Overall Rating3.613.613.613.613.61
Quality of Work3.453.453.453.453.45
Communication3.453.453.453.453.45
Value3.683.683.683.683.68
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

Note: oDesk.com has rebranded to Upwork.com.

Upwork, like Elance, is a community that brings together contract workers and employers. The company has been in business since 2003, and now serves hundreds of thousands of clients all around the world. They boast more than 3 million freelancers ready to bid on your job.

odesk reviewIn late 2013, Elance and oDesk actually merged into one company, but continued to operate separate freelance marketplaces. Then, in 2015, they rebranded oDesk to Upwork. I’m not sure why they made the change since 0Desk was a well-established brand with a solid reputation in the industry, but their official press documents said it was to help businesses connect with great talent faster than ever before, collaborate in larger teams, and fuel growing companies.

Why they couldn’t have done that under the old name, I have no idea.

While Upwork / oDesk was primarily known as a place to find programmers, it is also a great place to find a virtual assistant, and administrative support is one of their fastest growing categories. I found over 5000 matches for a recent Upwork search for “virtual assistant”.

upwork reviewUpwork has no sign-up fees to access their network of freelance virtual assistant service providers. In fact, you can create an account, post your requirements, and have workers bidding for the job within a few minutes.

The company makes money by taking a fee from the contract price of the work. That means if you agree to pay an Upwork virtual assistant $500 for 100 hours worth of work (not an uncommon price!), they are really collecting slightly less than that.

Upwork Review


The Upwork system offers the benefits you’d expect from this type of marketplace, including feedback mechanisms and dispute resolution.

One thing that sets Upwork apart is their monitoring software. (Note: Elance has since implemented similar “Workview” software.) Some say it’s a little Big Brother-ish, but others swear by it because it makes sure the work that is paid for is the work that gets done.

The software, which workers turn on when they begin a job, tracks keystroke volume, takes screenshots at certain time intervals, and even has an optional webcam feature. If you’re wary about hiring a remote virtual assistant, it can definitely help overcome some of the fear of not being able to manage their working hours effectively.

A Global Minimum Wage?

In 2014, Upwork introduced a $3/hour minimum wage. Yes, it’s still absurdly low by Western standards, but it does prevent even lower bids from new overseas workers in developing economies.

When searching for virtual assistants on Upwork, pay close attention to their account history. How long have they been working? What does their feedback say about their work?

Another thing to look for is to match the virtual assistant’s specific skill set to the tasks you need done. Everyone has certain specialties, so seek out those who have good ratings in the areas you need the most help with. Alternatively, you can post your own job requirements and have workers bid on them.

Upwork Alternatives

There are several other freelance platforms you might consider testing out, including specialized services for graphic design, content writing, and technical support.

My favorite other broad-focused freelance site is Fiverr, primarily because you can just select the freelancer you want to work with directly, without sifting through dozens of applications. But it’s definitely better for smaller jobs where there’s less money on the line.

For ongoing employment, you might consider OnlineJobs.ph, the largest job board in the Philippines with a huge database of qualified workers.

Related: My in-depth comparison between Upwork and OnlineJobs.

Your Turn

Have you worked with oDesk or Upwork? Please share your experience below.

35 Reviews

  1. I recently signed up with “Upwork” about a week ago.
    The job postings that they have advertise look legitimate and well detailed.
    There is everything that a Virtual Assistant is looking for when searching for work.
    But what I found was a “FRAUD”.
    I had made what’s called a proposal (it is when you see a task you would like to apply for) its their way to help you make contact with the client looking for a VA (virtual assistant).
    I made a proposal to a client that contacted me within hours.
    I was excited about the opportunity and was instructed to reach the “Hiring Manager” via google hangouts.
    I was in touch with the hiring manager and was sent by email a letter of employment, which I read over (looking legitimate) and signed and sent back.
    From their I was informed that I would receive a check to upgrade my at home office and buy necessary software for the position.
    I received the check but the bank it was issued from was from overseas. The Hiring Manager stated that I should deposit this money into my bank and send the funds to an account that was suppose to be their finance department.
    This was to begin the process of employment with this company.
    I knew right away this was a scam.
    I contacted “upwork” to inform them of this issue and they told me that they would get back to me.
    After a couple of days they informed me, that they are doing everything they can to make sure they filter these types of scams and would grant me a badge to upgrade my level in their system as a means of compensation.
    BEWARE with “Upwork” for they do not protect your identity from possibly falling into the hands of scammers.
    They do a POOR job of filtering through the real from fake clients.
    They appear to be not at all worried if you are taken advantage of.

