The pros and cons of virtual staff

Sylvia Pennington

Office assistants who’ll work for a couple of dollars an hour, creatives who can redesign your business image for a snip and marketeers who’ll curate your social media presence for a fraction of local rates…

Like scores of other entrepreneurs and small business owners, you’re probably pondering the pros and cons of augmenting your resources with virtual staff located offshore – if you haven’t already dipped your toe in.

Thousands have – Australia is the biggest market for online work outside the US, according to Upwork, one of the major marketplaces for one-off and regular staff. In 2014, local businesses spent almost $70 million hiring freelancers via the site, which has 1.5 million virtual assistants on its books.

Competitors such as Freelance.com and homegrown success story Freelancer.com boast equivalent bustle, while crowdsourcing sites such as Design Crowd provide access to the keenly priced creative talents of thousands of designers worldwide.

But can hired help you’ve never met half way round the globe mean a whole lot of hassles? What are the secrets to making sure your virtual workforce is an asset to your enterprise and not a source of problems that cost time and money to fix?

In 2014, local businesses spent almost $70 million hiring freelancers via the site, which has 1.5 million virtual assistants on its books.

Ignore resumes, for starters – they often lie, says Mini Movers founder Mike O’Hagan, who’s a long-time employer of virtual staff from The Philippines.

Instead, set applicants a simple work-related test and short-list those who pass, O’Hagan advises.

Given they’re going to be working out of range of the boss’ beady eye, reliability and responsiveness are critical – so hit the Delete button for applicants who’re late for anything during the interview stage, he says.

Once someone is on the tools for you, communication is the key to ensuring things jog along smoothly and they perform to expectations, according to remote work specialist Nina Sochon.

“Be explicit about the actions you’re looking for and if you haven’t asked for a response, don’t expect one necessarily,” she says.

Once someone is on the tools for you, communication is the key to ensuring things jog along smoothly and they perform to expectations

Set high standards and signal the possibility of more work to come, if the output is up to scratch – good operators will be looking for repeat business and may go the extra mile if there’s the opportunity to build a long term relationship.

Seeking progress reports is also vital, particularly in the early days, Sochon says.

“Check in early, when 10 or 15 per cent of the work is done,” she advises.

“Review progress, provide pointers, continue to reinforce the high standards you are looking for – they’ll be looking to achieve an early win and this gives you an idea of their motivation.”

Sylvia Pennington

Sylvia Pennington is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist who writes about small business, information technology and personal finance.

PARTNER CONTENT
Five cash flow mistakes you're probably making

Perplexed by your own cash flow situation? It's time to wrest back control.

×