The Way We Work
July 18, 2012 by Jaleh Bisharat

By Jaleh Bisharat, VP Marketing at oDesk 

I was one of the countless women who inhaled Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now-viral article in The Atlantic, titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”

My first reaction was this: “It is not a coincidence that my first full-time job in 11 years is at oDesk.”

My story goes back to the year 2000 when I thought I had it all. Except that apparently I didn’t.

My children were 8 and 5. My husband was (and is) an extraordinary father who shouldered more than 50% of the child rearing. I was the Vice President of Marketing at Amazon.com. I loved every minute of those heady days when the company was an emerging leader in e-commerce and I worked with some of the smartest, most dynamic people on earth.

In the mornings, my husband would drop off the kids at school and a babysitter would pick them up in the afternoons. In a high-wire act, my husband commuted from Seattle to his teaching job in San Francisco several days a week.

Most evenings, I would leave the office at 6:30 PM or 7:00 PM with a churning stomach. I felt awful skulking out past a team toiling at their desks, yet I knew I would go home to children who had already had their day, their dinner and their baths and who were gently preparing to be tucked in.

Even then, my workday continued. I’d get home and make scheduled calls to employees. My daughter would beg me to make the calls from her bedside. I’d hold her soft little hand, and she’d drift off to sleep to the sound of my voice—not reading or talking to her, but conversing with someone else about the day’s business.

And so it went, until one day I looked into my husband’s tired eyes and said, “Do you think I should quit?” To my immense surprise, the same man who had encouraged and supported me through a satisfying career with many intense moments, said simply, “Yes. I think you should.”

It was a wrenching moment.

I had thought I had it all. But the three people I loved the most in the world felt differently. They wanted a wife and mother at the dinner table, in their conversations, at their bedside—with full attention focused on them.

Did I need to try harder to make it all work?

I was offered one more chance to “have it all.” I almost took it. Our CEO, quite possibly the most inspiring leader a person could work for, offered me shorter work hours. Charismatic and persuasive, he was not an easy person to turn down.

But I concluded that even if I accepted the shorter hours, there were other women at the company with families. Being the exception at a place with an in-office work culture—which all companies were, before the advent of high-bandwidth collaboration and communication technologies—did not feel like the right solution.

So I stared into the future, trying to imagine what it would be like to wake up each day without the professional identity I had built up over more than a decade. What would it be like to be a mom moving anonymously in the crowd, without important people to meet and things to accomplish?

For the next 11 years, I found out. While other women advanced their careers, I worked part time. I passed on opportunities. I cooked and ate with my family. I picked up my children from school. I watched my daughter turn into a young dancer and writer and my son turn into a young magician and mathematician.

I was not the perfect mother, but I was there.

Some of my jobs turned into four days per week or even five short days. But I had stopped believing I could officially sign on full time and maintain a happy family life.

Until the oDesk opportunity presented itself.

For me, a pivotal point in Slaughter’s piece is this: “Our work culture still remains more office-centered than it needs to be, especially in light of technological advances … One way to change is by changing the ‘default rules’ that govern office work—the baseline expectations about when, where and how work will be done.”

At oDesk, the business premise is that people should be free to work whenever they want and wherever they want, and that they will succeed or fail based on the quality of their work—not the number of hours they sit at their desks in the office.

This caught my attention. I decided to explore whether the oDesk culture reflects its business values. I learned that oDesk evaluates employees purely on the excellence of their work product.

So I took my first full-time VP of Marketing job since my Amazon.com days.

Now, I drive to the oDesk offices at the crack of dawn, but I am back for dinner with my family. Tuesday is work-from-home day for everyone at oDesk.

Some days I wrap up work in time for dinner and a few late-night emails; others I am cranking for many hours. But there is little stress involved in hard work when I know I can do it any time and from anywhere.

Almost every oDesk meeting starts with the same question: “Who is participating remotely?” Most conference rooms are equipped with large TV screens, hooked up to Skype, for remote participants. oDesk meeting etiquette gives priority to remote participants who would like to speak.

We are far from perfect in our approach to the “work anywhere” model. We are still learning how to capture and measure excellence, to build thriving remote relationships and to embrace all meeting participants—local and remote—equally.

For me, however, working at a company whose very mission is to offer an alternative to the traditional office-centered culture has made all the difference. It has moved me closer to “having it all” than at any other time in my life.

Jaleh Bisharat

Vice President of Marketing

Jaleh Bisharat, oDesk’s Vice President of Marketing, is a seasoned marketing executive with a history of growing startups into vibrant brands that inspire passion in their customers. Before joining oDesk, she was the Vice President of Marketing at several innovative companies including OpenTable, Jawbone and Amazon.com, and also served on the Board of Directors at OpenTable and Homestead Technologies. Jaleh received a Bachelor of the… read more

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  • http://www.debutinfotech.com/ Gurpreet

    Hi Jaleh,

    I would like to share my thoughts & experience , so that odesk marketing & management team would dig more into this concern.You are very experienced in marketing field and I am sure you will definitely get some fixes and solution for it .

