The Way We Work

At the recent World Bank ICT Days event in Washington D.C., global thought leaders gathered together and shared potential solutions to development challenges in World Bank member countries. Matt Cooper, oDesk VP of International and Enterprise, spoke about driving smarter job creation through online work.

In the past, he explained, developing nations looking to spur economic growth had to build large, co-located facilities and bring in workers from surrounding areas. This traditional Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) model is not only expensive, but provides only a limited number of jobs and requires workers to live near the new facility. With the emergence of online work, the model has become outdated. Governments can now bring the work to the worker, rather than the worker to the work.

As a result, the future of work is geographically distributed teams performing work online — which is much more scalable than the BPO model. This flexible workforce model allows anyone with access to a computer and an Internet connection to find job opportunities. But how can developing countries that have yet to tap into this shift make themselves a potential hub for online work? Matt laid out four key criteria:

Broadband Access

Widespread broadband access is the absolute minimum requirement for fostering the spread of online work. It means more than providing basic Internet services in major cities — both cities and rural areas need access to reliable, fast Internet connections that can support video chat, as it’s one of the key components of successful online collaboration.

Banking and Finance

A country’s banking and finance institutions need to be mature enough to match Western standards for trust and safety. Without robust safeguards against financial crimes like fraud and money laundering, the flow of money across borders will be expensive and difficult. Matt gave a good rule of thumb: if PayPal is willing to come to your country, you have met the bar.


Online workers need in-demand skills to be competitive in the global economy. In order to foster the right talent, a country needs an education system that encourages computer literacy and teaches students marketable skills.

Regulatory Framework

There is currently little regulatory framework in any country to support online work, the U.S. included. Governments can either facilitate or discourage the growth of online work through policies. For example, Bangladesh has recognized the economic impact of online work and has made all earnings through online work tax-free.

Matt’s talk prompted some excellent live tweets from attendees at the World Bank event. We’ve shared a few of our favorite insights below.

What are some of the other key factors governments should consider to foster online work? Are there particular countries that are doing this well? We’d love to hear your perspective in the comments section below!

Alexia Nielsen

Social Media Marketing Manager

Alexia Nielsen is the social media marketing manager at Upwork, overseeing social media engagement initiatives. Prior to Upwork, Alexia managed online and social media marketing for advertising startup Crowd Science and spent six years in various marketing and production roles in the video game industry. Alexia holds a B.A. with honors in Communication and an M.A. in Media Studies, both from Stanford University.