April 29, 2014

Top 4 Red Flags When Hiring Virtual Workers

Low angle view of a soccer referee showing offside flagNow, I am not here to debate whether you should or should not use virtual workers. For me that boat has sailed. Ten percent of the U.S. workforce work at home effectively in some capacity and millions of work dollars are completed every day by virtual workers, be that for Fortune 500 firms or the small businesses, which make up 99.7 percent of all employers in the U.S. It’s a pretty similar picture all over the world.

Virtual workers bring speed, flexibility and global agility to your organization and using them is made easier by the fact that there is an array of freelancer marketplaces, like Odesk and Elance, where you can go and pick up freelance talent faster than you can order a pizza.

But, even though hiring virtual freelancers/mobile workers can be lightning fast, it’s worth being mindful that it is still an assessment and selection process that needs to be given its’ due attention, or you may get burnt. To help with this, I have shortlisted four essential red flags you shouldn’t ignore when assessing virtual workers for your project, and you can see them below.

1. Under selling their services

I hear you, “How is shooting too low a red flag? Believe me, it’s a huge red flag. When putting a job out to tender you should have some idea of how much it costs to do the job to a good level, give or take 20-30 percent, in whatever market you are posting. If people bid significantly below price with no explanation of how they can achieve the quality at these prices, then there is a good chance that the bid is not realistic, naïve and/or has not been thought through properly. Either way, they are not likely to be able to deliver to the performance level that you require. Chronically low bids (given the market they are in) are simply too good to be true, and in my opinion, are a clear red flag.

2. Cut and Paste Bids

Just like with hiring employees and being wary of candidates who use the same resume and cover letters for multiple applications, you should also be wary of cut-and-paste bidders who use the same bid template across multiple bids. They are fairly easy to spot; in fact, they stand out like a sore thumb as the bid usually makes no reference to your specific job and includes large sections of irrelevant text. These cut-and-paste bidders are a red flag typically because they have not actually read or digested your brief. Ideally, favor bespoke, tailored responses to your posting.

3. Weak Communication Skills

How understandable is the proposal? Is it clear, well presented and easy to read? Are they responsive and do they provide good, clear answers during the ongoing, negotiation process? What do they sound like on the phone? Are they easily understandable and do you think you can communicate with each other well? If communication is poor during the negotiation process, this is a clear red flag as it will most likely be poor during the working process, making it hard for you to communicate your requirements and resolve issues and collaborate. Responsiveness, clear communication and the ability to collaborate well using technology are key for virtual workers.

4. No other projects on the go

It’s, of course, a given that bidders/virtual workers should have a track record of work, portfolio examples and particularly live examples and references. If they don’t have other current projects, and can simply devote 100 percent of their time to your project immediately (BPOs excluded), then this is a red flag. It suggests they may be desperate for work, which could suggest a quality issue. Top virtual workers will be in demand.

Of course, there are plenty more red flags to watch out for when hiring virtual workers. What are some of your top concerns when selecting a freelancer?

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Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.