    Odesk is really doing perfect job to match the developers to the clients directly. In one of odesk article it is mentioned that current odesk market place is $ 1 B and going to increase at the rate of $ 1 b per year.

    a) Since from march ( 2013) this year , the number of job posting & clients has been decreased. The ratio is very worst in this month ( June) as the client ( employer posting ) for new project is less

    b) The project posted are very small range & client spending on odesk for mid level project is also decreased

    c) I had also discussed this scenario with my friends who are using odesk even from last 4-5 years . As per them also, this is very bad phase where the number of job posting has decreased and new client acquisitions ratio is very very less .

    d) I would like to share an example of “Mobile Apps” posting. If we compare , eight month back in october 2012, every day there are more than 25-30 jobs ( hourly jobs) posted on mobile apps category. Now the number is left to 10-15 ( hourly jobs).

    It seems like outsource market is going down dramatically on odesk .

    I would request odesk team look into this scenario & factors behind it . I really wish great success to odesk as our company is also a small part of odesk family. Please, let me know if need my more inputs on this scenario

    Thanks

  • Gwen

    This is a very inspiring story which I can relate to, not because I let go of being a prominent person but the fact that I left my secular job being a store supervisor for six years in an importing company that carries international luggage brands and landed part-time jobs on oDesk.

    I am a BS Information Technology graduate some eight years ago, and have wanted a job that would compensate me based on my skills and hard works. Being a programmer has passed my line of work since my expertise falls on writing. In 2008, a friend introduced me to oDesk and at that same time, a couple of outsourcing companies contacted me but since I have started my first writing job on oDesk, I declined all other offers. I had several job interview invitations on oDesk but I decided to accept a maximum of four jobs since I am also managing a small family business.

    The blessings I received while working on oDesk include wonderful clients with some long-term jobs. While working continuously online I get the chance to tour overseas because of the convenience in filing a leave of absence. And I spent more time with family and friends, plus I get to see big events without worrying about a job undone.

    Thanks to oDesk!

    • Jaleh Bisharat

      I love your personal story and hearing how you are able to work on oDesk while spending time with friends and family. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Marlyn

      Wonderful story. Jaleh and Gwen. After all money alone does'nt make us completely happy. People spend a lot of time chasing money and the family are being neglected. You are very wise managing your time. God bless and more power

  • rowena moraleta

    Very inspiring article. just signed up at oDesk recently and I hope and pray that I will be successful also. I know that it will take time, but i'm willing to wait and sacrifice. I promise to do my best.

    • Jaleh Bisharat

      Thank you Rowena. I wish you the very best. And I encourage you to check out this link posted above: https://url.odesk.com/kyq5r . It was written by a successful contractor and contains many pearls of wisdom.

  • Sharon

    I have a 5 year old and an 8 year old and am figuring out how to either 'have it all' or at least 'have most of what I want' via working remotely. Building remote and thriving relationships will be key to my success, and I'd love to read more about any best practices you have.

    Do you have any regrets working part time for 11 years? And now with your children being older, how has your definition of 'having it all' changed? Do you feel satisfied with the time you have with your family?

    • Jaleh Bisharat

      Thanks Sharon. I will think about your question about "best practices." I've developed some that work for me, but I need to reflect on whether they would be useful to other people. If I decide they would be, perhaps I will write another post.

      I really don't have any regrets about the part time work although there is no question that my career did not exactly explode during those years. :) However, I loved watching my children grow up. Now that they are older things are definitely easier. I believe part of the reason this is true is because they got what they needed when they were young, so they are both pretty independent and hardworking young people now. One of them is away at college and the other is an easy teen.

      oDesk really has made a difference. Even though my children are older I'm still pretty smitten with my husband and like to see him as well. The ability to work from home and to be judged by the quality of my work (not face time in the office) works for me and my family. It is also smart business because my motivation is about as high as it gets.

      What is your experience?

  • gracebaby

    it is really nice to wake in the morning dreaming what good happens yesterday.. always give thank for all the good deeds happen to you...

  • mehedi hasan

    I am new bangladeshi odesk account holder.I donot know how i create my profile and how can I get job.If you have any idea please send me email.that is your best wishes.

    • http://www.odesk.com Jenna Weiner

      Hi Mehedi, welcome to oDesk! Here is a really helpful post in our Community Forum about how to get started and land your first job: https://url.odesk.com/kyq5r Best of luck!

  • http://www.freelancewrite.about.com allena

    I'm sorry, Jaleh, but I don't think you nearly had it all, at ALL. I don't think missing 90% of your children's hours is having it "all." I'm not making a judgement on that- I'm simply saying it does NOT fit the have-it-all meme whatsoever. Guess I'm having a hard time matching up the title with the rest of the post.

    • Jaleh Bisharat

      Hi Allena, Thanks for sharing your perspective, even if we see things differently. I'd love to hear your story, if you care to share.

  • Cindy LeBleu Wood

    It honestly sounded too good to be true....but my daughter, Laura, who had been a freelance writer for many years found the perfect match with oDesk. She has it all, now: family and profession and the joy of working with people like you, Jaleh. Thanks for a great article! Cindy LeBleu-Wood

    • http://odesk.com Laura

      Awww...thanks, mom. (Jaleh - I did not pay her to say that! I swear!) ;)

      • Jaleh Bisharat

        We are the lucky ones! Laura is so talented and a joy to work with.

  • Shareen

    Thanks for your honest and transparent dialog, Jaleh. Indeed, having a career and family is an on-going balancing act. Which is why I love the way I work at oDesk -- because it allows me the flexibility to have a fulfilling career and raise my 2-year old son.