oDesk: One Writer’s Experience and His Plea to Clients

A guest post by Greg Minton

I was on the phone with a new client, and I couldn’t believe my luck.  This software entrepreneur was clearly excited about working with me.  He loved my style and indicated that our working relationship would be a long-term one.  He was happy with my rate and excited about the suggestions I was making for his landing page.

But there was a problem.

He wanted to work through oDesk.

oDesk is an online bidding site similar to Elance.  What sets oDesk apart is its time tracking software.  This software doesn’t just track time.  It also takes periodic screenshots of the freelancer’s screen, snaps webcam pictures of the freelancer, and keeps track of the freelancer’s typing rate.

I grudgingly agreed, since I had really enjoyed my interactions with this client so far.

My oDesk Experience

My client wasn’t worried about my work habits; he only wanted to work through oDesk because his marketing budget was in the oDesk escrow system.  To get paid, I still had to work through the oDesk software, so I loaded up the software and started writing.  He and I agreed on a set rate for the project, so we agreed that I’d just stop the clock when it reached that rate.

The first few times it took pictures and screenshots, I felt annoyed and noticed a shift in my behavior; I felt less relaxed than I usually do as I write.  For example, I felt tense about shifting over to iTunes to skip a song or opening my calendar to double check an appointment.

This kind of tension while doing creative work is never a good thing.

The last straw was when I received an e-mail, switched over to check it, and started to read an e-mail from another client.  At that moment, the screen flickered, indicating that oDesk was taking a screenshot.  While this e-mail contained no sensitive information, the very idea that sensitive client information could potentially be compromised through oDesk was unacceptable to me.

The Fundamental Problem With oDesk

My situation with oDesk was fairly innocuous.  I called my client to renegotiate a different payment method, and things worked out.

However, I learned from the oDesk experience and gleaned some potentially useful principles for both creative professionals and clients.

oDesk’s time tracking and monitoring software is increasing in popularity with clients, and this is not occurring in a vacuum.  I see oDesk’s growing popularity (and its mere existence) as an effect of particular client paradigm, not the sole or primary cause.

    1. oDesk implies a lack of trust.

    Clients who insist on monitoring their freelancers’ work behavior send a very clear message to the freelance professional: “I don’t trust you.”

    Why else would they want to watch their freelancers’ computer screens, treating them as though they are eight years old?

    Successful business relationships are built at the relationship level, not at the contractual level.  Yes, there is a necessary element of self-protection involved in any contractual relationship.

    However, if a client-contractor relationship starts off from the standpoint of “I’m not so sure you’re going to do the work, so I’m going to stand over your back,” then the freelancer will have no reason to reciprocate trust.

    2. oDesk ignores how freelancers actually work.

    Freelance writers are creative professionals.  We’re not producing widgets.  I can understand a manager’s desire to supervise an assembly line of factory workers.  Freelancers work differently, though.  We need creative flow, and monitoring software just doesn’t allow this flow when it takes a picture every five minutes.

    As another example of oDesk ignoring how freelancers work, I organize large projects with notecards.  I lay them out on my desk and organize the flow of the piece.  This is clearly billable time, as it is time solely devoted to the client’s project.  In this scenario, oDesk would snap pictures of iTunes and would show no keyboard typing.

    oDesk ignores that there’s more to writing than typing into a Word document – most projects involve planning, preparation, and research.

    3. oDesk can potentially harm confidential business relationships.

    Most freelancers don’t just have one client.  As of the time of writing this article, I have about six active projects, and two more in the pipeline.  Sometimes, I open an e-mail from one client as I work on another clients’ project.  What happens if oDesk snaps a picture of confidential business information?  I absolutely refuse to compromise my clients’ confidential information for the sake of an untrusting client.

    The issue isn’t fundamentally about oDesk.  It’s about the way that clients view their freelancers – and how freelancers view themselves.  oDesk’s rise in popularity is alarming, as it is an indication of an ever-increasing lack of trust towards freelance writers.
    My plea to clients is this: If you don’t trust your freelance writer, ask for references.  If you still don’t trust him, don’t hire him.  Foster a relationship of trust from the very beginning, and you won’t have to keep tabs on your freelance writer.


  1. says

    I’m not interested in being on a nanny-cam. Wouldn’t touch a project like that with a ten foot poll and wouldn’t consider subjecting anyone else to that kind of crap.

