Thank you, Andrew Leonard, for your thoughtful article on how “virtual” services hurt the middle class. We think they wreak havoc on the dignity of work itself, and have written about this in the past here. Nevertheless, we also believe that the dignity of work can be protected, even improved, while still allowing work to flow through the Internet and across political boundaries.
We founded Prialto 4 years ago with an explicit mission of taking the service backbone of the world economy out of the shadows. Though our customers come looking for executive assistants, we make sure they’re never “virtual.” Workers from Prialto’s Latin American and Asian service centers are front page on our website, have their own LinkedIn pages and are encouraged to develop professional, independent relationships with the C-level executives that they support.
This is in contrast to traditional call center agents who, as you point out, are the invisible new servant class. Hidden behind APIs and geographically dislocated, these workers virtually commute between the very richest neighborhoods in the world and the peripheral neighborhoods of the global economy. Very often, they’re right on the other end of the phone line and they’re prohibited from using their real name or accent.
At Prialto, we’ve tried to set up systems to empower our overseas workers to use their newly gained skills to work up the career ladder. We aim to make these workers visible, so that they can articulate their own needs and ideals. That’s why Prialto eschews the word “virtual assistant” and pursues a policy of hyper transparency between the assistants and our members.
So while we agree with you that online hiring portals do a disservice when they turn individuals into a commodity, we think they can be used to promote the middle class in the context of the global economy. Thinking beyond geographical boundaries, our goal, like yours, is to create meaningful, skilled labor that will ideally move on to bring economic change to its own neighborhood.