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Over the last few years, the concept of a virtual assistant (VA) has changed. It has evolved from being a purely clerical and admin based role, to a multi-faceted occupation that could involve anything from data analysis, social media management and financial processes.
Given that most businesses have a ton of recurring and processes that divert time away from scalability,VAs are in higher demand than ever before.
And there are many advantages of hiring a VA - including increased productivity and efficiency.
Indeed, a study published by Stanford University found that VAs have lower attrition rates. It followed a group of employees working for Ctrip in China.
Researchers divided participants into two groups: one group worked in an office, and the other worked remotely. The study found that 35% of office-based employees that participated in the study left the company, compared to just 17% of virtual workers.
Separate analysis shows that VAs helped to save businesses money and enabled clients to save 78% of their operating costs per year, when compared to a full time employee. Moreover, 82.5% of virtual assistants spent as much time working as private employees.
Another reason businesses hire VAs is that they often prove to be much more productive. The same Stanford study also measured productivity. It found that VAs were less likely to take time off sick and as such worked out to be 13% more productive.
Curiously, Ctrip - the company analysed in the study - later allowed all of its employees to work remotely - and efficiency spiked by 22%.
There are many reasons why businesses hire VAs. Whether it's to wade through all of those boring tax returns or spending hours creating and formatting spreadsheets, VAs are in demand for many reasons.
However, when you get down to the basics, businesses hire VAs for 5 main reasons:
Finding the right fit can be a long process - almost as long as the normal hiring process. In fact, if you've read our previous blog 'Stop! Read This Before You a Hire a Freelancer', then you'll recognize many of the same problems with VAs that you'll encounter when hiring freelancers.
For example, problems with communication and cultural differences can result in projects not being completed properly. Another concern is that a VA is not really invested in your company - and they may very well be working for multiple clients - including potential competitors.
This means that they have less to lose if a project isn't up to your standards and they may not be as loyal to your brand as a full time employee.
Other issues may include VAs that disappear before a project is completed, poor quality work if you hire the wrong VA, security issues and missed deadlines.
According to research published in the Wall Street Journal, many companies report that projects take longer with virtual workers, while collaboration is more difficult and training is often problematic.
Perhaps one of the biggest issues of all is that many CEOs also hire VAs for sensitive tasks such as purchasing goods online, organizing inboxes, submitting invoices, sorting through important business papers and submitting documents to third parties.
It only takes one bad apple to misuse or leak sensitive information about either a business or the people that run the business. All of these issues can negate the advantages of hiring a VA.
Maybe it’s time to turn the traditional concept of a VA on its head.
There are almost as many different types of VAs as there are businesses. The one we've dealt with primarily in this article are the human kind. Of course, we don't want to give (or get) the impression that all human VAs suck.
A great VA can really work magic in your business. The problem is that sometimes human nature blocks business progress - even with the best intentions.
But before we get into how to solve that problem, let's take a look at some of the different types of VAs that are out there.
Her name is Alexa. Or Siri. Or any number of voice-activated assistants that can carry out online tasks, such as basic research, pulling up web pages, phone calls and setting reminders. These modern VAs have become such an indispensable part of our online lives that it is difficult to imagine life without them. The only problem is they are limited in scope, so they can't help with your data ops or tax returns just yet.
Traditional VAs are the classic assistants that are often called upon to tackle boring and repetitive admin tasks that eat up time and money.
However, the nature of VAs is constantly evolving, so you will often find that they are usually flexible and will often tackle different tasks outside of their traditional workflows when called upon to do so.
They can be located anywhere, and are usually freelancers - in that they may take on multiple clients. However, as we've seen, while there are many awesome VAs, finding the perfect match can prove to be a little more challenging.
Nowadays you can use VAs for almost every business process you can think of. For example, you can hire real estate VAs, social media VAs, VAs for bookkeeping...the list is virtually endless. The advantage of this is that you have someone that is extremely skilled in the specific business process you need. And if you only need assistance with one type of process then it may be worth investing in a VA that specializes in that area. However, if you have multiple projects that require a range of different skills, then you might want to look further afield.
One of the easiest ways to find a VA is to enlist the services of a VA company. This reduces the chances of a VA disappearing without a trace. Nowadays, there are dozens of VA companies and many of them vet their VAs before hiring them.
Some of the more well-known VA companies include Prialto, Work Better Now and Virtual Assistant Talents. What you will have to bear in mind is that many of them offer VAs that specialize in a limited range of areas and not all of them have the technology to automate business processes.
Most of these companies have been around for a while, but were not necessarily built to handle the complex business needs of modern marketplaces, tech companies and corporations.
Hybrid worksharing services, such as the one offered by Invisible, includes elements of BPO, automation, RPA and machine learning (ML). Hybrid services take on recurring tasks and automate the workflows that do not need human input. They then deploy human agents to oversee the entire process and inject creativity, skill and insight to complete the tasks that need human input.
The advantages of this model is that clients are not solely reliant on bots or humans, but instead, get to enjoy the benefits of both working together seamlessly.
Furthermore, rather than relying upon only one skilled VA, essentially what you have is a flexible team that works under the direction of a supervisor to ensure workflows get completed.
This gives businesses the benefit of knowing that the agents employed by these worksharing companies are strictly vetted and that they never have to worry about one VA or agent suddenly abandoning the project.
Clients therefore get what they are really after - a flexible team that has all the advantages of having one point of contact and combines the best elements of the VA models above, but without the negative side effects.
You may have noticed that both the second and the last options in the above section do not quite fit into the traditional understanding of VAs. But actually that’s the point.
The traditional VA model is fraught with problems that come with their own headaches.
If you are hiring a VA directly, you may very well encounter the same problems associated with any traditional employee or freelancer hires.
Going through a specialist company mitigates those problems somewhat, but you also want to select a company that is not limited in scope.
A hybrid model that allows you to combine the best elements of BPO, ML, VA and automation is one of the few, unique solutions that can adapt to the complex needs of modern businesses.
Make no mistake about it.
VAs can boost productivity, save operational costs and help your business to grow.
A hybrid model does not dispense with VAs or the many advantages that they give to businesses. Instead what it does is it expands upon the concept of a VA by weeding out the potential stumbling blocks and using technology to give enterprises a competitive edge.
Under such a model, businesses are served by an entire team of VAs with different skillsets that are able to help with even the most complex, recurring tasks that can be delegated.
And worksharing companies such as Invisible also have agreements in place to prevent any information being leaked to competitors.
So the next time you are thinking of hiring a VA - consider opting for a worksharing service instead.