    In addition to the intrusion, implied lack of trust, etc., I wonder about the potential legal ramifications of this stuff. At some point, people cross the line between hiring freelancers and hiring employees. This kind of monitoring system may push a few folks over that line, I’d think.

    Regardless, I’d rather cram my family into an efficiency and feed them Ramen noodles and day old bread than play along with oDesk. If I wanted to have some micro-manager breathing down my neck, I’m sure I could find a number of jobby-jobs (and the protections that come with them) out there.

  2. says

    Some jobs just aren’t worth that kind of trouble. If you’re afraid you’re paying for time not spent on your project, either don’t hire the person or work on a flat fee. Sheesh!

  3. says

    Sounds very Winston-ish!

    On the flip side, some clever contractors might be able to convince employers who insist on “in-office” writers to allow telecommuting using oDesk (with the assurance that a monitoring program will keep track of time and efficiency).

  4. says

    Before Greg and I discussed his experience, I was under the impression that the Big Brother thing was optional. For some reason I thought writers could say no to the spycam. Glad to know this now and spread the word.

    • says

      @Deb – Apparently it is possible to work on a fixed rate, but neither I nor my client have figured out how to do so. The point of the matter, though, is that oDesk is marketing themselves based on the tracking software. That’s what sets them apart from Elance.

  5. says

    That was one thing that worried me about the Odesk method. Like most freelancers, I multitask, sometimes to recharge my creative batteries. I also do thinking and planning offline. A system that takes no account of that isn’t terribly useful. I hadn’t even really thought about the implied lack of trust, but now that you bring it up, it’s a valid point. My clients trust me to get the job done; how I do that is up to me. I do find time tracking software useful so I can keep an eye on project costs, but I don’t want to have it imposed from outside.
    .-= Sharon Hurley Hall´s last blog ..Are You A Buttoned-Up or Buttoned-Down Freelance Writer? =-.

  6. says

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Not only would a ‘normal’ employer never dare to peek over your shoulder every few minutes, the whole set-up of the Odesk tracker completely overlooks the fact that we are not employees. Would you ask for screenshots of your lawyers computer? Or CCTV on your plumber? It’s insulting – I do a lot for my clients, but the reason I work for myself is to avoid the edginess of needing to ‘look busy’ so I won’t be doing this.
    .-= Imogen´s last blog ..The Rest of the Day She Left – Part 2 =-.

  7. says

    The few times I’ve taken jobs through oDesk, I’ve actually had pretty positive experiences. That said, I have never taken an hourly job through oDesk, nor would I. I’ve been invited to interview for several hourly jobs and I simply contacted the client and explained that I don’t work that way, but that I’d be happy to discuss the scope of the project and produce a fixed-rate quote for them. I still run it through oDesk, so they get their 10 points or whatever for making the introduction, and the client still has funds in escrow to give them the warm fuzzies.

    I’ve heard oDesk called e-slavery, and I think it’s a pretty accurate description when you’re talking about coding jobs that pay $1.50 an hour to some poor shlub in Bangladesh and the client still wants to make sure the poor shlub isn’t taking too long on his bathroom break. The only other problem I’ve seen with the site is the expectation to be able to hire a writer to pen the Magna Carta and then expect to pay him/her $20 for the project. I’ve learned that when I get an invitation to interview for a 4,000-word grant proposal and they’ve budgeted $250 for the project to just say “thanks, but no thanks” rather than trying to educate the client about getting what he pays for.

  8. says

    I’ve commented about this before, on another blog. It’s disgusting, and I stick my finger up to it. I left the 9-5 workplace because I like having the freedom to do as I want, when I want – and as long as I get the work done on time, to the required standard, whose business is it if I have Twitter open in another window, or take some time out to instant-message my friend on Skype?

    I always log my start-stop times in my little notepad timesheet and clients are never, ever shortchanged for what I do. Sometimes I just work better in 20-minute bursts. That’s how I am, but I shouldn’t be penalised (explicitly or implicitly) for it.

    And I’m damned if I’m going to answer to anyone for how I choose to organise my workflow. That’s what a boss does, and I have no boss but myself.
    .-= Lucy Smith´s last blog ..Tempting gadgetry =-.

  9. says

    I’m a freelance writer who has used Odesk a lot. It gave me my break into freelance writing but I do have to say like many creative types I do not work well this way.