    • 11111
    • 11111
    • 11111
    • 11111

    My Upwork.com account was shut down due to a reputable client in the LA area. They were 100% legit, huge marketing firm, even tried working with Upwork, Inc to resolve their account but apparently Upwork Inc kept asking for more and more information.

    Finally, they closed both of our accounts. They removed ALL approved payments, over $2000 from other clients as well, not just mine.

    The ticket started off saying we have a problem with this other person’s account, you can continue working. It turns out that while I was making money during the 16 day investigation, they decided to close my account and remove all my earnings :(.

    Very unethical business practices. Erik Manuevo needs to go. They never gave proof that I broke any agreements.

    • 11111
    • 11111
    • 11111
    • 11111

    I was a top rated freelancer for a long time, until I got a bogus review from an unorganized client. This put me right under the top rated program upwork now has, and I stopped getting views. I contacted customer service, but they were no help as usual. Customer service has always been a joke, and their time tracker has always had ongoing problems.

    The fee structure needs to be worked on, also. If they listened to the community and upped their minimum of $3/hour, the site would be much better and effective for everyone involved. The website has always catered to low quality from workers overseas that will accept low paying jobs.

  2. I have been a Freelancer on Upwork/Odesk since 2011. Yes they went through a bad transition period and yes Freelancers and Clients left in droves but this is my main source of income so I stuck with it. It seems they have worked out their kinks and everything is now running smoothly. If you understand how UpWork works there isn’t a problem. I use the UpWork time tracker for all of my work because it guarantees me payment and it guarantees my Clients a job well done. It takes screenshots during the time I am working on their accounts so there is no question of me doing my job. I fought it at first but it turned out to be a good thing.

    • 22222
    • 22222
    • 11111
    • 11111

    I am not happy with Upwork. I emailed them last week and no one got back to me. I’m been in the Chat qeue for 20 minutes and it says I should be waiting for 1.5 minutes. No one is there.

    Communication is terrible. O’desk used to be good. I think they’re overwhelmed. Won’t be using them again.

    • 11111
    • Not Rated
    • Not Rated
    • Not Rated

    Upwork should be called Upyours, freelancers. Profile requirements indicate the company’s ultimate goal is to create a unique, NSA-style database of private intel for secret commercial exploitation. Job search software is appalling. No way to distinguish jobs in a particular category. No explanation of why so much personal intel is extorted in return for … giving Upyours still more personal info.

    Desperately seeking Elance-quality competitors!

    • 44444
    • 33333
    • 22222
    • 44444

    This is a very nice post, Nick. I have been on Upwork as an independent contractor since 2009. I had little “freelancer” experience, and it was hard getting established. I stuck with it though, and have been working full time remotely ever since.

    This year however, things have gotten a bit out of control, and clients and freelancers are leaving the site in droves.

    In 2015, Upwork changed many things on the site. But they haven’t resolved any of the ongoing problems, and many established freelancers and clients are leaving the site.

    I’m one of those unhappy people, and while my account will stay active, Upwork won’t be my primary source of income in 2016.

    This doesn’t mean anyone should stay away from Upwork. Becoming established on the platform is hard though. Don’t go onto the site thinking your going to find a great client or freelancer without some due diligence, and a lot of patience.

    Having said this, I’d like to make this point to the potential clients/freelancers who read these comments, including you, Nick.

    Some of the biggest beefs we established users have is:
    1) freelancers don’t use professional cover letters (my clients complain about this a lot)
    2) clients post jobs lacking detail

    And both of these issues could be resolved by proper training. A few updated support pages and requirements for new/existing users would solve this.

    And in fact, many of us have screamed for this in the Upwork Forums. But except for a random Webinar here and there, nothing has changed.

    When I get a new client, I always end up showing them how to:
    1. Use the Upwork platform “properly”
    2. Create good job posts that attract professional freelancers
    3. Provide freedback the correct way
    4. Properly handle the interviewing and on-boarding of new remote staff

    And the worst part of this is that my client base is established small businesses all over the US, who pay well and treat their remote staff with respect.

    I’ve made 1 single hire on Upwork, and found the “perfect” candidate in less then 1 week. This was for a very long term job.

    I plan on hiring quite a bit in 2016, but I am taking my professional services into my own hands, and developing a process and system to do most of this via my own site and social media.

