|Many Americans fear that the transfer of jobs to overseas workers, often called "outsourcing", is eroding employment opportunities in the United States. And they worry that once these jobs move offshore they will never return.
Others - including some economists - argue that the global efficiencies of job outsourcing will, over the long run, strengthen the world economy and eventually provide benefits to the U.S. economy as well.In either case, outsourcing seems here to stay.
Hasnain Aslam speaks to his virtual receptionist, Saada: "Hi Saadia, did Suja talk to you about making a reservation for dinner tonight?" Saada replies, "Excuse me I have a phone call. Good afternoon, The Resource Group, how can I help you."
Saadia Musa is a 'virtual receptionist,' answering phones in Karachi, Pakistan for a call center firm in Washington, D.C.
The staff Saadia serves occupies the offices of The Resource Group, a Washington D.C.-based call-center company founded in 2002 to provide "Business Process Outsourcing" solutions for companies looking to cut costs. Hasnain Aslam is head of investment for the firm.
"Because we are in the business of making our companies more profitable by doing a lot of the work offshore we thought that it's best for us to practice what we preach, and we looked internally and said what are the things that we could ourselves do offshore and we started with the receptionist. We said, well, there's no need to have a receptionist sitting here, why don't we have somebody sitting in Pakistan, connect her through real time live video and have her do all the work."
The use of outsourced labor for services such as call center assistance - this center is in India - and forms processing has grown rapidly in recent years, fueled by advancements in communications technology. Revenues at the Resource Group now top $170 million, and the firm employs 4,000 people worldwide.
Saadia is one of more than a dozen "virtual receptionists" in that group. "Some people who have come to the office before are kind of used to it but a lot of them don't see me. They don't think I'm real."
Hasnain talks about the benefits of the arrangement. "She does all the work that you would expect a typical U.S. receptionist to do with the exception of serving you coffee, or a cup of tea or a glass of water. She not only opens the door for you but she also does all our administrative work, our restaurant reservation our meeting planning our event planning and so on and so forth. Anything that you would expect a typical receptionist to do."
Saadia showed us her office space using a camera she controls -- she sees her visitors through a similar camera set-up in Washington. "The whole thing about handling everything in D.C. from sitting in Karachi seems so amazing. I mean, that's technology for you."
It's 4 pm in Washington - the day is almost done for the actual workers here. But for their virtual receptionist, sitting 12,000 kilometers away tomorrow has already arrived.