It began with a story floating around the internet about a guy called “Bob”. A high-flying software developer in a big American firm, Bob was raking in several hundred thousand dollars a year. His performance reviews were always excellent. “The best developer in the building,” they said, praising his accurate, timely work. Then one day a random investigation of Bob’s department threw up something weird about him. For years he’d been outsourcing his work to a Chinese consulting firm, spending his days in the office watching cat videos on YouTube.
“Bob spent less than one-fifth of his six-figure salary for a Chinese firm to do his job for him,” explained Andrew Valentine, a senior investigator at an American telecoms firm, Verizon, who uncovered the story. Bob, shrugged Andrew, was just a family guy in his forties. Inoffensive, quiet. “Someone you wouldn’t look twice at in an elevator.” But I recognised who Bob was right away: he was my hero.
You know, being a freelance journalist isn’t as effortless as it looks. Whole hours can be wrestled away, struggling to think up an original metaphor. There are all these words to find. Sentences. Paragraphs. Long articles can take days, tripping back and forth to the kitchen devouring packets of chocolate HobNobs, waiting for your muse to arrive. Then there are the mountains of research that the editorial assistant is always too busy booking a restaurant for AA Gill to help out with. Sometimes, I run out of teabags, and am forced to change out of my pyjamas and schlep to the shops for supplies. It’s a wretched, daily grind at the coalface. But Bob had shone a light on my misery: if he’d managed to outsource his whole workload abroad — why couldn’t I?
Within two clicks I found two Indian outsourcing companies: EveryDay, based in Mumbai, and GetFriday, working from Bangalore — both begging to assign me virtual assistants (VAs) to help me live a more docile life. Bhakti Sakpal, my VA from Tasks EveryDay, welcomed me with an email, photo attached: she’s all glossy brown hair, liquid eyes, grinning up at me from my screen, waiting to be piled with work. The first job is obvious: Hi Bhakti, I email, could you research this article for me? Then I call my friend Joy for lunch.
The assistant GetFriday gift me is called Divya. She comes on even friendlier than Bhakti and is crazily enthusiastic about doing my work. “I’m so excited to start working with you and I would be waiting for your first task. Regards, Divya :)” she emails, telling me she’ll be available 8am-5pm, Monday to Friday, by email, phone, IM Gmail, Skype, “and any other thing where you just ping me and I am all there to work for you! How would you like to be addressed?” I think we’re going to get on. Divya attaches a copy of her CV. She has a diploma in electronics and communication engineering from Acharya Institutes, Bangalore. Her skills include research, multitasking, PowerPoint, Word and Excel. Her hobbies include badminton, chess, and music. She is only 24.
I wonder what I should get Divya to do. Unlike Bob, I’m not a high-flying program developer, or a CEO juggling billion-dollar contracts and international staff. In truth, I spend most of the working week at home in my PJ’s, looking at my ex-boyfriend’s profile on Facebook, trying to stick to under one pack of HobNobs a day.
Still, I rushed home immediately to start doing less with my life. I send Divya a tentative email. “Hi Divya, I’m planning a trip to New York — I wondered if you could help?” The following day I wake up to two emails from Divya with spreadsheets attached. There are details of three central Manhattan apartments with prices, addresses, photos, and links to a website where I can book. There are flight details with dates, times, airlines, flight numbers, duration and fares. “Let me know your views on this. Have a great evening!” Divya adds. “This is brilliant,” I email back from under my duvet, and look around my bedroom wondering what else I need done.
“I need a cleaner for my flat,” I email Divya, “Also, I really want to go and see Eminem. Oh, and my friend Nick’s birthday is coming up. He is a 36-year-old waiter who likes drinking, horror films and Japan… I need to get him a really cool birthday present. Maybe you could help?” Of course she can! “Have a great day! Regards, Divya :)” she emails, as I set about watching old episodes of Peep Show.
Read the full article here: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1291014.ece