Hiring virtual assistants is rapidly becoming one of the most popular ways to manage a business's clerical and administrative tasks — and no wonder. VAs usually have extensive experience, have their own equipment, offer unmatched time flexibility, and can cover various tasks for different business requirements. They offer an unprecedented opportunity to save on administrative expenses, with some sources claiming that hiring VAs can save companies up to 78% in operational costs. Of course, this professional relationship is a two-way street; in exchange for the company’s potential savings, VAs enjoy flexible hours, significant job autonomy, less stressful work environments, and savings on transportation costs.
In any case, employers have a lot of reasons to get and keep the best virtual assistants they can find. In this article, we’ll discuss how to properly welcome your new VAs into your organization and how to retain them for the long run.
How to welcome your new Virtual Assistants into your organization
Let’s say you decide to hire VAs for your business. Hiring a virtual assistant isn’t too different from hiring other employees, but they present challenges unique to the remote work setup, like the lack of face-to-face interaction, potential cultural differences, coordination/collaboration issues, and other concerns. These problems are easily mitigated by applying these tried and tested strategies when welcoming your new VAs.
Clearly define their roles and responsibilities
Before hiring a VA, you need to figure out which aspects of your business you need help with and which ones you’ll assign to them. Here are some of the ways a VA can help your workflow:
One of the most popular tasks for VAs is scheduling and calendar management for their clients. The VA can help schedule and cancel calls, appointments, meetings, and other essential activities that must be slotted in your calendar. This lets the business owner manage their time without the hassle of filling out and checking the calendar.
Bookings and reservations
Another important task that virtual assistants can help with is making reservations for restaurants, hotels, or trips for business or personal enjoyment. For example, a three-day trip to a popular Italian tourist destination will require several advanced reservations and purchases of tickets for planes, buses, trains, or ferries, depending on your preferred method of travel. Your VA can handle all those reservations, allowing you more time to prepare for the trip.
Outreach and communications
We all know how emails can pile up to our eyeballs if we leave them alone for a few days. Then there is the stack of messages from partners and collaborators on popular instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp or Viber. An effective VA can assist with sorting through messages, filtering out spam and unwanted content, producing digital text copies of important audio and video communications, and ensuring prompt replies to the people who matter.
Social media management and content creation
We all like to spend time scrolling through our newsfeeds but managing an active social media account for a business is another story. A VA trained in social media management can help you schedule and create content, maintain active customer communication, and establish your page as a reliable and effective business. This service can include creating social media posts, graphics, audio, or video clips, which can also be used for websites, business meetings, or client presentations.
Research is vital for businesses wishing to maximize their product and service offerings. A VA can help conduct market research about competing products, features, prices, or trends. You can also ask them to research real estate, travel arrangements, service providers, and other tasks. They can also provide research services for more academic businesses and writing projects for publication.
A VA can help you monitor companies, commodities, or cryptocurrencies if your business revolves around monitoring and investing in financial markets. These items can then be screened according to your preferred methods and then submitted to you in easily accessible formats.
This list is by no means extensive, and you can find other ways a VA can assist your organization. Depending on your needs, you may require a VA to handle multiple tasks, or you can slowly integrate new responsibilities into their workload. Defining roles is also a great way to avoid duplication or overlapping assignments, especially when multiple VAs work for you. It is important to clearly and comprehensively explain their roles and responsibilities, which neatly ties in with the next item on our list.
Once you’ve defined your VAs’ tasks, you must provide them with your expectations. How many hours are they required to work? Do you need them to cover specific times? For content creation, how many graphics, articles, or social media posts are needed over the course of the week or campaign period? What are the other objectives for a particular task?
Timetables, deliverables, and other productivity measures must be carefully laid out and discussed with your new virtual assistants. Aside from hard metrics and key performance indicators, there are also your preferred soft skills, like the ability to work in a team setting, effective communication, adaptability, critical thinking skills, and a keen eye for detail.
Set up their accounts in advance
VAs will require access to tools and systems you use to run your business. Creating the necessary accounts for them before onboarding saves time. One key aspect here is ensuring their access is tailored to their specific tasks. This is for the safety and security of you, the employer, and your newly-hired VA. It also creates the impression of competence and readiness, attributes you want to foster in your organization.
Allot time for two-way conversations during the first few weeks
Building rapport with your employees is easy if you all sit in the same office space. This goes a long way in building trust and communication and helps create an engaging and satisfying work environment for all parties involved. It’s no accident that some of the best companies in the world also have the best work culture. But how do you create and maintain this kind of work culture with your remote virtual assistants?
Believe me, you don’t want to be just the face on the computer screen that tells them what to do. You need to find time for conversations about how your virtual assistants feel about their responsibilities and workload.
Business owners that handle remote contractors and employees stand to greatly benefit from daily or weekly communications over voice calls during their first few weeks. Use this time to touch base and talk about ongoing projects, but don’t limit the conversations to getting down to brass tacks.
In my experience, the best remote bosses find the time to build rapport with their virtual assistants, asking about their days, what they do during their downtimes, how they decompress after a long day at work, and other personal matters. This has the dual benefit of connecting with your VAs personally and having an idea of their work style, capabilities, and interests so you can assign them more personalized tasks and projects.