    • 11111
    • 11111
    • 11111
    • 11111

    I submitted a profile picture that was more like a selfie in the mirror and my face was a bit further than it should which I don’t think is a huge problem, I should be asked to change it and that’s all, but I got a rude email saying something like: “ACCOUNT FLAGGED FOR POLICY VIOLATION!” So I thought I did something really wrong, then I found out it was about the picture so I fixed it and passed a few tests including the oDesk ready test, my profile was 100% complete and then I got another rude email like this: “Critical Notice: Account Suspended.” And that was because I didn’t set my profile to public. I really had no idea that I had to, and it took me a while to find out how to set it.
    Then I got the first nice mail from them: “The right jobs are out there, you just have to look.” So I logged in to start looking for jobs but my account is still suspended. All I get is a big red warning and I can do nothing about it. It’s really annoying and frustrating and this time I don’t know what else did i do wrong, it seems like I’m too stupid for them or something. So far I can’t say nothing good about them and to be honest I feel scorned as a professional.

    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 55555

    I hired a contractor for a one month project on oDesk about a month ago. I’d never hired anyone online before, so while I was hopeful I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

    After creating my account and quickly getting a feel for the site (very intuitive), I performed a few searches for profiles meeting my specifications. oDesk makes it easy to drill down to exactly what you need in terms of skill set, your budget, location of the contractor, etc. I decided it would be simpler for me to save the most promising profiles, and invite them to apply to my job.

    I also looked at a lot of job postings that were similar to what I needed done. THAT proved invaluable.

    Long story short, in under two weeks I wrote and posted my job, searched and invited contractors to apply, and narrowed my search to two qualified candidates. A Skype video interview sealed the deal.

    The contractor I worked with was actually new, but she’d received rave reviews from others who’d hired her. I hadn’t meant to hire someone new to oDesk, but I went with my intuition, and she was great. The entire experience was an absolute pleasure!

    oDesk was one of two freelancer sites I tested to dip my toe into the “outsourcing” waters. I shared some tips about my experience with both services in a post on my blog entitled, Outsourcing: How To Work Smarter and Get Things Done.

    I DEFINITELY plan to use them again!

  3. oDesk is a site I keep trying to love.

    I’ve had some mixed results. I mean I’ve never been burned by a freelancer there, or been delivered unacceptable work, but I’ve been having a hard time just getting applications.

    For example, I’ll post the same job on oDesk and Elance, and get 3-10 TIMES more applicants on Elance, which is weird because they apparently have a talent pool of a million fewer workers than oDesk.

    I don’t understand it … maybe my profile is a turnoff, because I don’t have as extensive a hiring history, perhaps it isn’t as attractive and people just don’t want to bid on my work because they think I’m not serious.

    My most successful oDesk hire was actually for the late 2012 redesign of this site. If you go to the Wayback Machine and check out the old version you’ll get an appreciation for how big an improvement it was.

    The developer was awesome – super responsive on Skype, hammered out the changes really fast for what I thought was a very good price.

    I re-hired him later for another small project, which was also very well done, but when I needed something else done a few months after that, I couldn’t find him. He’d disappeared. Poof.

    I’ve also used oDesk for some low-cost web research, which was OK, nothing like mind-blowingly amazing or anything.

    But beyond that, I can’t attract enough bids. I’d love to work more with oDesk in the future but don’t see any reason NOT to post my jobs to Elance just to have a few more candidates to choose from. No harm in casting a wide net and seeing what comes back.

    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 44444
    • 55555

    I’ve had tremendous luck over on oDesk with over 100 different jobs. Granted, like any site (or even hiring domestically) you do have to wade through to find the best talent, and even so I sometimes can have some jobs which crash and burn, but on the whole, I really like oDesk’s ease of use, and large pool of VAs to draw from.

    The one drawback I see is for software development and engineering work, there tends to be a smaller pool of high quality talent, and so I would consider Elance or Guru for larger and more complex jobs.

  4. I just started using oDesk in the last 2 months and it’s been really great. I just keep hiring more people! At this point I have a video editor, a Virtual assistant and a web developer. It has helped me get the leverage in my business I’ve wanted for a long time. I’ve found that these employees are so eager to do good work. Their work ethic is really inspiring! One thing I would recommend is be sure to do a Skype phone call with them before hiring. If they want to just SMS, that’s a red flag. You need to talk with them to tell if they really speak English. I can’t imagine working well with someone who really can’t speak English well, so you have to test that with a phone call. I found that searching for the exact tasks I needed them to do, including the software I needed them to use, helped me find great candidates quickly. I looked at their length of employment, star ratings, comments, etc. I love how easy oDesk makes everything with payment, monitering, communication, etc. My VA offered to email me a daily written report of her activities, and that’s been great.

