THE BLOG
12/27/2012 12:27 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2013

Should You Hire Virtual Workers?

Despite the fact nearly 10 percent of U.S. employees work from home in some capacity, many employers are still reticent to hire virtual workers. After all, when you go into the office and see your employees' smiling faces (or grumpy frowns) you know they're at work, ready to tackle projects. How will you know if a virtual employee is hard at work or off folding laundry?

Perhaps some recent studies might put your mind at ease. A study released by Stanford University showed employees who work from home are actually more productive. Of these gains, about 8.5 percent came as a result of actually working more hours, not less. And the quieter working conditions mean workers aren't likely to waste on-the-clock time at the water cooler chatting about the latest elimination on Dancing with the Stars.

So maybe you might want to reconsider whether or not your office all-star is actually better than a great virtual worker. Not only are they more productive, but also another recent survey shows they might in fact be happier. Of the top 10 benefits employees cited when it comes to working from home, a more positive work-life balance was number-one.

Plus, you know workers are happier if they get to cut out their painful commute. A recent study by Washington University in St. Louis showed long commutes can really take a toll on employee health. This means more sick days, more lost productivity and less money rolling into your company. So it should come as no surprise commuting concerns made up four of the employee-cited top 10 benefits.

If all this wasn't enough to convince you to contemplate hiring virtual workers, consider this: according to the Stanford study, your company can save about $2,000 per employee just by letting them work from home. There's little overhead to pay an employee to work from a desk in their own home, after all.

Ok, I'm in! But how do I hire a virtual employee? Good question! Hiring virtual workers is a great idea, especially when you consider you are no longer hemmed in by geography when it comes to employing top talent. But finding and hiring good virtual workers can be tricky. After all, it takes a certain kind of skill set to thrive in a virtual work environment, and unfortunately, not every employee will be a telecommuting superstar.

Here are some good sense tips to help you hire the right candidate for your virtual office:

Connect personally in the hiring process: Just because you won't see your virtual worker in the office every day doesn't mean you won't need to establish a rapport just like with any other worker. Company culture and organizational fit don't fly out the window just because your new hire won't be bringing in cookies to the office party.

While phone screens are an option, there is a more personal way to get to know your candidate before making a permanent hiring decision. Think about utilizing online video interviews, especially if the candidate lives too far away to easily come in for an in-person chat. Thanks to video interviewing, you can get that one-on-one interview feel without flying anyone into the office.

Make sure they can work independently: It's important for virtual employees to be self-motivated, independent workers. There will be no boss standing over their shoulders to make sure projects are accomplished and tasks completed on time. In the interview, whether in-person, over the phone, or through online video, ask detailed questions about their experience working independently.

Don't just take their word when they assure you they are supremely self-motivated -- ask for concrete examples. For instance, maybe they single-handedly spearheaded an important project or work on a side project they manage themselves. Make sure to get as much detailed information as possible about their ability to work in a self-directed fashion.

Don't skip the reference check: The reference check is important, but it's even more vital when it comes to virtual workers. A candidate can tell you they're motivated and able to work on their own, but they certainly have a bias when it comes to how they present their abilities. A former boss or colleague will be more likely to let you in on the details your candidate might leave out--like the many work hours they spend logged into Facebook.

Hiring virtual workers can be and is a great idea when it comes to finding the best talent regardless of geography. Virtual workers can keep costs low and productivity high. You just need to make sure these will be truly self-motivated candidates by connecting with them personally, asking for concrete examples in the interview, and always checking references.

Are you planning on hiring virtual workers? Share why or why not in the comments!

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.