By Matt Keener, President of Keener Marketing Solutions and Author of the upcoming book Executive in Sweatpants.

With a national election just around the corner, a lot of politicians are talking about creating or “saving” jobs.  What many politicians don’t realize is that Americans are taking control of their own destinies by leveraging the power of the Internet and freelance tools such as oDesk and Elance.  According to the Freelancers Union, nearly 1/3rd of the nation’s workforce is now comprised of independent contractors.

Business owners are faced with new challenges each day.  In today’s economy, many entrepreneurs have to juggle more work with a slimmer staff.  By hiring contractors or working with agencies, businesses can add much needed support without affecting headcount. However, leveraging outsourced labor does have its own set of unique issues. It is especially challenging to keep a virtual workforce motivated. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few of the issues that companies commonly encounter when working with contract employees or new agencies.

Issue #1:  Bad Contractorshow to avoid hiring bad contract employees or agencies

Just like a bad employee, a bad contractor can create a lot of problems for an organization.  There are typically two types of “bad contractors:” those who perform poorly and those who are dishonest.  The poor performers are usually the easiest to spot.  From a recruiting standpoint, if a person has a questionable track record it can be a sign that he or she may be incompetent.  The dishonest contractors are usually more difficult to identify.  Many companies do not realize they have hired a dishonest contractor until it is too late.  Common types of dishonesty from virtual team members can include:  questionable billing practices, unethical work patterns (such as spamming or cutting corners), and even theft.  It is important to have a recruiting system in place to avoid hiring such people.

Issue #2:  The Silent Treatment

Another problem you can run into when managing virtual workers is the “silent treatment.”  Unlike a typical workspace, you can’t physically tap your virtual team members on the shoulder and have a face-to-face meeting.  As a result, if you are not intentional with your communication, some contractors may feel like you are avoiding them (even if you’re not).  The fact is that many people need consistent positive reinforcement to stay motivated.  Being proactive will help avoid such issues.

Issue #3:  Those Pesky Time Zones

One of the most amazing things about using outsourced labor is that even a small company can have a virtual team working around the clock.  However, having a sales analysis team in India, a web team in the Philippines, and a graphic designer in France can create issues if you’re not careful.  If you’re creative, you can often find a time that works for everyone to meet as a cohesive team.  Using free productivity tools such as Freedcamp, Google Docs, and AnyMeeting can also keep everyone on the same page.

Issue #4:  Lack of Interest

Here’s a simple truth:  some contractors are more serious about serving your needs than others.  When building your virtual team, you may find that some of your hires begin to lose interest despite your best efforts to keep them engaged.  Unfortunately, this comes with the territory of using outsourced virtual labor.  One way to minimize this risk is to look for contractors who are focused on working from home full time.  This simple strategy can help you find contractors who are focused on serving your needs for the long haul.

Your Team, Your Rules

Remember – you set the rules.  With your team spread throughout the world, it is important that you are especially proactive in setting boundaries and expectations.  Hold your virtual team accountable just as you would any onsite employee.  In doing so, you can give your organization a great opportunity to benefit from the ever-growing pool of virtual workers.

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The content shared in this blog post is the author’s opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of Xerox.  Matt Keener is President of Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC and is also the author of the upcoming book Executive in Sweatpants.  Visit his blog for helpful tips and tools for launching and growing a successful virtual consulting business.