    Odesk does allow for a flat fee which I prefer. The problem is, however, with the screen cap and productivity measures you do feel like you can’t answer the phone, check an urgent email or even go to the bathroom without ‘pausing’ your activities – something anyone in any workplace would not have to do. And if you’re constantly having to ‘pause’ your billing time it looks as though you’re unfocused and not committed to the job.

    Unfortunately, many clients begin from a standpoint that writers are flaky, unproductive and not really offering a valuable service. They often don’t see the value until they have the end product and may feel wary about employing an offsite freelancer for the first time. Odesk gives the client more peace of mind, but I do agree that it’s very difficult and often more unproductive to work this way.

    I quite like Odesk but I feel it’s ability to provide work for quality freelancers is fast dissolving. The amount of times I’ve been contacted to write 500 words for a dollar, or get emailed with a ‘lucrative writing job’ that offers a ‘great deal’ paying $3 an hour is ridiculous. The sad thing is that I see many US workers selling their skills for $5-$10 an hour, making it very hard for professional freelancers to charge a sustainable fee.

    • says

      This is so true. We waste a lot of time sorting through the junk that offers $1/500words. They’re everywhere.

      oDesk is a global marketplace. That’s their position and I think it’s a good one. It’s not like Demand Studios that accept only US writers (heard they accept Canadian and British writers now). However, being global is also the reason why most are forced to lower down their rates if they want to get a project.
      .-= Rosanne´s last blog ..Welcome to Elite webcontent =-.

  10. Phil says

    Have to agree with carson about legal ramifications, particularly if there is sensitive information in an e-mail. I’m no lawyer, but I would venture to say there are a ton of potential liability issues with this.

  11. says

    As a computer security expert as well as a freelance writer, oDesk gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies. What I do for one client is no business of another’s, and the legal implications are frightening. If it keeps track of the typing rate, there’s no reason to think the oDesk system couldn’t be compromised by a wily hacker and turned into a keylogger: something that records every keystroke typed. That could jeopardize login credentials, even banking and credit card information, especially when combined with screenshots and webcam. There are better and far less intrusive ways to track time.
    .-= Triona Guidry´s last blog ..Fake Microsoft Security Essentials Antivirus =-.

  12. says

    This was an EXCELLENT article! While I might be a good candidate for the oDesk hourly clocking (I get so involved that hours will pass before I look up at the clock), I don’t do command performances. If my clients want to check me out, they can either call my references or look at my LinkedIn profile.

  13. Karen says

    I agree with Triona –

    I tried oDesk once about two years ago and their software freaked me out! I uninstalled it from my computer immediately. Hypothetically, if I worked for these slave-drivers, these people would have my IP address, email accounts, home address, and then it would only be a matter of time before my bank account and credit card account was hacked. How is there not a class-action lawsuit against this company? In time, I am sure there will be one.

  14. Kriszia says

    I started out on the bidding sites, but oDesk was one I stayed away from. I just wasn’t comfortable about a person taking screenshots of my PC, and timing the way I work. My thinking is, so long as I submit my deliverables on the agreed upon time, why is there a need to check on how I work? It’s like having a boss stand behind you, and taking pictures from time to time. No thanks.

    Besides, the good jobs on bidding sites are few and far in between. I can get more per page of copy working in my home country, which appalls some buyers, but hey. Them’s the rates, even in the developing world!

  15. says

    I have used oDesk to recruit some research assistants from time to time, and also thought the webcam stuff was optional. This reminds me of a time when a client requested to “watch me” via screen sharing, so he could “learn my workflow” and develop some of his own content. I had to gently remind him the distinction between hiring a freelancer and going to a writing seminar before I eventually turned down the gig.
    .-= Joe Taylor Jr.´s last blog ..Recommended Reading for March 5th =-.

  16. says

    I’m a regular reader of you blog, Deb; thanks for all of the great advice.

    I’m what I assume is a somewhat uncommon type of “newbie” freelance writer. After a successful 10-year career as a metro daily newspaper reporter, I went back to grad school and then spent the next 15 years in corporate communications. After a very difficult and painful Great Recession-fueled corporate firing, I’m back trying to create a business based on freelance writing and contract/consulting PR and communications work.

    Primarily because I relocated to a new state and region for the corporate job that didn’t work out, and hence had very few local contacts in my new hometown, I felt the need to try to re-start my freelance efforts on three of the online bidding sites. I can report that I’ve had the best luck and best results with oDesk, including a new client paying $100 an hour.

