More and more U.S. workers are no longer going into the office for their jobs, and sitting down to watch the second hand spin towards freedom. Instead, according to a 2013 study by Stanford University, 10 percent of all U.S. workers are working from home—or remotely from the coffee shop, bookstore lobby, or library.
No matter where they’re working, the study also showed that these “virtual employees” are not just slacking off. Actually, the study showed that these workers were 13 percent more productive than their cubicle-dwelling counterparts.
The Virtual Workforce
But how does a company go about finding virtual employees? Does the company have to be the employer? Is it better contract other companies or freelancers? First: Don’t Panic.
1. Understanding What You Want (Is What You Need)
First, you need to ask, “Why?” Does your company have a real need to hire virtual employees, or does it just seem like the trendy thing to do? According to a Forbes article, one of the quickest ways to cut costs is to cut down office space, or even eliminate it altogether. The article states that companies can save as much as 30 percent on unnecessary overhead costs by switching to virtual employees.
However, before your mouth starts to water thinking about the bonuses, it is important to consider whether this is possible for your company. How will you retain your corporate culture and quality standards? What sort of platform will use to stay in touch with your virtual employees? How can you manage ongoing projects if everyone works remotely? How would existing clients react to this change? You should answer these questions cautiously, yet confidently. They should not deter but reassure you that the virtual option is within reach.
2. Bringing People on Board but Not In-House
As an employer, you have to remember that just because you won’t walk by your virtual employees each day doesn’t mean that they are not part of the company. You are not hiring robots. These employees need to fit your corporate culture, even if they get more than one casual day. They must be able to work without you breathing down their neck, which I’m sure you don’t enjoy anyway. Follow this rule: If I wouldn’t hire this person for an in-house job, I shouldn’t hire them for a virtual one.
Make sure that you put time into interviews and checking references. If the person does not live in the same city or state, then holding a Skype interview is the way to go. If the candidate is not able to Skype with you, then they probably are not the best candidate for virtual work. Virtual employees need to be a little bit tech-savvy, since you cannot send the IT guys on a road trip to Nebraska, or wherever, to defragment somebody’s PC.
3. Vetting Companies That Work in the Cloud
Whether it’s graphic design, copywriting, web support, or customer service, companies in your area—and around the globe—can do what you need. The problem is figuring out which one can best tailor their product to your style for the best price.
Maybe you’re looking to outsource or maybe you want to hire a company to provide a service for the first time. Either way, get to know the person that you would be dealing with. This way, you can see if they’re someone you want to work with or want to avoid.
Ask for word of mouth referrals from some of the companies that you already work with. They might use a virtual company for that service. Of course, don’t just take their word for it. Examine some of their work to see if it’s up to your standards.
4. Weighing the Pros and Cons of Freelancers
Another way to save money is by hiring freelancers, or independent contractors, as they sometimes like to be called. An article on CNN Money reports that a North Carolina startup saved about $270K by hiring freelancers. The company was able to use the skill sets of seven individuals, while lowering overhead costs. And it is easy to find freelancers through websites like Elance.com.
However, one thing to consider when hiring freelancers is that you will be responsible for quality control. Instead of communicating with a team of writers, you will be working with the workers one-on-one, which means you will have to explain your goals and expectations to each one. If it’s saving your company money, though, it’s probably worth the work.
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