We've been using oDesk for a while now to subcontract out programming, data entry and virtual assistance services. We've been pleasantly surprised with the quality of people, but it took a while for us to get into our groove and figure out how to best use oDesk to our advantage. Below are 7 steps that we've learned while using oDesk, should make your employer experience a lot easier and more useful.
1. Establish Clear Objectives and Talents
When looking for an hourly hire, make sure you know what you're looking for. Don't just put up an ad for "PHP Programmer". Instead, establish what skills you are looking for: PHP Developer with 4 Years Experience, extensive knowledge of XML and PayPal integration. Not only does this help you attract more experienced candidates, it will help you figure out what you're looking for.
2. Keep Clear Lines of Communication
Just as you want to hear from employees, they want to hear from you. Keep them informed of anticipated work, project completions, and even why you let them go. This makes it a much more beneficial experience for everyone involved.
3. Test before Hiring
If you're not sure about a potential hire, hire them first for a small fixed pay job. That way you can judge their skills without committing to a long term project. You can also limit their amount of hours initially to get an idea of a skill level. For certain jobs, like writing, you can ask for specific samples from potential hires.
4. Know the going wage
I see this one a lot - You can't hire competent programmers from North America for the same price you would someone from overseas. Cost of living and taxes just won't tell you. So if you're angling for the homeshoring angle, be prepared to pay more than you would for someone overseas, and plan accordingly.
5. Use the tools at your disposal
oDesk has great tools available built in to help you work with your workers, so make sure to learn about them and use them. If you hire for long term projects, consider using tools like Basecamp or DeskAway to fully integrate your hire into your team.
6. Feedback is king
The oDesk feedback system has been a tremendous help in evaluating new hires. Written feedback often speaks volume about a candidate’s abilities, or lack thereof. Be prepared to give those who have no feedback a chance however, and ask them to compensate by lowering their rate temporarily. As a corollary, leave feedback for your providers so other employers can benefit as well.
7. Speak Softly and use the Carrot System
Your hires are humans too – treat them with the same respect you would offer employees in your office. More importantly, bonuses for those who are worthy will continue to keep them in your employ for a long time. Rewards often work more wonders then fear of any punishment or layoff.
Ari writes about cell phones for cellphones.org. cellphones.org uses oDesk providers for customer service, data entry, and various backend tasks.