The outsourcing of manufacturing might be the most significant economic impactor of most developed countries in the last 30 years.  The concept of moving work to low-wage centers is anything but new.  Take one part outsourcing, mix in some concepts of the share economy, add in some telecommuting and you have the birth of a new industry that I decided to take part in.

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It’s not just call centers and assembly lines that are on the global job market anymore. Photo Credit: dcmaster via Compfight cc

I have been struggling to build a personal website for years.  Unlike the free version of WordPress (.com), the self-hosted (.org) WordPress lets you do silly things like install uber-complicated themes, such as ThemeForest’s Avada.  These themes allow incredibly powerful, beautiful sites–but are anything but simple. I felt incredibly stuck, so while “PD-Shopping” (this happened to be a month before COETAIL crossed my mind), I found a course called “Build Your Website Now“, offered by Michael Boll, another international teacher.  To be honest, the course was probably aimed at total newbies to web design–but Brian did a really nice job of differentiating for me.   He also responded to an exasperated post, in which I dreamed of a world where I could find a local web-designer here in Jakarta, that could help speed me through the extremely slow road of “learn by doing”.  Brian suggested I look at two websites, eLance and oDesk.  Those two sites are among the most popular freelance job posting sites in the world, and they are one more step in making the world a smaller place.

These sites, and others like them, are worth a visit, even if you have zero intention of paying someone  to help you with your project.   They are an eye-opening glimpse into what will seem a harsh reality to many “knowledge workers”:  Manufacturing and call-center jobs not the only type of work that can done by low-wage workers!   You will find web programmers, graphic designers, app development, inventory control, and lots of other fancy-sounding jobs that you might have considered highly skilled and ‘safe’ from off-shoring.   You will see the freelancers are from places like Nepal, Ukraine, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and they are willing to work for a very small percentage of what you might expect this work to pay.

I’ve never been an idealist, and in my mind those in the developing world need jobs just as much as those in my hometown.  I know this is a thorny subject–and the goal of this post isn’t to debate the merits of on-shore or off-shore freelancers (check out LaunchAStartUp  for an interesting read).    After chewing on it for a couple of days, I decided I would give remote freelancing a try.   I posted a brief outline of my job, specifically stating that I was looking for someone who would be willing to only do work while I watched, via live screen-sharing, so that I would be learning from this experience–not just receiving a final product that was simply made for me.

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These emails arrived within 1 hour of posting the job

I was amazed at the results.  Within hours, I had several candidates.  After the second day passed, I closed the post because I didn’t want to keep sorting through applicants!  I was presented with a wide range of faces, nationalities, expected wages and skill-sets.  I was able to scan through their responses to 2 custom questions that I asked each of them, the most important one relating to how they planned on teaching me.  That narrowed down the possibilities substantially–most of the freelancers had glazed over this part, or seemed to think it wasn’t important enough to bother mentioning.  But two young men had solid, workable plans–they would request windows of time that were convenient for me, schedule a date, then use either Skype or TeamViewer to allow me to literally watch their every movement.  We would meet up at whatever frequency I desired, for as long as I felt was necessary.

Awesome.  Incredibly convenient.  Disturbingly easy.

In the end, I went with the guy with a closer time zone–just made more sense than coordinating with someone who was literally on the opposite side of the globe.  We’ll call him Nico, (not his real name).  Nico, like everyone on this site, has a “profile wage”, which is simply an amount that he chose based on his own opinion of his qualifications and what he felt he could demand, considering the competition–at least that is how I assume this number is reached.  During the actual hiring step,

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Time zones matter with collaboration

I was able to specify the “actual wage”, which was an interesting dilemma akin to deciding how much to tip.  I rounded up, and I have no idea if this is the norm.  Again, the goal of this post isn’t to discuss wage dynamics, but I will say that I feel good about what I am paying this young man.  He’s done less than a dozen jobs through eDesk (all with very good ratings), and I do hope that his wages increases, but I don’t feel any sense of guilt about our agreement.

So, Nico and I began our conversation last week.  We haven’t technically “met” in the online sense–only talked via audio chat while using the screen-share function in Skype, but I feel like I have a very functional relationship with him.  His English was very good, and he immediately impressed me by asking me to share my Google Calendar with him so that he could see when my in-school and after-school commitments were.  We set up our first meeting for one of my “easy days” where I have 160 minutes of consecutive preparatory time.

What followed were 60 minutes of the most efficient learning experiences of recent memory.  I opened my website’s Dashboard on my external monitor, and put the Skype screen-share on my laptop.  I followed along with him every step of the way, asking him to pause for questions or for letting me see if I could figure it out independently.  I couldn’t believe how many things I learned from him–and not just web design.

We wrapped things up at the 58 minute mark, leaving us time to discuss goals for the next session.  Later in the day I received a notification that 1 hour had been logged and I couldn’t help but shake my head in amazement.  As an international teacher, I already knew the world was shrinking, but this was the most powerful evidence yet that I am directly a part of it.