What is a Virtual Employee? The Pros and Cons of Hiring Them

What is a Virtual Employee? The Pros and Cons of Hiring Them

Have you ever heard the term “virtual employee” and wondered what exactly it means? Basically, a virtual employee is just like a regular employee who works for your business. However, instead of coming into your office or physical location, they provide services remotely.

In most cases, virtual employees aren’t directly employed by your business. You’ll usually go through a third-party company to hire them. So you’re essentially paying that company for the services of the employee. But they can perform a wide array of tasks for your business, from data entry and scheduling to posting on social media or clearing out your inbox.

For small businesses, virtual employees offer a cost effective way to get more done and grow their operations. It’s not just about what you pay directly to employees, though virtual employee salaries are often fairly reasonable. But you can also save on overhead costs like office space and equipment by going this route.

With on-site employees and even freelancers, you have to also worry about the recruitment and hiring process. Virtual employee agencies often handle this part of the process for you. So if you want to pass off some of the more repetitive tasks for your business, this can be a quick and inexpensive way to do it.

Are you thinking about hiring virtual employees or learning more about what they could provide for your business? Check out this guide about what virtual employees can do for you. It’s created by Time Doctor, providers of a time tracking software that can be used to manage your virtual team.

Why Hire a Virtual Employee?

Most small businesses have tons of little tasks that need to get done throughout the day. Some of them require your unique vision or skills; others don’t. If you spend a significant amount of time doing repetitive tasks like creating spreadsheets or responding to simple email inquiries, that’s less time you have to work on growing your business.

A virtual employee can handle these tasks for you. And hiring one usually doesn’t cost as much as hiring a traditional employee, both in terms of salary and costs related to hiring, onboarding, office space, equipment, and benefits. So the process eliminates a lot of the roadblocks that often keep small businesses from growing their team early on.

Pros of Using a Virtual Employee

Hiring virtual employees can often be an easy and cost effective way to grow a small business team. You can save time on hiring and onboarding, save money on overhead, and free up more of your own time to work on the things you really need to focus on with your business.

In addition to the practical aspects, working with virtual employees allows you to expand the talent pool your company has access to. If you live in an area without a huge base of job seekers, you can still find hard workers and people with the skills you need to support your company’s most important operations.

Cons of Using a Virtual Employee

However, virtual employees are only an asset when you have a clear need well suited for their skills. You also need the ability to work from a separate location. There are certainly options out there for skilled jobs like marketing and IT, but you’ll probably want more control over the hiring process for those workers. So you don’t necessarily save as much time on the hiring and onboarding process.

Additionally, this format isn’t especially well suited to companies where collaboration is a major focus. There are apps like Slack and Basecamp. These apps allow online teams to share ideas and communicate. But it’s often not the same level of brainstorming that happens in person. And it’s tougher to create the sense of camaraderie that often occurs in small offices.

Training and GuidanceProvide thorough training on specific tasks, set clear expectations, deadlines, and goals for virtual employees. Ensure they know how to reach out for support or questions.
Management ApproachManaging virtual employees is similar to managing in-person employees. Be clear, set goals, recognize good work, and address issues promptly. Treat them as valuable team members.
Pros of Using ThemHiring virtual employees can be cost-effective, saving time on hiring and onboarding, reducing overhead costs, and freeing up time for core business tasks. Expands talent pool.
Cons of Using ThemVirtual employees are suitable for specific tasks; remote work capability is necessary. Limited control in hiring for certain skilled roles. May lack in-person collaboration.

What is a Virtual Employee? The Pros and Cons of Hiring Them

How to Hire Them

If you’re sold on the idea of hiring a virtual employee, the next step is to determine your small business’s needs. Do you need someone to manage your schedule? Post on social media? Do simple data entry? The tasks you’re hiring for might impact where you look.

There are plenty of services available to match you with the right virtual employees, including Work Better Now, Outsourcely, and Zirtual.

