All Things Upwork

Editor’s Note: This is an introduction written by oDesk CEO Gary Swart for our recently published eBook: “Make it Work: Smart Advice from Real-Life Clients Who Found Success Using Online Work.” To read the full eBook, click here.

If you’re lucky in your career, you may help build a promising new company. But if you’re very lucky, you may be part of building an entire new industry.

Since joining oDesk in 2006, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness the rapid growth of the online work industry. Back then, the concept of hiring via the Internet was still in its early days. People were hiring programmers for discrete projects they could easily imagine being done from a home office, but hiring for anything larger than that seemed far-fetched and intimidating.

Today, people turn to the online workplace for anything imaginable, from legal advice and financial modeling to bioinformatics experts and data scientists. Businesses everywhere are realizing that hiring online isn’t just a quick solution to an urgent need—it’s a long-term strategy to tap into a broad pool of professional talent. At oDesk, we ourselves have more than 250 full-time equivalent team members who work for us every day, only they come to work via the Internet. There’s no way we could have built our business without these professionals or without this staffing model.

Since you’re reading this book, you’re probably curious about hiring online. But what you’re really doing is figuring out how to make your business more successful. I’m willing to bet many of you are:

  • Building a business you envision as having big potential, but you want to start lean

  • Trying to figure out how to take your business to the next level

  • Managing a team that’s already big and trying to remain competitive

Regardless of which category you fall into, you are first and foremost an innovator. You’re reinventing how you staff and potentially even how you live. You could be building an entirely virtual company (like Govind Davis) or running a business while traveling the world (like Jay Shapiro). You’re taking advantage of the freedom and flexibility of hiring online. In fact, when we asked those using online work what word first comes to mind when they think of oDesk, the word we heard most was “freedom.”

But even beyond freedom, there’s opportunity. It’s easier than ever to build and grow a business, thanks to the rapid proliferation of mobile and cloud technologies. As a result, this new era is a highly entrepreneurial one. And many entrepreneurs (and entrepreneurially minded people at big companies) realize that nothing powers ideas and initiatives better than a good team, which is why we’ve seen online hiring grow at such an astounding rate.

As I write this, we’ve surpassed more than $1 billion spent hiring on oDesk. Businesses are building distributed teams, going global earlier than ever, and adopting technologies that make work more mobile. But in many ways we’ve only just begun.

Adoption of a disruptive way of working doesn’t happen overnight; the last time we saw a shift this major was the Industrial Revolution. So it’s especially important to share insights from businesses paving the way, and it’s my privilege to know many of the entrepreneurs, innovators, and executives running these companies.

Last year I crisscrossed the globe, meeting clients and groups of entrepreneurs from Australia to Germany to Toronto. I loved these meetings. Nothing is more inspiring than talking to people who are building something. And while I made these trips to share insights from years of building businesses (like at this talk in Los Angeles), I easily received just as much wisdom in return.

When I sit down with a client, I ask two things: “How can we help you?” and “What are your best practices for using oDesk?” This book captures a wealth of practical advice gleaned from asking these questions. No one is more in tune with how to work the online workplace than these folks, so we’ve turned the “virtual pages” of this book over to them.

Each featured client uses different methodologies that fit their distinct personalities, management styles, and business needs. So it’s less about recommending a “right” way to use online work, but rather to highlight a variety of practices that have developed organically to suit the needs of very different businesses.

I wanted to close with some thoughts on how to build your teams overall. Whether co-located, entirely virtual, or somewhere in between, your team can only be as good as you set it up to be. This means knowing what to look for when you hire (especially these 4 dimensions) and keeping your team motivated.

For teams with virtual members, it’s especially important to:

  • Treat them as equally valued team members

  • Be an even better communicator than usual—you only get as much as you give

  • Use the tools available to you (see the “Online Management Tools” detailed throughout this book)

  • Create an engaging and inclusive culture

There is one simple truth underlying this all—work is no longer a place. We all want to break free of boundaries and maximize the opportunities that open up in response. I hope this book helps you do so, and I look forward to hearing about your success.

To read more from the eBook, check it out here.


Gary Swart

Chief Executive Officer

Gary Swart is the CEO of oDesk, the world’s largest online workplace. Gary is a thought leader in entrepreneurship; how best to hire and manage teams; and the future of work, including online work. He is passionate about helping small businesses thrive, fueled by his extensive experience working with startups and small businesses that use oDesk, as well as by mentoring entrepreneurs and business school… read more