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How to hire your first virtual employee


By Alex Lawrence, head of recruitment advertising, 

The virtual business model works well for all sorts of small businesses and brings lots of benefits. It reduces expensive office costs and commuting, and allows talented people to be brought in, including those who only want to work on a part-time or freelance basis.

However, there are also plenty of downsides if this is not managed correctly, so when hiring your first virtual employee you also have the additional dynamics of identifying whether they can work effectively remotely, as well as whether you can provide the appropriate leadership and management to keep them on course.

When hiring your first virtual employee, important steps are:

Be clear on the role and the requirements

Think clearly about the skills they need for this job, just as if the person was located in your office. You may come up with a long list. If so, prioritise the key ones.  

Be clear on the extra bits

This is the key bit to think about for your first virtual worker as you won’t be there to look over their shoulder and keep an eye on them. 

You will want people who are self-starters so they stay on-task and meet deadlines. Past experience of working remotely is a good indicator here, as is a psychometric test such as DISC personality profiles.

Virtual workers need to be “results rather than process” people who are good at moving projects forward. A good indicator is their ability to put together a clear plan of action for a project that they are working on, so it is clear to everyone what needs to be done, when and who is accountable, ideally on a daily basis.

Get favoured candidates to complete a test project in as realistic a situation as possible. If you experience slow communication from the candidate during the recruitment process it is a warning sign for the future. The best ones over-communicate and understand how their work fits in with other team members.  

Leadership and management

As the manager, will you be in contact with them daily (a good plan), weekly or maybe less often? If not frequently, how will you monitor success and accountability?

Working remotely without regular contact can lead to isolation, so monthly or quarterly visits will help them feel included.

Make sure you are clear on how you and any employees will need to adapt to get the best out of this new team member.

Attracting suitable applicants

The biggest mistake when hiring a virtual employee or anyone else is to appoint someone “who is the best of a bad bunch”. It is even more of a problem with a poor remote employee as you are less able to support them.

The key step to getting a good employee is getting lots of suitable applicants. Promote the role as widely as possible on your website, social media and elsewhere, and on as many job-sites as possible. 

Meet them

Just because someone is working remotely, this does not mean you shouldn’t meet them. 

Certainly, part of the selection process for virtual workers should be done remotely as this is how you will be interacting with them. But meet them too; if they cannot come to you, go to them. 

Do not treat hiring your first virtual employee, or anyone else, in a slap-dash manner or you will regret it later.