    The thing I like the most about oDesk is that there’s no payment drama. The service guarantees that hourly freelancers will be paid. I get an email weekly asking that I check my online time records and 10 days later, I transfer money electronically to my bank account with no additional fees.

    I understand your situation is far different than mine, but I don’t have the same problem with the oDesk tracking software. If I’m being paid by the hour for work for an oDesk client, I don’t think I should be checking email from other clients, shopping at Amazon or doing anything else online during that other than working for that client. It’s true the service counts keystrokes, but it doesn’t record what you’re typing. If I’m doing offline research or proofreading an assignment on paper, I let the clock run and add a note to the software’s memo field, in case a client questions why there’s time booked with no keystrokes. I’ve never had a payment dispute on oDesk.

    I hope to reach a point where work through bid sites isn’t necessary, but it’s been very slow going. I’m doing work for two other non-bid content sites and am sending proposals for other appropriate work I hear or read about on Craig’s List, indeed.com, and yours and other sites. Although I have considerable writing experience, I’m finding it difficult to break in. If anyone has suggestions (particularly if you have a moment to review my Web site), I’m all ears.

    • says

      HI Karen,

      Thanks for offering another look at the oDesk experience. It looks like it’s a solution that works for you. I’m not sure it would work for me though. As a freelancer, I don’t want my clients keeping track of my hours and keystrokes, that’s why I’m freelancing. I left corporate America because I couldn’t stand micromanagement and I won’t tolerate it from my clients.

      With that said, everyone’s experiences are different. It works for you and I respect that.

    • Wal says

      Hi Rebecca,

      I’m not sure you’ll read this very late reply, but I’ll post it anyway. I checked your website and I think it’s great. You do have a problem though with the contact links. Your twitter link directs to twitter.com’s front page, not your twitter page. Same thing for facebook link.

      Also, I think you should allow site visitors to email you (I see no email on the contact page), or you could add a contact form to allow visitors to send messages through the site.

      My best wishes,

  17. says

    I refuse to work on oDesk or using any time tracking software. I do not bid on hourly rate projects. I only bid flat fee. I’m always surprised by clients who object to that (and yeah, there are some) – they think that if they micro manage a writer or subcontractor on an hourly basis, they get better work. Good luck to them. I’m never working that way again. I did one project on an hourly basis last spring and after the guy kept calling me every HOUR to ask for an update, I’d had enough. I LEFT the corporate world to leave behind micro managing idiots. I have no intention of recreating the experience in my new freelance life.

  18. Michele says

    wow! I work through odesk frequently and never really thought about how subtly uncomfortable I am with the tracking clock popping up (and it doesn’t take into account ‘thinking’ time). So far though, I have had zero clients question the ‘activity’ level I posted or my ‘offline’ time added. I do agree though, I prefer fixed price assignments.

  19. says


    Thanks for sharing your experience. I always find it useful to hear directly from users, though there are a couple of common misconceptions you bring up that I’d like to address.

    – Misconception: oDesk users are forced to work through oDesk Team.
    Reality: oDesk encourages users to try the oDesk Team app and be familiar with it, and many users find compelling reasons to use the system. Over 70% of work performed on oDesk is hourly, and our users tell us that they prefer this model because it lends itself to longer-term relationships with their buyers, and to more meaningful and lucrative work.

    However, some contractors find that they don’t need the benefits of guaranteed payment and choose to work on an “all offline time” or fixed-price basis. oDesk guarantees payment on hourly work logged through the oDesk Team app, but also handles invoicing for these alternatives if that is how the user prefers to work.

    -Misconception: oDesk Team shares private information you may not want shared.
    Reality: Users have complete control over information shared in their Work Diary. They can turn the oDesk Team app on and off with a single click, make notes to accompany their uploaded screenshots, and discard screenshots either before or after they are uploaded to the shared Work Diary. Webcam shots are optional, and default to “off” unless selected otherwise. Accidentally share an email with info from another client? No problem, just delete that screenshot from your work diary.

    Lastly, you argue that using oDesk Team implies a lack of trust. The vast majority of our users state the opposite: using oDesk Team enhances trust and leads to longer-term work relationships. Online work gives users access to opportunities far beyond local area and personal networks, and many find they are hired by people they don’t personally know or have limited references for – and vice versa. oDesk Team is designed to be a tool to help encourage communication and build trust where it otherwise may not exist.