If you want more control over the hiring process, you can also post a job listing on traditional job sites like Indeed. However, this requires more time upfront. If you’re looking for freelance help, sites like Upwork can also help, but these are typically better for those looking for short-term or project-based help.

How to Manage a Virtual Employee

Once you hire virtual employees, it’s your job to make sure they’re working effectively within your small business. This starts with thorough training surrounding the exact tasks you need them to complete.

Once they’re trained, set specific deadlines and goals so they know your expectations. Then you should also check in regularly and make sure they understand how to reach out to you or another member of the team if they have questions or concerns.

Ultimately, managing virtual employees is a lot like managing in-person employees. You need to be clear, set goals, recognize good work, and correct bad habits when you notice them. Even though you’re not interacting with them in person each day, you should consider them a member of the team and make sure they have the same support and guidance as you’d offer to anyone else.

What is a Virtual Employee? The Pros and Cons of Hiring Them

Effective Collaboration

While virtual employees offer flexibility and cost savings, effective collaboration is crucial for their success in contributing to your small business. Here’s how to ensure productive collaboration:

  • Clear Communication: Establish open and clear communication channels. Use tools like video conferences, instant messaging, and project management software to stay connected.
  • Set Expectations: Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and project goals. They should understand what’s expected of them and how their work contributes to the business.
  • Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular check-in meetings to track progress, address concerns, and provide feedback. Encourage them to ask questions and seek guidance when needed.
  • Project Management: Use project management tools to assign tasks, set deadlines, and monitor progress. This helps keep everyone on the same page and ensures tasks are completed efficiently.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Be mindful of cultural differences if your new employees are located in different regions. Understand and respect their working norms and customs.
  • Recognition and Feedback: Recognize and reward good work, just as you would for in-person employees. Offer constructive feedback to help them improve their performance.
  • Team Building: Organize virtual team-building activities and social interactions to foster a sense of camaraderie among remote workers.
  • Accessibility: Ensure virtual employees have access to the resources and support they need to perform their roles effectively, whether it’s training, software, or hardware.
Clear CommunicationEstablish open and clear communication channels using video conferences, messaging, and software.
Set ExpectationsDefine roles, responsibilities, and project goals to clarify expectations and contributions.
Regular Check-InsSchedule meetings to track progress, address concerns, and provide feedback, promoting interaction.
Project ManagementUse tools to assign tasks, set deadlines, and monitor progress for efficient task coordination.
Cultural SensitivityBe mindful of cultural differences in remote teams and respect diverse working norms and customs.
Recognition & FeedbackRecognize good work, reward achievements, and provide constructive feedback for improvement.
Team BuildingOrganize virtual team-building activities to foster camaraderie and social interaction among remote workers.
AccessibilityEnsure access to necessary resources, training, software, and hardware for effective role performance.

What is a Virtual Employee? The Pros and Cons of Hiring Them

Maximizing the Potential of Virtual Employees in Your Business Strategy

Integrating virtual employees into your business strategy can significantly enhance operational efficiency and productivity. To maximize their potential, consider the following strategic approaches:

  • Task Analysis and Delegation: Evaluate your business processes and identify tasks that can be effectively outsourced virtually. Focus on delegating repetitive, time-consuming tasks that do not require physical presence, allowing your core team to concentrate on high-value activities.
  • Skill-Specific Hiring: Leverage the global talent pool by hiring virtual employees with specialized skills that may be scarce or expensive in your local area. This approach can bring high-level expertise to your projects without the full-time expense.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: Use virtual employees to easily scale your operations up or down based on current business needs. This flexibility can be particularly advantageous for businesses with seasonal fluctuations or those experimenting with new markets.
  • Diversification of Work Hours: By employing virtual workers from different time zones, you can achieve extended hours of operation or round-the-clock customer service without imposing overtime costs on your local team.

