As a business I operate predominantly virtually with my team, even those that are in my own city. The reason? There's no point in forcing them to be in the office when they have, say, to be at home to wait for a contractor. They can perform the job there just fine, though being in the office is important for making sure you are disciplined and in an actual working environment. The challenges of hiring others thousands of miles away and managing them mount every day, and there's a lot to learn even from the very beginning. In person you can get subtle measurements of what you'll need - over the phone far less so. I should make it clear that I'm not saying you shouldn't hire virtually--quite the opposite--but you need to know exactly what to look for, positively and negatively, to make it work. Here're the things to look for in your virtual employees.
1. A technical background that matches your needs. Of course before you start the hiring process to fill any role, you need to have a clearly defined job description. However, with virtual employees you need to make absolutely certain that the technical must-haves are outlined and demonstrated in every conversation you have. If this role requires them to manage your blog, managing video conferences, familiarity with Zoho or Google Drive, basic HTML or a history of managing online ad campaigns, spell it out for both of your sakes'. Make it clear what programs they may need to understand, and even potentially ask for references that directly can attest to their abilities to these specific outlines. For example, you may hear they know how to use WordPress and manage it--but do they have anyone who can attest (or a way that they can demonstrate) to their ability?
2. The ability to Stay On Task--Despite Their Distance A remote employee can be the most dedicated person in the world, with their own personal office and a host of organizational abilities. They could also be in their underwear laying on the couch, and that's up to you to find out. Take a Skype call with them and observe the environment--are they on the couch? Maybe ask. Be nice, but ask where they'll be working throughout the day, and if they say "I work on the couch but I stay really focused," that's great. It's about making sure they have a good handle on the work day. You also need to make sure they understand the work-life balance is key. You want to make sure that they know their "on" hours--8am to 6pm, for example--but also that they're not working ridiculous hours because nobody tells them it's quittin' time. This can be really helped by using a platform like Asana to assign defined tasks, and getting bi-weekly reports.
3. Someone With A Healthy Outlook On Life. Always do your best to support your employees--virtual or otherwise--to try and do things like practice meditation every morning (which may seem hokey, but I have far too many friends who do it to ignore recommending it) before logging in, and encourage them to chat about their achievements and what they're up to in general. If they're sick, show them compassion as any good boss should but make sure they're taking care of themselves in general too. I also like to use Slack to create a few silly channels for all of us--like one dedicated to dumb YouTubes--so that even our most remote employees can actually enjoy themselves.
4. A great written communicator. I can say with complete certainty that I do not talk to my employees on the phone that much. It's because I firmly hold the belief that, well, the phone is kind of inefficient and a lot can get done in a quick Slack or email conversation. Written communication is the most important part of my job, and thus it should be theirs too. In any job that requires virtual communication it's a huge priority. "It quickly becomes relevant for all types of business, even for software development services these days," says Alexey Semeny, CEO of DevTeamSpace, which helps businesses by connecting them with great European remote software development teams. "Phone conversations can cover only so much and you still need to have things in written form, so you can share it with colleagues and read them again in several days. We request our developers share daily written updates with all of our clients on a special dashboard and via email. It helps us to maintain openness and trust in our relationships with clients." And this is before you get into what many readers may want their employees to do; press releases, blogs, tweets, whatever it is I guarantee there're many points at which you will need to be an excellent written communicator.
5. Someone Who's Passionate About What They're Doing The person in question doesn't have to have a history in the industry for me to care. What I have to see is the possibility that they could do this job, well, and support the exact role they're in. A Chief of Staff doesn't have to have an abject mastery of media relations, but he has to understand why it's important. Someone doing media relations could literally not care about the PR industry, or writing press releases, but if they get media hits, they're gold to me. The point I'm making is that your remote employee needs to be almost totally self-motivating, which means they have to have a certain degree of loyalty. This could be to you, your cause, their cause--it could be anything, and you need to make sure that whatever it is you're making them do is something that, for whatever reason, actually matters.