    We recognize that not everyone will find the Work Diary and payment guarantee aligned with the way they work. We’ve tried to account for other ways people work, and encourage contractors to have conversations with their clients to decide if oDesk Team, offline work or some combination thereof is the right fit for them.

    Best regards,
    Erica Benton
    Marketing Communications Manager

  20. says

    I’ve been badly burnt by clients who didn’t pay me in the past. For me, oDesk’s guaranteed payment is a small price to pay for the peace of mind of knowing that you’re not working in vain.

    It’s true that the screenshots are a hassle, my writing habit has changed because of this. I’m forced to waste time there because some buyers think that “fast writer = poor quality”. Basically, I’m not earning as much as I think I should.
    .-= Rosanne´s last blog ..Welcome to Elite webcontent =-.

  21. says

    Frankly, the idea of odesk (or anyone else) watching me gives me the creeps.

    Writing and creativity are a funny thing. Sometimes it just flows out of your head, like you’re taking dictation. Other times, it’s a long,hard slog. There are times when writing looks a lot like staring into space. Other times, I’m bent over the keyboard, typing furiously.

    I’d much rather work on a flat fee basis (fairer to me, and to the client) than have a virtual Big Brother standing over me.
    .-= Jodi Kaplan´s last blog ..Are You Reading These Blogs? =-.

  22. WalterSear says

    I fail to see what the big deal is.

    You probably have more than one computer, don’t you? The only thing this is good for is making ignorant clients feel like they have you under their thumb. It’s not actually going to stop anyone so motivated from doing whatever they want.

    But yes, on principal, I’d go nowhere near it.

  23. says

    I’ve been with oDesk for a year, and one of the first things I figured out is how to opt out of the web cam. No one has to see you while you work. You just have to pay attention when you are loading the software. All anyone sees of me is a nice little photo–not my jammies and bedhead. That option is mainly for teams, which is brilliant for that purpose.

    The second thing I figured out is how to deleted any screenshot I don’t want seen. If I forget that I’m working and open an email from another client, I go delete that image. Actually, working this way has helped me develop better work habits. When you agree to be paid hourly, you at least owe your client the courtesy of not working on someone else’s job while you are working on their dime. So that has helped me stay focused. One job at a time.

    The third thing I figured out is that payment comes faster with oDesk. One of my dearest friends hired me to work on a project and didn’t send me a check for 3 months. A huge publishing corporation hired me and didn’t get me a check for 2. Recently someone else hired me and didn’t pay me for 2 months as well. I’ve had some bad experiences waiting for checks. With oDesk, I know I’ll get paid promptly, right to my bank. It’s a dream to have a regular payday but still be my own boss.

    I had the opportunity to work long term with a client recently and told them I wanted them to hire me through oDesk–THAT’S how happy I am with the service. They were thrilled.

    And I do consider it a service that is for my benefit. As far as switching to iTunes or working off line, I do that if I need to, and my clients understand. You can type what you are doing into your memo or add offline time as necessary. If a client knows that’s how you work, they shouldn’t have a problem with it–especially for writers. I know sometimes I have stared at the screen for up to ten minutes without touching a key … that’s just how it goes when I’m thinking and I’ve never had a single complaint about it.

    As for them spying more than a normal office … maybe. But you forget that people get ripped off all the time. Once burned twice shy. I don’t want someone not to hire me because another freelancer ripped them off. Also, a lot of normal offices read your emails and have safety systems so they can keep log of what you are typing. I worked for a corporation that did that. Does it suck? Yes. If you are doing something you shouldn’t be doing on the job.

    The system protects me. I have proof that I spent the time and did the work. I have nothing to hide, can delete any accidental personal stuff that is captured, and I know I’ll get paid. It works for me.
    .-= Tamara´s last blog ..SHOPPING TIPS: 10 Items You Won’t Regret =-.

  24. says

    Good point Deb. There is not doubt that consistent screen capturing by odesk software puts annoying effects on mind of provider specially if he/she is busy in writing or other sort of creative work.

    However If you have won buyer’s trust then oDesk offers you facility to add ‘offline hours’ in your work diary. These hours will work same as ‘logged hours’. But they need buyer’s confirmation before getting into payment schedule which should be no problem in case of a great mutual understanding.

