Old-line managers who resist telecommuting and telework generally are steadily running out of places to hide their prejudices. The notion of "virtual" continues to collapse, as Apple and other companies maintain their push toward "videochat for all."
Cisco and HP continue to develop "immersive telepresence" offerings -- for the moment, primarily for the higher-end of the business sector -- and startup Vidyo is gaining momentum by bringing down the price and raising the quality of everyday business videoconferencing.
In the meantime, millions of home-based entrepreneurs (not to mention the news media) continue to use Skype to get things done. (Chris and I use Skype all the time to connect our home-based offices in Virginia and Connecticut.)
The old question still heard in federal government and other bureaucratic hallways -- "How can I supervise you if I can't see you?" -- is steadily being revealed for what it's been for years: Inertia for job security's sake.
The irony is, the more you resist these changes, the more likely you'll mess up your career. (That's for the bureaucratic world, of course. In the private-sector world, you'd simply be fired.)
The numbers fluctuate, but virtual call center Alpine Access recently said it receives about 100,000 applications per year, and chooses 2% for jobs. Other virtual hirers report similar lopsided ratios.
(To put things in perspective, Harvard received 22,796 undergrad applications in 2009, and admitted 9%.)
However, it could be worse. On the brick-and-mortar side, companies are either not hiring, laying off, squeezing more productivity from existing workers, or all of the above.
Now King, Credentials Will Soon be Emperor
The "online workforce" -- aka competition for Internet-centric work -- is set to explode, and the status of one's credentials will rise from king to emperor (or dictator). China alone now has roughly 420M Internet users, and as mind-boggling as that number might seem, it's only 30% of the population. (To compare, all of North America has only 260M users, representing 76% of the population.)
In India, the "upside" is even larger than in China: only 81M people are online, of a population of 1.1B.
China and India -- unlike the US -- are highly entrepreneurial cultures. China has a self-employment rate of 51% -- the US rate is a feeble 7% -- with its entrepreneurs reporting impressively ambitious goals. And India's emigres alone have launched untold millions of businesses around the world. (For more on these trends, see our Rat Race Rebellion Bulletin of March 19, and sources quoted there.)
In the meantime, in the US alone, 78M Boomers are contemplating the redefinition of their retirement dreams, with additional years of work increasingly likely. Millions of these folks will want to work from home if they can, leveraging decades of experience. (Their presence is already being felt in the virtual call center arena, where many have taken jobs as home-based customer-service agents.)
Bottom line? If you're looking for a work-at-home job and have been waiting to upgrade your credentials, wait no longer. "Beg, borrow or steal" the means to add armor to your resume, and steel yourself for a demanding campaign -- As always, the marketplace will reward those who hustle, plan, and think and act creatively.
Yesterday we did an informal poll in our Facebook community to ask the types of work-at-home (WAH) jobs people would most like to do. We got some great comments (over 50 posts; thank you for sharing with us!), and though the overflowing work plate here won't let me reply individually, I wanted to steal a few minutes to write down some feedback.
First, a few "macro" things I'd like to share, taken from our 10+ years in the WAH movement...
On the positive side, telework is growing steadily, and we're seeing a widening variety of hirers joining the movement. As real estate and other savings become plainer to the hiring side, and communications options continue to evolve, and global warming concerns increase (among other factors), the trend will accelerate.
On the negative or "Darwinian" side -- and here we're talking pay -- work of all kinds tends to flow to the least-expensive source of suitable labor. Even brain surgery would be cheap (for the hospitals, at least) if the US were teeming with qualified brain surgeons. Indeed, we may soon see the day when brain surgery is routinely performed virtually and offshore, by doctors who charge much less than US MDs. (The plastic surgery sector is already seeing a variation of this, with US patients flying to Thailand and other offshore destinations to obtain cheaper rates.)
Further, the sad fact is that American wages have been stagnant and in many cases going backward since the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Internet -- making labor around the world easily accessible -- is increasing the downward push on US pay. (The US middle class is being steadily hollowed out, but that's a post for another day.)
