contractor’s perspective, Tayyab added that it’s important for clients to make their timeline commitment clear upfront. “What motivates contractors is the promise of a long-term, healthy relationships,” he said. “It’s very important for contractors to know that clients aren’t going to disappear. It’s good to give people job security, or at least be upfront about when the project is going to end. Tell your good contractors you want to work with them for a long time. It’s the same whether you’re in a brick-and-mortar office or online — you want to make the people you hire feel secure and enjoy their work.”

As a testament to the power of long-term projects, Josh told the story of how, in the early days of oDesk (when he used to work for the company), he wanted to hire someone for voiceover work and needed a female voice. There was only one female contractor on all of oDesk at the time, named Stephanie, and he hired her. That project has long ended (and of course there are many female contractors on oDesk now!). But eight years later, not only is Stephanie still on oDesk, she leads a Customer Support team for oDesk itself.

4. Keep an open mind — the possibilities are unlimited. Who says work can’t be fun? Peter talked about one of his most interesting oDesk projects, which involved hiring comedy writers on oDesk to turn a standard questionnaire into an entertaining experience. He even used a crowdsourcing site to grade the questions for humor, and picked the 10 most successful writers out of the original 100 to bring on board.

Or, on a more serious note, Josh told the story of how one entrepreneur decided he wanted to move on from his startup, and found someone on oDesk to be the CEO and take over the company reins.

Josh also reminded attendees that just because it’s online work, doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of geographic perks — for example, one user uncovered his family history in Belgium by finding a contractor in that country to do in-person research. The contractor found postcards the client’s grandmother had written 80 years ago, and helped piece together the family history. “Most of what you can do with online work is location-agnostic, but you can also leverage the fact that there are millions of contractors just about everywhere in the world,” Josh said.

What are your top online work best practices? We’d love to hear them, so share yours in the comments section below!

Jenna Weiner

Content Marketer

Jenna Weiner is the former content marketing manager at oDesk and was the editor-in-chief of the oDesk blog. With a background in business and technology writing, she specializes in content marketing and strategy, public relations, and branding. Before joining oDesk, Jenna was a writer and editor for Monitor Group’s marketing department (now Monitor Deloitte) and was the Business & Technology Section Editor for Brafton Inc.… read more