  25. says

    Great article! And it reflects everything I personally thought of this software :) It turned out that I work on oDesk more than any other sites, but this idea didn’t make me happy at all. I usually bid with hour price but in my cover letter to a potential customer I propose him a fixed-rate price for total project. So far no one said ‘no’. I consider this kind of software a spyware and I don’t want to be spied. Deb is right – creative job cannot be done only by typing. You may need to look for some info, to do a research, to think, to have a cup of coffee eventually! I’m a translator and I always do a research if a subject I translate is not of my competence. So I spend some time researching and reading rather than typing the translation, but it’s all a part of job and then I deliver a high quality job in time (and even earlier). So I totally agree with you, guys: if the customer doesn’t trust, he doesn’t have to hire.

  26. secret agent chick says

    I’m a copy writer and I work through oDesk. I charge hourly but I tell my clients that I estimate the job will take X amount of hours and I don’t use the oDesk tracker because my time spent concepting doesn’t translate well to time tracking software, and that sometimes I need to dance in the rain or doodle on my notepad to facilitate the creative process, they’re fine with it.

    WATCH OUT FOR FIXED RATE JOBS! I’ve had three little side jobs in a row where the clients actually held my final payment hostage, tried to renegotiate a lower payment and subtly threatened me with bad feedback. I don’t give a rat’s ass….YOU PAY ME NOW!


  27. says

    some of the legal definitions for “subcontractors” – which freelancers are – mean that the freelancer does NOT work under direct supervision. This monitoring business, in my mind, constitutes being directly supervised, and therefore, oDesk is turning subcontractors into employees. This has a lot of legal ramifications, and I’ve already gone through that with a magazine I used to edit. The result was the refiling of three years worth of income taxes on my part, (thankfully I had claimed all the income) and a hefty fine to the magazine. I’m not a lawyer, but this resembles that situation too much. And no one is taking screen shots of my computer, that is for sure. Thanks for this post, as I was just about to sign up with them.

  28. says

    Thank you for this information. I registered with oDesk but I haven’t gone any further, and now I won’t. The way i work would never be compatible with being watched: I get up to exercise, to eat, to go to the bathroom. I go do a crossword puzzle, then come back to work some more. I like working over a long stretch of time–8 hour or more–with frequent breaks. They’d think I was being lazy and not working I suppose. The big benefit of freelacning, IMO, is in the word: FREE. Nobody’s going to take my picture while I am working! Again, thanks for the heads-up!
    Marcy Sheiner´s last blog post ..Ethics of Blogging

  29. says

    Wow! I’ve heard of oDesk before but never really looked into it that much. I never knew that their tracking system is so strict though, even taking pictures of the freelancer while they worked? That’s crazy! I don’t think I would ever be able to work under that condition as I’m extremely picky about who gets to actually see me online. One of the reasons that I actually like making money online is because you can do it in your bra and panties for all you care because no one actually has to see you in order for you to get work done!

    I definitely would not be able to work under the condition of being watched. I love the flexibility and freedom of working online.
    TriNi´s last blog post ..Make Money Online With Freelance Writing Jobs!

  30. says

    This is a great post and I’m re-tweeting this. Deb clearly nailed down the head here for freelancers of all sorts. Today, many entrepreneurs are hiring to virtual service providers, freelancers or independent contractors coming from all corners of the world. And for it to work, establishing a work relationships based purely on trust and integrity is the key. It’s trust on the part of the employer and integrity on the part of the virtual service provider.

  31. says

    Great article.

    I also gave odesk a try and quit after I saw what the software does. It was nightmare as far as I am concerned. A year layer I still find needless files on my computer. Which means it does not uninstall completely.

    Had the Odesk software been explained clearly and in an upfront manor I never would have signed up. This is probably why Odesk does not explain it clearly and in an upfront manor.

    The worst was trying to terminate the odesk account. Several of these types of places will bury the discontinue feature so deep that you cannot find it, or worse, mislead you into believing that you have discontinued the account when you have not.

    These type of tactics would be considered criminal in a traditional setting but for some reason they are allowed to take place on the internet. Greed can be the only motivation for such actions.

    I recently read an email from an internet marketer boasting how he got a computer program written for $1.50 an hour. It is places like Odesk to allow such slave wages to take place.

    It seems to be fashionable to day for a business person to see just how cheap they can get something done on the internet. This will have unintended consequences in the future.