Finally, there's the other harsh truth of supply and demand. Already, the demand for legitimate WAH jobs exceeds the supply (hence all the WAH scams). And as 78M Boomers shift toward a "working retirement," the ratio will not improve. (Which means, in a nutshell, that job seekers generally -- but WAH job seekers especially -- must become more and more entrepreneurial and creative in their search. And as much as we all hate to do it, this may include "cold calling," knocking on office doors, and other salesy tactics, because for better or worse that's what job-seeking is -- a personal sales campaign.)
Data Entry Work
Many people are looking for data entry work, which continues a trend that Chris and I noted back in the '90s. (It was already strong even then.) We keep an eye out for legitimate data entry jobs in our research (we've listed screened periodic hirers and other resources here), but the fact is that much data entry work is sent offshore, and many of the "job leads" online are scams.
Smaller companies, however, DON'T usually send their data entry work offshore. (Some may use oDesk and similar marketplaces, but that's still unknown waters for many.)
Advice? Approach smaller companies directly for their work. (Look for growing companies in your local / regional newspaper's business section, or in publications like INC magazine, which profiles and lists high-growth companies.) Target local companies, if you can, where you can introduce yourself. Then take the work home, and handle things virtually with regular face-to-face contact.
If your budget permits, put up a basic webpage (with a decent photo) so people can see you and your credentials. Add testimonials whenever you can get them...
The good news is that the Net consumes writing like a bonfire, and companies like AOL's Patch.com are on a hiring spree. The not-so-good news is that many writing assignments and lower-tier blogging roles don't pay well, and layoffs in the print media are adding well-credentialed journalists and editors to the mix.
As with other things in life, the "good gigs" rarely fall into the lap. You'll have to be proactive to land decent work. We've listed some screened periodic hirers, job boards and other resources on our Writing, Editing & Proofreading section, and you'll want to get to know sites like Media Bistro especially well. (Membership required.)
For blogging jobs generally (and excellent blog-related advice), we particularly recommend Darren Rowse's Problogger.net. For advice on growing a freelance writing role, see Michelle Goodman's blog and books.
Conducting Your Own Searches for WAH Jobs & Projects
Our research team works overtime, but you'll want to supplement our efforts and those you'll see on other sites with your own.
Using "good" search terms is key to whittling down the scams and "homing" in on the home-based work you're looking for.
Some search terms to start with (hundreds more are listed in our book, Work at Home Now ) are
"work from anywhere"
"we are a virtual company"
"will work offsite"
"this is a freelance position"
"this is an independent contractor position"
"this is a telecommuting position"
"will have the option to work from home"
Good luck as you proceed, and we'll be sure to keep your poll comments in mind as we continue to screen and publish legitimate WAH jobs and projects.
It sometimes seems that actor Marlon Brando -- for better or worse -- was the last well-known voice for Native American rights. But somehow, a tribe in New York won a small victory recently, recovering a sliver of ancestral lands in the Hamptons.
Obvious irony here, of course, considering the status of the Hamptons and that of most Native American tribes. (Those that are still with us, I mean.)
Somehow, the Native American story -- such a large and continuing part of our national existence -- is overlooked, neglected, forgotten. Sadly, "their" story makes news only when things spill over into violence (as at Wounded Knee), or when "we" lose some high-priced real estate.
It's long past time that we recognize the importance of the Native Americans -- past and present and future -- among us. And there's no better time to lend one of "our" principal gifts -- our pragmatic entrepreneurial creativity, almost magical when applied thoughtfully and ethically -- to initiatives that might actually foster worthy and enduring consequences within the reservations.
Their story is our story, and though the record may be shameful, it is never too late to act honorably.
"If the Net were a neighborhood, you wouldn't want to walk through it without packing heat." So said a friend of mine the other day, and he may be right.
As the public suspects, the con artists are thriving, and for every 10 who are busted, a million run wild, and very few do jail time, or are even obliged to admit their wrongdoing. (When a fine, often quite small compared to the profit, is paid, there's frequently no requirement of an admission of guilt.)
Chris and I are often asked how this happens. Well, the Net, albeit a toddler, is a toddler from the planet Krypton, and it long ago outgrew the resources of your average state or federal watchdog. Second, the scammers take their heavy gains and lawyer up strong. Finally, for better or worse, most countries have boundaries, but the Net has few, and consider what that means...
