Like AJ Jacobs! An interesting read, start only if you have the time.
It began a month ago. I was midway through The World Is Flat, the best-seller by Tom Friedman. I like Friedman, despite his puzzling decision to wear a mustache. His book is all about how outsourcing to India and China is not just for tech support and carmakers but is poised to transform every industry in America, from law to banking to accounting. CEOs are chopping up projects and sending the lower-end tasks to strangers in cubicles ten time zones away. And it’s only going to snowball; America has not yet begun to outsource.
I don’t have a corporation; I don’t even have an up-to-date business card. I’m a writer and editor working from home, usually in my boxer shorts or, if I’m feeling formal, my penguin-themed pajama bottoms. Then again, I think, why should Fortune 500 firms have all the fun? Why can’t I join in on the biggest business trend of the new century? Why can’t I outsource my low-end tasks? Why can’t I outsource my life?
The next day I e-mail Brickwork, one of the companies Friedman mentions in his book. Brickwork–based in Bangalore, India–offers “remote executive assistants,” mostly to financial firms and health-care companies that want data processed. I explain that I’d like to hire someone to help with Esquire-related tasks–doing research, formatting memos, like that. The company’s CEO, Vivek Kulkarni, responds: “It would be a great pleasure to be talking to a person of your stature.” Already I’m liking this. I’ve never had stature before. In America, I barely command respect from a Bennigan’s maÃ®tre d’, so it’s nice to know that in India I have stature.
A couple of days later, I get an e-mail from my new “remote executive assistant.”
My name is Honey K. Balani. I would be assisting you in your editorial and personal job. . . . I would try to adapt myself as per your requirements that would lead to desired satisfaction.
I go out to dinner with my friend Misha, who grew up in India, founded a software firm, and subsequently became nauseatingly rich. I tell him about Operation Outsource. “You should call Your Man in India,” he says. Misha explains that this is a company for Indian businessmen who have moved overseas but who still have parents back in New Delhi or Mumbai. YMII is their overseas concierge service–it buys movie tickets and cell phones and other sundries for the abandoned moms.
Perfect. This could kick my outsourcing up to a new level. I can have a nice, clean division of labor: Honey will take care of my business affairs, and YMII can attend to my personal life–pay my bills, make vacation reservations, buy stuff online. Happily, YMII likes the idea, and just like that the support team at Jacobs Inc. has doubled. And so far, I’m not going broke: I’m paying $1,000 for a month of eight-hour days from Honey (Brickwork gave me a half-off deal) and $400 for a month of four-hour days from Your Man in India.
Honey has completed her first project for me: research on the person Esquire has chosen as the Sexiest Woman Alive. (See page 232.) I’ve been assigned to write a profile of this woman, and I really don’t want to have to slog through all the heavy-breathing fan Web sites about her. When I open Honey’s file, I have this reaction: America is fucked. There are charts. There are section headers. There is a well-organized breakdown of her pets, measurements, and favorite foods (e.g., swordfish). If all Bangalorians are like Honey, I pity Americans about to graduate college. They’re up against a hungry, polite, Excel-proficient Indian army.
I get an introductory e-mail from my personal-life outsourcer. Her name is Asha. Even though the firm’s called Your Man in India, I’ve been assigned another woman. Hmm. I suspect these outsourcers figure I’m a randy men’s-magazine editor who enjoys bossing around the ladies. I e-mail Asha a list of books I want from BarnesAndNoble.com and a birthday gift I’d like her to buy my wife, Julie–a silicone pot holder. (Romantic, no?) Both go smoothly.
In fact, in the next few days, I outsource a whole mess of online errands to Asha: paying my bills, getting stuff from drugstore.com, finding my son a Tickle Me Elmo. (Actually, the store was out of Tickle Me Elmos, so Asha bought a Chicken Dance Elmo–good decision.) I had her call Cingular to ask about my cell-phone plan. I’m just guessing, but I bet her call was routed from Bangalore to New Jersey and then back to a Cingular employee in Bangalore, which makes me happy for some reason.
Every day Asha attaches an Excel chart listing the status of my many tasks. The system is working–not counting the hitch in the drugstore order: Instead of wax paper, we get wax-strip mustache removers for ladies. My wife is insulted.
It’s the fourth morning of my new, farmed-out life, and when I flip on my computer, my e-mail in-box is already filled with updates from my overseas aides. It’s a strange feeling having people work for you while you sleep. Strange, but great. I’m not wasting time while I drool on my pillow; things are getting done.
As on every morning at 8:30, I get a call from Honey. “Good morning, Jacobs.” Her accent is noticeable but not too thick, Americanized by years of voice training. She’s the single most upbeat person I’ve ever encountered. Whatever soul-deadening chore I give her, she says, “That would indeed be interesting” or “Thank you for bestowing this important task.” I have a feeling that if I asked her to count the number of semicolons in the Senate energy bill, she would be grateful for such a fascinating project.
Every call ends the same way: I thank her, and she replies, “You are always welcome, Jacobs.” I’m starting to like her a lot.
One task for which Honey is thankful is e-mailing my colleagues. I’ve begun to refuse to communicate with them directly. Why should I? Honey can be my buffer from the unpleasant world of office politics. I’ll be aloof and mysterious, like the pope or Mark Burnett. This morning, I ask Honey to pester my boss about an idea I sent him a few days ago: an article on modern gold prospectors.
Jacobs had mailed you about the idea of “gold prospecting.” I am sure you would have received his mail on this. It would be great if you could invest your time and patience on giving thought about his plans. Do revert and let Jacobs know about your suggestions on the same. As you know that your decision would be accepted with utmost respect.
Jacobs is awaiting your response.
Thanking you, Honey Balani