Monday, December 01, 2008

Home work being closely watched

With the global economy slowing down and office space being sold off, workers are facing more pressure to hold on to their jobs.

The latest tracking technology means that even those working from home are equally under the spotlight as their activities are monitored remotely.

Debby Baksh is one of thousands of customer sales agents hired and trained online by US firm Arise to answer calls at home.

In her Brooklyn living room, she supplies phone services to some of the biggest companies in America and around the world.

Close look

She is allowed to answer six calls an hour and must try to make these last six minutes or more.

"So they want to make sure you're doing your job and selling a lot," said Ms Baksh. "Once your calls are over six minutes they know that you're being very productive, that you're selling the items for them."

Her conversations with customers are recorded and analysed by her bosses, and her performance is monitored constantly by software on her computer.

If she steps away for any reason without logging off, the machine will know about it - but Ms Baksh likes it because it shows she is hard at work.

Her 100% track record ensure she has first choice of working hours, while also receiving a steady stream of high-quality customers likely to buy.

Arise spokesman John Riordan said calls were routed to staff based on their skills and earlier performance.

"We also have the ability to match customer demographics with agent demographics, because after all, we all like to buy products and be serviced by people like ourselves," he said.

But telephone tracking technology has its critics. They point out that remote workers should be aware that getting sacked is only one click away, as most systems are set up to ensure they never have legal status as an employee.

No legal status

In return for a 10% cut, oDesk takes care of every aspect of the relationship from invoicing to international payments, and intellectual property rights to taxes.

This makes it easier for companies to hire workers across borders, while providers from almost any country can to sign up, set their own hourly rate and start bidding for work.

Gary Swart, the boss of oDesk, said there were 160 different tests on technology, writing and phone skills that providers can take free of charge.

"We ask you to do that so you can differentiate yourself from the 130,000 other providers in our network. And then apply to jobs as you see fit," he said.


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