  32. Gaurav says

    This is a great piece on the potential hassles of using the oDesk system. However, there’s always a flip side!

    As a freelancer, I actually found the hourly rate system refreshing; I love the idea of being paid for actual working time.

    While working “offline” does sound liberating and non-structured, it also leaves us freelancers open to certain risks. We bid based on an estimate of how long a particular job will take us. Any unforeseen delays (difficult research, complex design) cost extra time, while the “fixed rate” remains as it is.

    This is not even counting those few clients who undersell the project depth in the initial offer, get the contract signed, then pump in additional features or complexities!

    I think the oDesk reports remove all such uncertainty – its easy enough to explain time overruns if you have documented proof.

    Screenshots: You’ve made very good points about the screenshot feature. It is a bit irritating, but no worse than my Gmail prompt or random song changes on my Winamp. I’ve also had the tool take a grab of a mail I was sending another client. So I simply went and deleted that grab – I lost 10 minutes of time, which was fair enough, since i WAS mailing another client!

    At the end of the day, its just a darn tool. How we use it is up to us. Or oDesk does offer “fixed rate”, offline work as well.

    Choose wisely.

  33. You're kidding right says

    You’re checking your email while on the client’s time and you have the audacity to complain? Then you wonder why people who pay people on an hourly rate want screen shots of what they’re doing while they’re on the clock.

    Simple solution to worrying about your itunes problem, get an ipod and load it, that way you don’t have to worry about an itunes screen when you’re supposed to be working.

    The people backing you up on your crybaby post is just unreal.

    I understand that the client in this situation didn’t hire you for an “hourly job.” However, you have to look at it from a client’s perspective who does pay people who are on an hourly rate. Would you be happy with someone who is checking their email, fiddling with their music, maybe watching some YouTube videos while on your dime? If you say anything other than no, then you’re full of it.

  34. says

    hmm..I think Amazon’s mturk is the better site for the kind of work that requires recording of keystrokes and screen-shots. Why would a legitimate business pay you on the basis of “delivered work” and want to track your every move? If I hire a contractor to paint my walls, I don’t sit and stare at him all day. If the wall is painted at the end of the day, he gets paid. If he prefers to drink beer and laze around all day and still gets the wall painted, well, that’s just great.

  35. says

    Oh and as for writing code and programming, odesk programmers are the cheapest on the planet. Nobody in India or US can compete with those rates. It does appear that most of the programmers on odesk have a day job somewhere else. They wouldn’t be able to finance the cost of broadband or computers or rent with just the projects at odesk.

  36. says

    Ramakant, I hate to tell you this, but if my painter lazed around and drank beer all day, I wouldn’t pay him what he wanted to be paid. Even if the walls did look good. He’s taking up time in my home, and isn’t time what we are talking about here? It is if you are on an hourly job, and at oDesk most jobs are hourly. And I really don’t mind the oDesk screenshots, because most jobs ARE for hourly work. A) If they catch something I didn’t mean for them to catch I can delete them. (Time lost for those five or ten minutes, yes. But if I didn’t want the client to see them, then I shouldn’t be billing him for them, right? Or are the ethics lost on you?) B) Anyone who has ever gotten screwed by fixed rate work (i.e., it takes way longer than either you or client imagined, but you are stuck with your price) will be thankful for hourly work. C) I guess as a fellow writer (as many are here on this thread, fans of Deb), I don’t see what the fuss is about. I don’t need to be secretive to get my work done. I am clear with any clients who might question my work methods that I sometimes listen to music. If I need time to write things on paper I ask for off line time approval. I’ve never had problems with any of these things, and wouldn’t take work from employers who didn’t get that writers are not data entry workers. oDesk is not invasive or ridiculous. No one I’ve ever written for on oDesk has ever asked me why my mouse paused for ten whole minutes mid-sentence while writing. Because I only take jobs for people who know this is part of good writing. And those jobs DO exist on oDesk. oDesk and freelancers who use oDesk are living in reality, where workers and employers need a way of building trust. If you can get online clients on your own without them (who pay you on time and in full) go for it. But don’t knock those of us who love them, simply because we don’t have a problem with the client knowing just how long it took us to write that marketing blurb.
    Tamara´s last blog post ..Fired! Shout! Factory

    • says


      You make a very valid point there. As long as the payment is guaranteed to the provider, I guess there is no point complaining.

