Year of Share: oDesk in Review


oDesk/Elance, TaskRabbit, Wonolo, and the many other freelance platforms that have popped up recently are changing the face of labor. They are pushing offices aside and leading a new era, one where skills and expertise are shared, a place where talent knows no boundaries and a freelancer can become a digital nomad.

In this Year of Share review, we will focus on oDesk. At Pley, we have been using oDesk since before our site was launched to the public, and continue to use it today. Freelancers have always been around, but oDesk allows unknown freelancers to find jobs and build their personal brands. In the past, successful freelancers were those who had established a notable personal brand through years of working in the trenches and acquiring professional allies. With the transforming sharing economy, this is no longer the case. Novice writers, designers, developers, etc. are able to get opportunities through sites such as oDesk that they may not have been able to get otherwise.

When an employer is seeking to hire a new employee, they usually have to go through a lengthy, costly, and inefficient process of recruiting. Many times without really knowing how good the employee was in their previous roles, as there is no way to find an authentic public rating of the employee performance. Through the oDesk interface, a freelancer is able to build a profile within minutes and over time get rated and recommended by past employers, thus establishing a public reputation that potential employers can base their judgment on. One could say that oDesk is a combination of Yelp and LinkedIn. You create your own profile, upload your resume, etc., but it is up to those who have worked with you to build your credibility. The freelancer’s reputation can be built over a much shorter period of time, through multiple short gigs, and is easily visible to any potential employer.

I had the opportunity to interview a number of oDesk freelancers as well as oDesk employers. The oDesk freelancers informed me that the sign up process is straightforward and easy to use. Unlike an office job, oDesk is generally an off-site hire. For this reason, accountability is achieved by tracking keystrokes and random screen shots that the system takes automatically. This ensures the freelancer is on task and being properly paid for the time he spent on your task. Many management tools are available through a freelancer’s profile; financial reports, hours worked, employers, payment, etc.

Payment is done through credit card or direct deposit, which is secure and leaves the freelancer without the usual worries of not getting paid. If you are a freelancer through oDesk, you can rely on being paid consistently and on time. The payment, from our side, is as simple as it is on the freelancer’s side; the direct deposit is taken from our business account on a weekly basis and transferred directly to the freelancer (minus oDesk’s 11% fee). To date, after working with oDesk for over two years (13,916 hours) with dozens of freelancers, I have found the payment system is reliable and neither Pley nor any of our freelancers have had any complaints. We don’t use oDesk for essential tasks, however, and it by no means is a replacement for full time employees.

A major advantage of working with oDesk is the speed at which an employer can get resources to a specific task, even at the last minute. Having the ability to break up a task (such as data entry) into smaller tasks and delegate it among numerous freelancers to accelerate the completion time is priceless. This can break up a log jam at the office when suddenly there is a burst of work that needs to be completed but does not warrant a full time hire, which then allows the employers to remain focused on core tasks. However, many times getting the right employee with the right experience and expertise can be difficult and will take a long time – onboarding freelancers quickly can be ideal for growing companies.

oDesk is a convenient solution for the employer and freelancer. For employers, it takes care of many administrative, time consuming, and costly tasks that are required when bringing on a full time employee (sourcing, recruiting, legal paperwork etc.). For freelancers, oDesk enables the digital nomad within some of us; with the ability to work while having the freedom to travel, work from home or the flexibility to spend time with the family, an oDesk freelancer works wherever there is an Internet connection. For companies that are seeking to find a balance between in-house full time employees and freelance workers – oDesk is one more effective option.


Variable Measures oDesk
Shareability What is the sharing component of the service? Is it emphasizing experience/access vs. ownership? 3 oDesk allows a freelancer to share their skills with multiple employers. On the flip side, this service also allows employers to access the skills and knowledge of freelancers quickly and in a cost efficient manner. As an employer, instead of “Owning” the time of a single full time employee you are able to access the skills and knowledge base of a freelancer more easily and with greater flexibility.
Convenience How easy is it to understand the service and book it? Is it mobile ready? App vs. Responsive? 4 It is very easy to get information and find a freelancer on The only mobile app they have does not have all of the desktop capabilities. For example, you can’t hire a freelancer through the app. However, everyone who has used it seems to have a positive response, referencing the app’s convenience.
Price/Value What is the value of the service vs. alternatives? 4 Through oDesk, you are able to hire freelancers without committing to long-term employment. The service intercepts 10% of the freelancer’s payment, but it also takes care of all the paperwork and the employer is left without feeling hiring remorse as
Promise/Result What do you get compared with what is promised? 5 The oDesk service promises a catalog of freelancers at your service, and that is exactly what it provides. With past references and the chance to look over freelancers’ portfolios, the employer often gets the expected results. But there are no guarantees.
Environmental Impact Is the service net positive to the environment? Are ecological resources saved? 2 Paperwork is saved, but almost all work is digital these days, so it doesn’t make too much of a dent on the environment.
Social Mission Does the company have a social mission and how strong is it? 2 “oDesk is where the world goes to work!” oDesk enables the digital nomad to live the life they have always dreamed of. Making a living while traveling or living in the destination of their choosing.
User Privacy Does the company have a clear user privacy policy? Does it respect its users or take advantage of the information? 5 oDesk promises to delete any personal information off of their database, if requested.
Regulation Does the company challenge/break any existing regulation? 2 Most of the controversy surrounding the freelance economy is that it prevents individuals from receiving benefits that would otherwise be provided to full time employees (such as medical and dental insurance). oDesk does provide the option to join a medical plan, as long as the freelancer works at least 30 hours per week. I can only guess that many freelancers don’t make it over this hurdle every week or might choose not to participate. I expect many regulation challenges are ahead of oDesk in this regard.
SEI Score 3.37

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