All Things oDesk
April 17, 2012 by Jenna Weiner

Last Thursday, oDesk was thrilled to welcome a great group of oDesk clients to our office in Redwood City, California, for our first Bay Area User Group.

The evening started with a welcome from oDesk CEO Gary Swart, who discussed the evolution of the online work industry and oDesk’s vision for the future of work.

“Talent is the single biggest lever we have, yet with traditional hiring, it’s harder than ever to find and retain great people,” Gary said. But thanks to the growth of online work, we can now access talent on demand and virtually. “We are just scratching the surface of this new way of working,” Gary said. “The possibilities are endless.”

Gary was followed by Mollie Carter, oDesk’s Director of Customer Marketing, who presented the results of a recent independent survey of more than 7,000 oDesk clients. The survey found that early adopters are the first to embrace online hiring, and that these adopters are savvy and highly educated; the majority hold a post-graduate degree.

The survey also found that those who try online work don’t go back — 76% characterized online hiring as a “long-term strategy” instead of a “temporary solution,” and 89% agreed that online work makes their business more competitive. “You’re really using online work as a strategic weapon,” Mollie said of the clients in attendance.

Mollie also moderated a panel of oDesk clients, representing a wide range of company sizes. The panel included Mike Todasco of SketchMaven (a one-person startup), Austin Vedder and Garrett Smallwood of Redbeacon (a small startup with just over 20 people, but which was acquired by Home Depot in January), and Mike Shwe of Google.

The panel discussed best practices and common challenges for three of the most important aspects of online work — hiring, onboarding and scaling.

Hiring

Regarding hiring, Mike from Google discussed how one of the biggest advantages of online work is that it enables him to spin up a team "practically overnight as opposed to in six to 12 months," he said. “It allows us to be more reactive according to our priorities."

Mike from SketchMaven noted that the best way to find a contractor online is by networking and asking for recommendations, just like you would do with local hiring. “It’s no different than in the physical world," he said. "Ask people who they’re using."

Aside from that, Mike presented his top three best practices for hiring:

  • Ask specific questions in the job post,
  • don’t overlook feedback scores, and
  • consider doing a test project.

“Give them a little piece of the project, a day’s work. You can learn a lot about someone in a day,” he said.

At Redbeacon, they have developed their own process for hiring — they test out the role themselves first. “It helps to know what you’re hiring for,” they said. To ensure they know exactly what to look for, they perform the work themselves first, figuring out exactly which process is best, what tools are needed and what skills they are looking for.

Onboarding

When discussing onboarding — orienting new team members to your company — Mike from Google reinforced the importance of building a community. “Working from home can be isolating,” he said. “It’s important to build a sense of community and engagement. We want team spirit and for people to be excited about their work.” To do so, Google provides coaches and mentors for new contractors, and has implemented a way to identify and leverage high performers.

To streamline onboarding, Redbeacon has implemented an extensive training process. “We use Google Docs. We set everyone up with our own internal tools like Gmail and Skype. We do a lot of internal role-playing. We hire two contractors at once who work together. We have coaches who we’ve already defined to help with onboarding. We have Skype meetings daily,” Austin and Garrett explained. “We’ve had some bad experiences when we’ve approached it with the 'just throw the project over the wall' mentality, but really you’re hiring a team. Coaching and training are just as important as with an in-person team.”

Mike from SketchMaven added that he is still working with some of the first contractors he ever hired, in 2009. Though he is not always able to give them full-time work, “I promise them that I will refer the heck out of them,” he said. “It doesn’t feel at all like a contractor relationship; you really get to know them. You build relationships with them. I will sometimes work really late nights with them, and get to know a bit of their life story. They are your team, and it’s no different than if they were in the office.”

Scaling

To make scaling a team as fast and efficient as possible, Mike from Google suggested nailing down all your processes and documentation. “Knowing that we’ve built the team to a certain size so far, we can build a much larger team with this repeatable process,” he said. “We have automated the testing and training, really the whole hiring process."

Meanwhile, Austin and Garrett at Redbeacon recommended hiring slowly and moving on quickly if the contractor isn't working out. “The good people quickly rise through the ranks and help coach and train,” they said. “We relied heavily on our earliest high-performers, and many of them are still with us — the first five people we hired still are.”

Mike from SketchMaven also suggested moving on quickly, but added that you should “love the ones who are good.” He makes sure his stellar contractors know they are appreciated; for example, he recently sent pictures of his conference booth to the designer that created the graphics, as a way of thanking him. 

To close out the presentations, oDesk’s Director of Marketplace Hayden Brown discussed some exciting developments the product team is working on. "We’re making it easier for the right contractors and employers to find each other," she said.

The group then split into more informal, topic-based sessions, where clients could ask questions about everything from finding a technical contractor to custom APIs.

Overall, the event was a great success, and we loved meeting our users and hearing their stories. Stay tuned for more user groups in the future!

Do you have any hiring, onboarding or scaling tips to share? Leave them 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