      You actually make odesk sound good. Maybe, I will give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? All they do is take screen-shots and capture keystrokes. I would probably have to get another computer to make it work and skip the webcam too.

  37. Reem says

    This post is crap. oDesk also has fixed-price assignments. You want an hourly job and you also want to waste time on other stuff. How fair is that?
    Stop whining and start acting like an adult.

  38. Vanessa says

    Why point specifically to oDesk when you know what Elance is as well?

    And you should stop writing and read more what working virtually means.

    Trust? Do your previous clients send you upfront payment first before letting you work? Otherwise, they don’t trust you as well.

  39. says

    I know this is an old post but I just wanted to make a comment that no one seems to understand. As a majority of clients/buyers are from the USA…it is important for Both Employers and Freelancers to understand the legal implications.

    Here is a link to the20-part test to determine whether workers are employees or independent contractors.


    (This is also on the IRS site but I have lost the link to this information)

    Take a look at at the very first factor that is list:

    • Level of instruction. If the company directs when, where, and how work is done, this control indicates a possible employment relationship.

    And Take a look at at these:

    • Flexibility of schedule. People whose hours or days of work are dictated by a company are apt to qualify as its employees.

    • Sequence of work. If a company requires work to be performed in specific order or sequence, this control suggests an employment relationship.

    • Requirements for reports. If a worker regularly must provide written or oral reports on the status of a project, this arrangement indicates a possible employment relationship.

    • Realization of profit or loss. Workers who receive predetermined earnings and have little chance to realize significant profit or loss through their work generally are employees.

    In MHO oDesk software does all of these and makes it so that employers are actually hiring employees rather than freelance workers.

    I have posted this information several times to the oDesk forums asking for comment and warning “buyers” not to use this software as it legal requires them to treat freelancers as employees.

    oDesk has never commented on my post and as a matter of fact they have removed the posts and blocked my access to the forum and help areas of the site.

    Should the IRS or a Class action Law suit come to life all these small buyers could be forced into bankruptcy because they trust that oDesk knows what it’s doing.

    Remember never trust everything you read on the internet and they same can be said for trusting a company’s business practice…Just because they think it’s the thing to do does not make it legal.

    • says


      The concern about worker classification is a valid one, especially for U.S.-based businesses who are interested hiring U.S.-based workers. These concerns are the reason that oDesk offers both contractor and employee relationships through the platform. We call it “oDesk Payroll” and you can find out more information about it here: https://www.odesk.com/info/odeskpayroll_buyer

      Best regards,
      Erica Benton
      Marketing Communications Manager

  40. says

    interesting thoughts here- i am new to hiring someone to do the tasks i need, and I completely understand as a BUYER of services that is PAYING by the hour, that i should be getting a reasonable amount of work done in that hour. If a person has some amazing skills, etc,and can get 5 hours of work done in an hour, he should negotiate a flat rate.
    I don’t really need to see what he has on his desktop… I want to know the work i cannot do and need to be done is completed correctly, efficiently and at a fair price.
    I posted to odesk a few minutes ago and got 10 virtually instant applicants.
    Some must have some sort of autoresponder set up.
    I feel weird using a system like this and want to know if it works.
    I don;t agree with the screen shots (and Im an employer) however, if you charge someone by the hour say $25 and then YOU ship it to bangladesh to get done, and you pay $2 an hour, who is screwing whom?
    just wanted to put my 2c in…
    have a nice day y’all.

  41. Mike Davis says

    Sometimes I just can’t believe what people think. So what all of you are saying is, a company (or any individual who might hire you) should pay you money for doing things NOT outlined in the job description? Surely you see a problem with this thinking? Imagine if it were your money. I bet you would not have this attitude at all. As an employer, I hate Odesk for many reasons including the ridiculous fees they charge freelancers which make it hard for all parties to work something out. But you CAN turn off tracking for tasks that are not outlined in the job so the company isn’t paying you to switch songs on your iTunes. I’ll be damned if I spend $.01 paying someone to read email from other clients or change songs or do anything else not in the job listing. You all really have some nerve. Your attitude is exactly why companies welcome screenshot tracking because you clearly can not be trusted. It just seems like this is something no one should have to point out to you. None of what you are talking about is about the act of being controlling and more so about not wanting to spend money on tasks that aren’t related to the job. And if you think you ought to be paid for tasks not related to the job, you are seriously bankrupt when it comes to integrity and maturity.


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