    • 44444
    • 44444
    • 44444
    • 55555

    I have been consistently using oDesk since I opened up shop almost 3 years ago. In that time we’ve had a ton of work completed, and spent near 50k via oDesk. May not sound like a lot, but we aren’t generally hiring 1st world – so 50 goes a long way.

    Using oDesk comes with it’s risk, just like hiring anyone – heck even face to face. You need to know that you will find some lemons, but if you are patient, there is gold in them hills.

    oDesk basically enabled me to get into business in the first place, so I have nothing but good things to say.

    • 55555
    • 44444
    • 44444
    • 55555

    I followed Nick’s free guide on how to find VA’s and I posted for jobs on both oDesk and Elance and found great VA as well as research assistance help on both these sites.

    I’ve since hired programmers and designers as well and have had good experiences with a lot of them being pretty capable technical wise.

    Its a bit intimidating getting bids from 10-20 people within 2-3 days and I felt bad having to turn a few down after going through a few rounds of back and forth with them – but if you put in real clear requirements, asking them for some “input” into your project to get a feel if they “get it” and checking their feedback – it will get you a long way.

    If you’re looking for technical help and you’re not technical, its hard to select the right person. A suggestion is to create really small paid test projects that you can give to 2 or 3 of the folks you picked, give them really detailed instructions and see which delivers what you need. Also don’t be stingy. The average in 2012 for a good developer is about $33/hr plus/minus $10.

    As far as oDesk vs Elance. Its a tossup. I’ve found great help on both these sites so I use both.

      • 55555
      • 55555
      • 55555
      • 55555

      We used oDesk for our email campaigns and the result was great. We also outsourced simple development tasks when our inhouse team was not set up and we got the jobs done dot in time. Great work at prices which fit a start-up budget!

    • 44444
    • 33333
    • 33333
    • 44444

    I have used oDesk several times, along with other sites like Elance, OnlineJobs.ph, etc. From my experience, it’s difficult to find high quality workers on oDesk. Most people bid low and underdeliver. I have had people who disappear halfway through a project and others who promise to deliver within a certain time frame but end up taking 5 times as long.

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t good people on there. There certainly are. It just takes some experience and persistence to find them, or in many cases, a higher budget.

  5. I used oDesk for our first foray into outsourcing, and I was very impressed. I have used two contractors (one is still working on a job). Both high quality contractors. One worked on an urgent job for me and made a very big effort to meet a tight client deadline – very impressed. The user interface is very, very easy to use and intuitive. I like the inbuilt message centre – it helps to keep all my communication with the contractors in one place.

    We did have one slight glitch. I needed an urgent job done, but the system defaults to having the job start the next day so my contractor was unable to log hours automatically. He had to log hours manually for that job until the job officially “started”. That was annoying but we did manage to overcome it. I held an online chat with the Help Desk and they were very efficient.

    I will certainly continue to use oDesk.

  6. There are some nice articles in Business Week about oDesk and the trend towards using Virtual Assistants and Virtual Office.

    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-04/how-to-get-rid-of-your-office#r=auth-s
    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-04/why-some-company-offices-are-virtual#p1
    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-04/when-your-personal-assistant-is-virtual

    We are clearly big fans of oDesk. It takes work to research, screen and onboard great candidates but it’s totally worth it. There’s less work screening with other services because you get very few responses. I definitely prefer to have a lot of potential candidates as opposed to just a few.

    • 55555
    • 44444
    • 44444
    • 55555

    Love using oDesk for simple tasks (building email lists, etc). We also enjoy using oDesk for simple development tasks when our product team is overloaded. Never had a bad experience with an oDesk contractor to date!

    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 55555

    I recently hired my first Virtual Assistant from oDesk. Today makes 2 weeks and she has been great! She is a self-starter and not only does what I ask her to but she goes above and beyond. I was nervous at first but after the first day, I knew I had made the right move.

    A big plus for oDesk is their Work Diary. I can actually see what my VA is doing through screenshots. I do think I got lucky though because I went looking for a VA BEFORE I placed my ad. Then I invited the contractors I was interested in by looking at their profiles.

    I did a lot of research on a lot of companies but eventually oDesk won my business.

    • 44444
    • 33333
    • 33333
    • 55555

    I really don’t care even if they say odesk’s tracking diary is a bit big brother-ish. The employer deserves to be given the right output especially if they have their payment method verified. I remember staff.com also has a monitoring tool like that of odesk. It’s always nice to have accounts in these freelancing sites.