Best ways to retain your virtual assistants
Now that we’ve covered the best strategies for onboarding your new virtual assistants, let’s talk about how to keep them. This should be one of your priorities as an owner of a growing business, especially if you manage to find people great people. Here then, are some of the suggested ways to retain your VAs and keep them working for you.
Maintain healthy communication
Maintaining steady and honest communication is important in any relationship, and make no mistake, this includes your professional relationship with your virtual assistants. Effective communication has so many benefits aside from reducing turnover. Here are some of them:
Increases morale and productivity
VAs that are aware of their roles (and importance) in the organization are more likely to stay and continue being productive team members. The added satisfaction of having their work recognized can also help.
Having a boss willing to talk openly about aspects of the business promotes trust within the ranks, and being trusted is one of the most effective ways to show appreciation.
Increases engagement and teamwork
Of course, maintaining communication within the organization allows for better collaborations and the exchange of ideas. This can be tricky due to the remote work setup, but there are many ways to create an effective remote working environment.
Keep your payroll spotless
Maintaining a clean, dependable employee compensation system is vital to any business. Nobody likes to work for free, and bills and other expenses often depend on proper pay schedules. Missing a salary payout, even once, may negatively affect your VA’s financial situation. It can also create a sense of mistrust among your remote workers.
There have also been reports of unscrupulous business owners taking advantage of the relaxed onboarding process for remote workers. A few of them have been known to hire VAs for a month while holding the promise of payment over their heads. Once the month is up or the project is done, they cut off all communication and start over with a fresh batch of hires. So it’s in your best interest to effectively manage your payroll to avoid creating this type of impression.
Offer flexibility whenever possible
One of the best advantages of remote work is the ability to work whenever, wherever. This promotes better control over a virtual assistant’s work-life balance, allowing them to monitor their physical and mental health better. Healthier and happier employees tend to stay with businesses that provide them with the best ways to improve their productivity while maintaining job satisfaction.
Flexibility has become such an essential part of today’s work culture that people are actually willing to take jobs offering lower salaries in exchange for flexible work arrangements. Some part-time VAs benefit most from flexible work times, like stay-at-home parents or full-time college students looking to pay off loans independently. However, it is still important to address business requirements, so you’ll have to strike a delicate balance between enhanced flexibility and having your preferred tasks done in a timely manner.
Micromanaging is a terrible habit to get into; nobody likes to work when someone’s breathing down their neck, especially in remote work arrangements. This creates the impression that you do not trust your virtual assistants, which can negatively impact morale and productivity. In a 2020 study, Microsoft found that more than half of the managers they interviewed admitted that they still don’t know how to effectively manage their remote teams regarding task assignments and empowerment, which could potentially mean that their management style is leading to micromanagement.
There are many ways to avoid micromanagement, but the best one, in my opinion, is prioritizing VA productivity instead of hours worked. This allows your remote workers to work at their own pace while you create a result-centric work environment.
Incentivize performance and progress
This might come straight from the common employee retention handbook, but great employee retention strategies are great precisely because they produce results and can be applied in different situations. Here are the most common ways you can incentivize your virtual assistants to perform:
Offer fair and appropriate compensation
One of the most valued aspects of hiring virtual assistants is the potential savings they pose for businesses. But that’s no excuse to offer them measly salaries that are well below their skill levels or the industry standard. Employers who provide fair compensation for their virtual assistants have a better chance of fostering long-term professional relationships, allowing them to greatly benefit from the VA’s improving efficiency and widening skillset.
Offer additional benefits
Virtual assistants do not usually enjoy the usual benefits of a regular employee, like health and life insurance, paid time off and sick leaves, retirement plans, and overtime pay. If you can afford it, giving them access to these types of benefits is an excellent step towards retaining your talent.
Recognize their contribution to the business
It doesn’t matter if the recognition comes as a monetary gift, a wage hike, a certificate, a social media post, or a sincere thank you. Everybody likes it when their efforts are seen and appreciated. Despite the inherent simplicity, showing appreciation to employees is still one of the best ways to increase morale, promote trust, and boost retention.
Provide growth opportunities
Don’t make the mistake of making your virtual assistant positions a dead-end job. Any sensible VA with eyes on professional growth will actively look for work that offers advancement opportunities, whether it's increased salary, responsibilities, or rank. You want to keep these people because they always strive for development. Some of the best ways to allow your virtual assistants the chance to grow are:
- Training and development
- Testing and offering new assignments
- Mentoring or coaching
- Giving continuous feedback
- Planning career paths
- Providing networking opportunities
- Allowing more freedom to conceive, develop, and deploy ideas (for roles focused on content creation, marketing, etc.)
Employee retention is an ongoing process
Knowing about these time-tested tactics for reducing turnover rates is just the beginning. Businesses tend to have many moving parts, and developing an effective virtual assistant retention strategy that fits your available time, resources, and preferences may take some practice and rigorous backtesting. But, like everything else in life, anything worth doing is worth doing well.