Before the Net, your average American's familiarity with con artists was pretty limited. A tourist visiting New York City might get taken in a three-card-monte game, or you might pay too much for a used car (people seeking work from home would have been familiar with the old envelope-stuffing scam). But by and large we were blissfully unfamiliar with the sly thievery common in some countries, and the opportunities for our home-grown rogues were limited by geography and the inconvenience and expense of travel.
Now, when we log on, we're fair game for every criminal and sociopath with a modem -- around the world, not just from the back of a patent-medicine wagon -- and many of these predators descend from generations of grifters, hustlers, cutpurses and horse thieves.
Moreover, top techies in poorer countries are often opting for dirty salaries over clean unemployment (malware, anyone?), while the top techies in the US -- who could track their "evil twins" so effectively -- opt for Silicon Valley or Wall Street over the consumer-protection agencies, which can pay but a fraction of the better private-sector rates. (No stock options, either -- and bureaucracy the techies dislike.)
The politicians have proposed various international measures to crack down on the crims, and laws already on the books offer lots of enforcement options. But with a handful of sheriffs and deputies (most armed only with derringers or pop-guns) in a megalopolis of 1.8 billion (Internet users), with some 75% of the world's population not even online yet.... Well, the West is going to be Wild for a few years to come, and Caveat Surfer is the phrase to remember.
Bloggers and website owners have struggled with diminished ad revenue as the recession continues to bite and competition spreads. (To paraphrase a presidential-candidate question, "Who among us doesn't have a blog?") Now, a new service lets you add a storefront to your web property "in 15 minutes flat."
Vendr (caveat, we ourselves haven't tried it) reportedly lets you take credit cards and handle transactions through PayPal and Google Checkout, and you can sell both physical and digital goods. A monthly or annual fee applies.
Also in the new-apps-for-commerce trend, a San Francisco-based service, Payvment (in beta), lets you sell stuff straight from your Facebook page.
(We got wind of both of these from Springwise, a great resource for new trends and stimulating entrepreneurial ideas.)
As cool as these apps might be, one last piece of advice. Commercial success still comes down to sales and marketing. A mediocre concept with great marketing will almost always trump a good concept with poor marketing. The Go-Viral Fairy may bop a lucky few with her wand now and then, but you can't depend on her to pay your bills.
The Washington Post is beefing up its local offerings online, as print media generally reconfigures itself to compete with the Net's up-to-the-second relevance, cell-phone accessibility and Facebook-goosed interactivity. (A
Work-wise, this spells opportunity for bloggers and other freelancers (and topsy-turvydom for staff journalists, editors, proofreaders and other folks accustomed to employee status), but you can also expect continuing turmoil as late-to-the-game print brands contend with outfits like AOL's Patch.com (hiring home-based "local" writers and editors across the US) and even About.com, which for years now has been installing "Guides" to tell all about various cities coast to coast.
Advice for job seekers? Polish your writing skills, coax forth and pep-talk the entrepreneur inside you (the days of "employment" are numbered), and always sail close to the online wind.
Working at home alone can give rise not only to what we call Species Deprivation Syndrome (when you find yourself talking earnestly to Elmo -- or better yet, Dorothy, his goldfish -- then waiting patiently for a reply, sometimes for days), the isolation can also breed self-doubt.
If you answer "yes" to any two of the following three questions, you're almost certainly an undiagnosed sufferer of HBSDS (Home-Based Self-Doubt Syndrome):
VW's is running a new contest -- App My Ride -- for the best Apps for its projected in-car "infotainment" system, joining Ford's Sync and other initiatives to transform the horseless carriage into a CloudMobile.
With steadily-lengthening commutes, rapid population growth, thickening traffic and the mobile workforce in the US predicted to reach 120M by 2013 (source: IDC), it makes eminent marketing sense to build CloudCars. We lose billions of dollars in productivity alone (not to mention writhing in the toxic clutches of frustration, rage, and boredom) when we're jammed up on the road with nothing to do.
What does this do for a rat race rebellion? Not sure. What do you think?