Building a Strong Virtual Company Culture

Creating a cohesive and positive company culture is as crucial for virtual teams as it is for in-person teams. To build a strong virtual company culture:

  • Promote Virtual Social Interactions: Organize regular virtual social events, such as team lunches or coffee breaks via video call, to encourage informal interactions and strengthen team bonds.
  • Establish Core Values: Clearly communicate your company’s core values and mission to all virtual employees. Ensure that these values are reflected in daily operations and decision-making processes.
  • Offer Professional Development Opportunities: Invest in the growth of your virtual employees by offering access to online courses, webinars, and conferences. Encourage knowledge sharing within the team.
  • Recognition and Rewards: Implement a virtual recognition program to celebrate achievements and milestones. Acknowledge the contributions of virtual employees publicly to foster a sense of belonging and appreciation.

Overcoming Common Challenges with Virtual Employees

While virtual employment offers numerous benefits, it also presents unique challenges. Addressing these challenges effectively is key to harnessing the full potential of your virtual workforce:

  • Communication Barriers: Utilize comprehensive communication tools and establish clear protocols to mitigate misunderstandings and ensure everyone is aligned on project goals and deadlines.
  • Performance Monitoring: Adopt performance management software to track productivity and output without micromanaging. Set clear performance indicators and provide regular, constructive feedback.
  • Data Security: Implement robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive company data accessed by virtual employees. Require the use of secure connections and provide training on data protection best practices.
  • Building Trust: Foster trust through transparency, regular communication, and by giving virtual employees autonomy in their work. Trust is foundational for remote team cohesion and productivity.

Navigating the Future with Virtual Employees

As businesses continue to embrace digital transformation, the role of virtual employees is set to become increasingly integral.

By understanding the pros and cons of virtual employment, strategically incorporating virtual workers into your business model, and fostering a supportive and inclusive culture, you can leverage the advantages of virtual employment to achieve sustainable growth and competitive edge in the global marketplace.

Remember, the success of virtual employment lies not just in the technology that enables it, but in the strength of the human connections and the effectiveness of management strategies that support it.

What is a Virtual Employee? The Pros and Cons of Hiring Them

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a virtual employee?

A virtual employee is essentially a remote worker who provides services to your business from a location outside your physical office. They can perform a wide range of tasks remotely, from administrative work to specialized skills.

How do virtual employees differ from traditional employees?

Virtual employees work remotely and are often hired through third-party companies or agencies. They are not physically present in your office and are typically paid for their services on a contract or freelance basis.

What tasks can virtual employees handle?

Virtual employees can handle various tasks, including data entry, scheduling, social media management, email management, and more. The specific tasks depend on your business’s needs.

How can virtual employees benefit my small business?

Virtual employees offer cost-effective solutions for getting tasks done, as they often have lower overhead costs. They can help you save time, reduce expenses, and focus on growing your business.

How do I hire a virtual employee?

To hire a virtual employee, identify your business’s needs, choose a service or platform to find virtual employees, and then specify the tasks and qualifications you require. You can work with agencies, use online platforms, or post job listings on job sites.

How do I manage and communicate with virtual employees effectively?

Clear communication is key. Use video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management tools for efficient communication. Set expectations, schedule regular check-ins, and provide feedback to ensure productivity.

What are the advantages of using virtual employees?

Advantages include cost savings on overhead and hiring expenses, access to a wider talent pool, flexibility, and the ability to delegate repetitive tasks, allowing you to focus on core business activities.

What are the disadvantages of using virtual employees?

Disadvantages include the need for clear task definition, potential loss of control over the hiring process, and challenges related to in-depth collaboration and team building.

Are virtual employees suitable for all types of businesses?

Virtual employees are well-suited for businesses with tasks that can be performed remotely. However, they may not be ideal for businesses that require extensive in-person collaboration or where control over the hiring process is critical.

How can I ensure cultural sensitivity when working with virtual employees from different regions?

Be aware of cultural differences, respect working norms, and foster an inclusive work environment. Encourage open communication and understanding among team members from diverse backgrounds.

Image: Depositphotos.com

Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.