The risks have been mitigated by websites like oDesk, Elance and Guru, each of which have set up different security measures to minimize the extent of the trust that may be invested into this kind of a working relationship.
I do a bit of work as a contractor* on oDesk myself, and I certainly feel more secure about its website than, say, that of the actual office where my regular job is. I currently work under two contracts on oDesk - one for a short-term, fixed-price job, the other for a long-term, hourly job.
Before hiring me, my employers had to trust that everything I claim to be on my contractor profile is true vis-a-vis my educational background, my work experience, the skills I have mastered, etc. To assist in the hiring procedure, oDesk set up a feedback system of sorts, where previous employers are asked to evaluate a particular contractor they have hired and vice versa. The feedback appears on both the employer's profile and the contractor's profile.
Before I could apply for a job or agree to an interview with a potential employer who found my profile on oDesk, I have to trust that the employer sufficiently described the type of job and the volume of work on the ad. The same feedback system I mentioned can also help me decide.
My employer for the hourly job is also protected via a software that oDesk requires its hourly contractors to download. The software tracks time and desktop activity, so that the employer can conveniently check if the contractor actually spent the billed hours working on the job.
Payment is of course the more important part of the equation. The time tracker software feeds the time logs to a virtual time sheet that both the employer and contractor can check and edit. At the end of every week, the employer is then billed according to the time sheet and the corresponding payment is charged to the employer's credit card or whatever kind of payment method s/he's chosen. The funds are then transferred to, in my case, a bank account here in the Philippines - a transfer that was made possible by oDesk's rather recent move to set up a convenient withdrawal system because of the many, many Filipinos who have signed up on oDesk.
For fixed-price jobs, however, there isn't a guarantee in place. The contractor has to completely trust that the employer is going to pay, and the amount of the payment is entirely in the employer's hands.
I've been working on oDesk for a little over six months now, and I've had no complaints so far, save maybe for this slight delay in the last installment of payment for my fixed-price job. But I trust that my employer might just be a bit busy; after all, I know that she's kind of well-respected in her circles, and I know her website's URL, her Twitter handle, that she has a Facebook page for her business, and that she has a LinkedIn profile. She certainly wouldn't risk letting me know all that information if she were planning on duping me, would she?
*oDesk has a disclaimer that says: "The terms 'Employer' and 'Contractor' are used in the generic sense and are not meant to define the legal relationship between the two parties."
#4 - Somayyah Abdullah
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