Working with Virtual Assistants is on the rise. In fact, Inc. Magazine estimates that 80% of your job can be handled by Virtual Assistants and a well-written SOP. The appeal of working with Virtual Assistants is clear, but how do you get it right when working with a Virtual Assistant?
Some professionals may consider virtual communication to be less productive than face-to-face interaction. But, there's good news. A study by Harvard Business Review proved that well-managed virtual teams can actually outperform those that share office space and that using a Virtual Assistant can improve team productivity; some organizations surveyed saw gains of up to 43%.
So what's the best way to effectively lead a Virtual Assistant or team of Virtual Assistants? There's a lot of advice out there, but through our 11 years of experience in helping organizations navigate hiring and onboarding a Virtual Assistant, we've concluded that there are three must-haves:
1) The right Virtual Assistant
2) The right touchpoints
3) The right technology
By following simple high-return practices for each of the three, clients can maximize the productivity of their Virtual Assistant.
The right Virtual Assistant
Of course, you won't get anywhere without hiring the right Virtual Assistant. Over our years of interviewing and hiring hundreds of Virtual Assistants, we've found that the most successful VAs all have a few traits in common: strong communication skills, high emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills and the ability to work independently. We conduct behavioral interviews and personality tests, in addition to skills assessments, to screen for those qualities.
Fostering trust is especially important. Trust begins with respect and empathy. Early on in the onboarding process, clients do well to encourage their Virtual Assistants to talk about their background, the value they hope to add and the way they work best. Relationship building should be an ongoing process. While employees who are in the same office commonly chat about their lives, virtual teammates do so much more rarely. Try taking five minutes at the beginning of conference calls for everyone to share a recent professional success or some personal news. Once you've established trust, you should be well set-up for open dialogue.
The right touchpoints
Management gurus acknowledge the importance of establishing a common purpose or vision, while also framing the work in terms of team members’ individual needs and ambitions. Explain to your Virtual Assistant why you are coming together and what benefits will result.
Specific guidelines for interaction with your Virtual Assistant is equally vital; research shows that rules reduce uncertainty and enhances trust. Agree together how quickly you should respond to one another and outline procedure. Be specific with requests. As an example, rather than saying “Circle back ,” state whether you want to give final input on a decision or simply be informed after the decision is made. If you have a conference call about project details, follow up with an e-mail summary to minimize misunderstandings.
When you're having a conference call, regularly ask your Virtual Assistant to share their thoughts throughout the conversation. Additionally, if possible switch to video calls. Eye contact and body language help to kindle personal connections and the “swift trust” that allows a group of strangers to work together before long-term bonds develop.
The right technology
In our experience, even top-notch virtual teams—those with the most-talented workers, the finest leadership, and frequent touchpoints—can be felled by poor technology. Use a video conferencing service like Zoom that records automatically. Utilize direct calling and text messages to support real-time conversation. Being a fully remote team means that we rely heavily on the tools that can help us connect and communicate with each other from anywhere in the world. One of the main tools we recommend for communications is Slack, a tool that allows clients and Virtual Assistants to send quick chat messages with each other either in public or private channels or direct messages.