You probably know someone like this:
They work for everyone and no one. Their job horizon is day-to-day or contract-to-contract. They can be working for someone around the corner or across the globe.
In the 20th century, we called them freelance or contract workers and thought them odd. Now, they're becoming mainstream – not just in the United States, but around the world.
In fact, the US is not the leader in freelance online jobs. India is, followed by the Philippines, and then the US, according to a new report by oDesk Corp.
The numbers from oDesk represent just a small slice of the market for online freelancers. But as a leading marketplace for companies and online workers to meet up, across the globe, it has perhaps as good a handle as anybody on how the field is growing.
The Menlo Park, Calif., company has seen its own business double each year since 2004. It hosts some 100,000 employers who post jobs they want done and just under 500,000 freelancers around the world who bid on the work.
The jobs themselves range from data entry to computer programming to translating. In February, oDesk freelancers worked 630,600 hours and earned $7.1 million.
And the places they come from are not always what you might expect.
Say "outsourcing" and many businesspeople think Bangalore, India. Actually, Bangalore is No. 5 on oDesk's list of top cities for online work. The top four cities with more freelance work are: Chandigarh, India; Mohali, India; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Quezon City, Philippines.
Bangladesh? Yes, it's a fast-growing center for data entry. The Philippines? It's colleges turn out nearly 500,000 English-speaking graduates a year. Data entry accounted for half the oDesk jobs going to the Philippines in February, with average pay for data entry averaging around $3 an hour.
Other surprises among oDesk's report: Ukraine and Pakistan generated more online work than Canada or China. And the fastest-growing major economy for freelance work?
The United States. "We're seeing a huge number of Americans come online," says Brian Goler, vice president of marketing for oDesk. "More and more people are working this way."
Perhaps they have to because of the economic downturn. Perhaps they want to.