    • 55555
    • 44444
    • 55555
    • 44444

    We are a new travel mobile application called Locish. Locish is a travel application for web and mobile devices, where travelers can ask questions about the cities they are visiting, and local people answer in full details. Our main competetive advantage is the language. We are launching the application in 9 different languages, which is a very difficult task as you might imagine. Time consuming and expensive. That’s why we thought about trying one of the available paid crowdourced website. So after some research we tried odesk.

    We are very happy. I think is very easy to use and understand the philosophy of the site. For me is very important to be easy to use and oDesk has a neat and clean GUI which helps you a lot in navigating through the site. Also it is very easy to search for people as well as posting the job. The thing I really like about oDesk is the test. Any candidate can compete each other. You can create a test similar to your job and evaluate the applicants. I think this is great.

    Finally the communication and payment through the site made it an enjoyable experience. I’m sure we will use it again in the future.

    • 44444
    • 44444
    • 44444
    • 44444

    I’m also into odesk!

    One bit of advice though, it is quite important for any relationship to have a good communication, no matter what your freelancing site is, because a great partnership between two people creates successful and high quality results.

    If I could add a tip on hiring virtual assistants: creating a test with 3-5 questions is a great way to evaluate your applicants. It should be similar to the type of job they would do. This way, it would test not only their written English but also their problem solving skills.

    One other thing to consider is their attitude. You would want someone who is consistent, driven and loyal.

    • 11111
    • 11111
    • 11111
    • 11111

    I tried hiring someone to post ads on craigslist for me. The guy I hired, Akenja or something, kept on insisting I get on skype to talk to him when I had already laid out all the information he needed on odesk, where we were communicating just fine.

    I had already paid him $20 upfront. I can’t seem to find the refund option anywhere on Odesk. It was all just a hassle to me.

    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 44444
    • 44444

    oDesk has been very successful for us. Being located in an area where skilled technicial developers are rare to come by, it is refreshing to connect to so many skilled programmers and developers on oDesk, and their eagerness to do the work is refreshing.

    I started one contract to “test the waters” and it turned out so well, within 24 hours I had 5 contracts in the works. All of the jobs have been completed and I could not be happier with the results. I have made some great contacts with the contractors in oDesk and will continue to invite them to future projects.

    oDesk has been a great service and I would recommend it to anyone seeking small projects to be completed without having to hire expensive third parties.

    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 55555

    I’ve used oDesk for several different tasks. So they were a natural choice for me when I wanted to look for a virtual assistant. I found one that I am in love with. The most important thing was to read the past reviews on the applicant, and also ask for (and check) references. After a couple of months I am still using the same VA.

    I love oDesk and highly recommend them. They are also the only service that I know of where I can look over the shoulder of my VA with regular screenshots.

    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 55555
    • 55555

    I have worked exclusively with Odesk and do not have experience from working with competing services. From what I know, many contractors are registered with several different service providers. However, for reasons I can not quite recall, I started using Odesk and have been satisfied ever since.

    I have been able to find writers, designers, programmers, translators, and computer engineers. Basically you can find specialists in virtually any field imaginable. The cost structure is what you’d expect. Contractors in developed countries are usually more expensive than contractors in developing nations, and a low hourly cost often means poor English skills.

    I’ve had only a couple of negative experiences. One lady I hired surfed Facebook for an extensive period of time while she was supposed to be working. After bringing the issue to Odesk’s attention, they quickly refunded me the money. Another technology project ended up costing me a significant amount of money and ended up not being completed. Outsourcing a project can be difficult if you do not have the skills and/or time needed to monitor the project. In these cases it is important to do the project on a fixed fee basis, otherwise the project can drag on and on.

  7. I think the thing is to separate the providers from the individual VAs. You can have bad experiences with either. To the comment above, if you had a programmer not finish the project, that’s bad news, but the longer-term “projects” that programmers face are very different from the type of work a VA would be doing through oDesk or eLance. My view for VAs would be to give them short, manageable, well-defined tasks out of the gates to see if they can execute. If so, start feathering in more difficult tasks.

    I talked about our experience in great detail here: http://www.profitably.com/finance/roundtable/operations/why-everyone-can-and-should-have-a-virtual-assistant

    …if you’re interested!

    • 44444
    • 44444
    • 55555
    • 44444

    I was very happy with oDesk. I would recommend it to anyone. I really have enjoyed working with the people I have found there.

    • 22222
    • 22222
    • 44444
    • 22222

    I was less happy with odesk then with elance since the programmer I had working for me never actually finished the project I had him doing. He kept drawing out the time further and further and never actually got there.

Write a Review

Overall Rating
Quality of Work
Communication
Value