As an entrepreneur looking to tap cost-effective offshore business solutions, what are your critical concerns—appropriately skilled resources, accountable employees, data and IP protection, employee management, and, of course, online communication and collaboration! Who can address these crucial parameters meaningfully—freelancers or virtual employees working from a managed office?

Let’s analyze these parameters in detail to see what works best for SMEs?

Getting verified and tested candidates with appropriate skills is the first important step in hiring for SMEs. Virtual staff providers stringently screen a ready-to-employ database of qualified professionals in various domains. On the other hand, identifying a suitable freelancer involves the humungous amount of effort and time— and all without the certainty of a right choice!

SMEs may have an issue with their offshore employee’s level of commitment. Your virtual employee works from a managed remote office, dedicated to working exclusively on your project and available for real time communication opportunities in your time zone. Freelancers work for multiple employers, including competitors, and it can adversely impact their communication and productivity. In fact, a freelancer simply cannot be held accountable even if they decide to abandon a project halfway through.

SMEs can be rightfully paranoid about transferring business information to a third party. Virtual employees work from a supervised office with well-entrenched security policies for IP and data security and relevant employee confidentiality contracts and organizational routines to check such issues. Freelancers are unlikely to have any systems in place to address client security concerns.

Real time communication and collaboration are a crucial element in an offshore process for SMEs. Hiring virtual employees from established agencies allows SMEs access to sophisticated tools to enable online group tasks such as mind-mapping and brainstorming, as also project management applications to track assigned tasks and schedules and for document collaboration. This builds up employee accountability and productivity. It is impossible for freelancers to map up to this level of communication. Because of time zone differences, freelancers rarely communicate in real time with their clients.

A healthy and conducive work environment can translate into enhanced output for SMEs. Despite being sound professionally, freelancers can suffer from lack of problem solving, project management or communication skills—translating into sub-standard output. In contrast, a virtual employee work along with a number of other employees in a well-equipped office, leveraging all the benefits of a wholesome, synergistic environment, with supportive managers for suggestion and direction.

As we have seen, virtual staffing has helped fill up the lacunas created by outsourcing, particularly for the SMEs. It affords SMEs a level playing field with MNCs (who enjoy swanky offshore facilities), allowing them to set up base in talent-rich and low-cost destinations like India. A virtual employee functions as a SMEs’ ‘in-house’ virtual staff—bringing all the perks of a well-managed offshore facility minus all the headache and expenses.