Ask Some Questions, Then Ask Some More
When you're hiring virtual employees, be sure to interview them just as you would interview a candidate that would be working in-office. Request a resume, CV, and a portfolio if applicable. Be sure to check references and, at the very least, do a thorough telephone interview. You will need to make sure that your virtual employees can actually do the job prior to hiring them in order to avoid disappointment and wasted time in the future.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
It may seem a bit odd to not be able to walk down the hall and have a quick chat with an employee, but that doesn't mean that you can't still have clear communication. Make sure you are available via email and whenever possible, for a quick chat via telephone or even Skype. Email is sufficient in many instances, but some virtual workers may prefer to actually speak with you. Ambiguities can be cleared up and directions can often be explained more easily over the telephone than in email.
Set Clear Deadlines and Priorities
Virtual workers are often consultants who work with multiple businesses. Having set deadlines and prioritizing their tasks will help them manage their own schedules and ensure that the work gets done on time. Make sure to build in a bit of a buffer in case you need to make some last minute changes. You don't want to end up scrambling and potentially missing your own deadlines due to setting a schedule that's too tight.
Have a Back-Up Plan
Even if you can manage your business and meet your deadlines with only one virtual employee, it's always a good idea to have a back-up in case of unforeseen circumstances. Having another person to fill in part-time will give you peace of mind, ensuring you won't end up stuck trying to finish all of your projects on your own if your other virtual employee suddenly becomes unavailable.
Establish a Relationship Based on Mutual Respect
Make sure your virtual employees feel connected and respected. Communicate with them often and recognize a job well done. If possible, organize a get-together so everyone on the team can meet. This may not be possible if your employees are all over the world, but if they're close by it can be a great chance to connect. Try to provide feedback and support to your employees whenever possible and use a personal touch when you can. Your employees are far more likely to be content and motivated to do great work if they feel appreciated and if their efforts are being recognized.
If you have a business that you run from a small office space or a home office, outsourcing some of your workload can be a viable option. There are certainly a lot of great employees out there that will work hard and do an excellent job, but if you're new to outsourcing and to virtual employees, expect some growing pains at the beginning. It may take a while to find the perfect fit.