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There is a trend toward more companies hiring a virtual workforce to cut costs and gain access to a wider pool of talent. “There aren’t many cons of working with a good virtual employee, but there are tons to working with a bad one,” says Charell Star, CEO of the New York-based firm PA For A Day. The former event planner launched her company in 2012 with the goal of providing affordable, short-term personal assistant services to businesses and individuals in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.
Star says to keep in mind that there are a wide range of types of virtual employees in the marketplace with various skill sets. “It is important that an employer access their immediate needs and select the best virtual employee to deliver them,” she adds. “Also, it’s important to remember that it may make sense to hire different virtual employees for different tasks.”
Below Star shares some pros and cons as well as tips for hiring a virtual workforce:
Lower Overhead: You save on the cost of renting, leasing or owning a physical property. You also reduce costs on travel and expenses. By offering workers flexibility in determining their working hours, you create better work/life balance.
Higher Efficiency: You’ll get your tasks or projects done efficiently and in a timely manner.
Virtual employees are typically more amenable to working more often, which can help accommodate workload fluctuations.
Greater Skill Set: Hiring external employees will give you access to skill sets that aren’t represented in your area. You can find the right employees to meet your needs no matter what city they are located in.
Accountability: You may have to work a little harder to hold virtual workers accountable. Make sure you check a person’s references and evaluate his/her ability to do the task at hand. For example, if you’re hiring someone to transcribe then give him/her a test sample first that you can evaluate. If you are using an outsourcing service, make sure it is a reputable company and check online reviews.
Miscommunication: Effective communication is extremely important when working with a virtual employee. I recommend spending at least 15 minutes speaking on the phone or over Skype with the virtual employee and clearly explaining (1) what you need done, (2) how you want it done and (3) when you need it complete. Be open and willing to answer any questions they may have. Also, let them know the best way to reach you with questions.
Total Buy-In: Since you are more likely to work with virtual employees short-term and on a per project basis, you may have a harder time finding virtual workers who are as dedicated to your company’s success as you are.
What should a business owner look for in a virtual employee? “Virtual employees need to be extremely organized, able to deliver work on time, easily accessible and have the appropriate technical knowledge for the assigned task,” says Star. “Since that person will be working remotely with little supervision, you’ll need to make sure that they can follow directions easily and are good at creative problem-solving,” she adds.
Fees for virtual employees vary depending on a number of factors (e.g. task, skill set, time needed to complete task). For instance, “at PA For A Day, we charge $20/hour with a minimum of two hour required and we match our U.S.-based virtual assistants to our clients based on the skill set needed,” explains Star. “We are also licensed and insured, so companies can outsource their needs to us. Some companies can charge as little as $5 per task (e.g. social media post) or as much as $60 per hour.”
If the virtual employee will be salaried with the employer, they can expect to pay the going rate for that industry. For example, a virtual social media manager’s salary ranges from $40,000-$70,000, depending on their level of expertise. What’s more, if you are hiring a virtual employee directly, you’ll need them to complete the standard government new hire documents: W-9/1099, I-9, etc. You should also have them complete a Non Disclosure Agreement.
For business owners who may be tempted to select a virtual assistant from another country, Star cautions, “Before doing, confirm that you will not have any language barriers. The best way to do this is over the phone or Skype before you hire them.”