A virtual employee is an individual who works remotely for your business, using virtual means to communicate, perform tasks, and deliver projects.
A virtual employee is an employee who does their job online, sometimes even from a remote location or outside the employer’s country.
You can hire virtual workers as employees who work as virtual teams or opt for independent contractors. Outsourcing to independent contractors is common among small business owners and startups that can’t afford hiring full-time employees yet.
Examples of virtual jobs
Even jobs in industries long considered to be very traditional from this perspective can now be embraced in a remote (or at least hybrid) work environment, but certain jobs tend to be more popular among virtual employers.
Here are a few examples:
- Graphic design
- Customer support
- Software engineering
- Web development
- Bookkeeping and accounting
- Social media and marketing
- Virtual assistants (calendar management, data entry, and similar jobs)
Pros and cons of virtual staffing
The benefits of working with virtual employees have outlived the initial need of the pandemic. Here’s why you’d want to hire remote workers.
- Improved diversity: A global talent pool is more likely to bring in diverse candidates, which can make your team more productive and innovative
- Reduced office space costs: Become a more cost-effective business by saving thousands of dollars each month on office space, office equipment, and utilities
- Increased global customer support time zone coverage: Virtual employees spread across time zones ensures someone is available to talk to your customers 24/7
- Improved work-life balance and motivation: Virtual employees can spend more time with family, cut out their commute, and schedule their work around life.
Virtual staff can easily perform their duties with real-time communication tools, while relying on asynchronous work and video conferencing when necessary. But, there are some downsides of hiring remote employees for business owners to consider:
- Feelings of isolation: Employees working virtually full-time may struggle with loneliness and employee engagement unless your business prioritizes teamwork and an engaging employee experience
- Company culture can suffer: Without an in-person work environment, remote staff can struggle to feel united.
What makes a good virtual employee?
A good virtual employee shares most of the traits of a good in-office employee.
Don’t overthink the impact of virtual work during the hiring process; it’s enough to have a conversation with candidates during hiring to learn whether they’re enthusiastic about remote work.
That said, prioritize training employees to succeed in remote environments, especially for first-time remote employees or people struggling with feelings of isolation or self-management.
How to hire virtual employees from other countries
Hiring virtual employees from other countries requires some additional legal and tax work. Even if they don't need to cross borders and work from home, hiring internationally is legally complex because the employer must comply with the labor and tax laws wherever the employee lives.
Companies have three options to hire virtual workers in other countries:
- Open a subsidiary in worker’s country
- Use an employer of record (EOR)
- Hire foreign independent contractors (freelancers) instead
How to manage virtual workers
Managing virtual workers is similar to managing in-office workers. However, with everything relating to remote work, there are points you will need to keep in mind.
More specifically, you should learn how to:
1. Lean into asynchronous communication
Async communication and collaboration are key to developing productive, efficient relationships with your virtual employees and contractors. It also reduces Zoom fatigue and micromanaging.
You can't expect someone living on the other side of the world to be online at 3 am, so you will have to:
- Create clear tasks and deadlines
- Set up easy to access documentation for everyone, regardless of location
- Set up a flexible communication policy
- Use tools to promote collaboration (Google Drive, Slack, and Asana tend to be very popular)
2. Develop efficient processes and robust documentation
When everyone is working from different locations, clear and concise documentation and processes are paramount. Remote project management requires clear documentation because coworkers may not be online or available to answer questions.
Share this documentation during the onboarding of your new hire and set aside time for a meeting to ensure they understand all the processes.
3. Ask for, and listen to, feedback
Running regular employee satisfaction surveys and setting up regular one on one meetings can make the difference between a remote team that works and one that doesn’t.
4. Give the virtual employee the tools they need to succeed
If you want your remote employees and contractors to be productive and efficient, give them the tools they need to do their job properly.
This includes everything from a fast internet connection and a quiet place to work, to the right software for the task at hand and access to the company's knowledge base and internal guidance and expertise.