WORKPLACE / NOV. 28, 2014
version 4, draft 4

How To Work Productively With A Virtual Assistant

We live in an era of remote work. More and more companies employ a 100 percent remote workforce. These companies understand the value of flexibility, and are often a joy to work for.

What these companies also understand is that different jobs require different tools. Just as you wouldn’t use a jigsaw to chop down a tree, nor would you hire a full-time employee for a project that requires just 20 hours per month.

Perhaps the most efficient way to find part-time help is through a virtual assistant. The field of virtual assistants has grown tremendously in the past decade. There are virtual assistants with all kinds of specialties, and many generalists, too. If you seek part-time or project-based work, you might be better off finding a VA than hiring a new employee.

With new relationships come new challenges. A new VA will not become instantly integrated with your team. It takes effort to work productively with a VA.

The key to working productively with a virtual assistant is communication.

There are plenty of tools and methods you can use to enhance your communications with your VA. Your relationships will be all the better if you can master these five techniques.

1. Fill out your calendar

As with any employee, it will take time to get your virtual assistant up to speed. Your VA should have many questions about the work he’s expected to perform. The more promptly and completely you answer these questions, the better your relationship will become.

There will be times when you simply cannot answer these questions. You have a meeting, or are taking scheduled time away from your desk. Perhaps you take lunch at odd times. Whatever the reason, your VA needs to know when you’re scheduled to step away. That way they know when they cannot ask those vital questions.

Filling out your calendar completely becomes all the more important if the VA is handling customer service tasks. Some issues escalate and require your attention. If the VA knows you’re away, she can act accordingly. If she doesn’t know, because there’s nothing on your calendar, the situation can get out of control.

2. Set daily, recurring tasks

What happens when the VA has a question, but you’re not around? That all depends on how well you communicate expectations. The most effective way to do this is set up daily, recurring tasks for the VA. Doing this can give the VA a sense of direction. Even if one thing is unclear, he can still work on the rest of the tasks until you return.

This isn’t to say that every task a VA accomplishes should recur daily. If that’s the case you could probably just use an automation service. You hire a VA for complicated tasks, too. But by setting daily, recurring tasks in addition to those complicated tasks, you ensure that there is enough work to do until you’re around to answer questions.

3. Share a CMS

It might feel strange at first to share company tools with a virtual assistant. The assistant works for another company, or as a freelancer, after all. Yet this is one of the most crucial aspects to being productive with a virtual assistant. If you treat them like employees, you will work with them more productively.

Perhaps the most important thing to share with a VA is your customer relations management software. Almost all of these have sharing options -- even if you’re using a Google Docs spread sheet. Having two team members contact the same potential customer, or having no team members contact a potential customer, can be harmful to your business.

In other words, sharing a CMS keeps everyone on the same page. It’s just as important to get your virtual assistant using your CMS as it is for your employees to be using it.

4. Create standard processes

Here is a key that many businesses hiring virtual assistants don’t get. The more standard the processes you create, the better results you’ll get.

What do I mean by processes? I mean that there is a standard workflow in place. It means that when the assistant sees X, she knows to do Y. When she gets a request email, she knows to tag it and forward it to the appropriate department. When she sees a mention on the Twitter account, she knows to reply within five minutes.

These are just examples. There are many ways to streamline processes so that assistants know what to do and when. In many ways processes are similar to the concept of Commander’s Intent. With the right processes in place your VA will know what to do even when you haven’t given explicit instructions.

5. Schedule regular meetings

In order to improve, we must receive and process feedback. There is no shortcut around this hard-and-fast rule of personal and professional development. With in-house employees there are typically scheduled feedback sessions, in the form of performance reviews. Yet too many businesses forgo this process for virtual assistants. They are missing a great opportunity for growth-inducing feedback exchange.

As any good manager knows, feedback is more critical at certain stages than at others. In the first few weeks, the right feedback can make or break a relationship. Make sure to meet with your VA once a week to go over any issues or growing pains they might be experiencing. After that the frequency can lessen, but the intensity should remain. Aim for at least monthly meetings, either one-on-one or within a group setting, with your VA.

See also: Finding Success in Virtual Career Fairs

Most importantly, make sure it’s the kind of meeting that pushes relationships forward. Exchange feedback and discuss how you can improve not only performance, but the relationship itself. You’ll find that this time is an investment. You will see a return on it if you do it well and regularly.

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