When deciding to hire a VA rather than a traditional employee, it is easy to overlook the fact that this is a radically different hire. The biggest difference is not simply that the VA works outside of your regular office, but rather that is simply one component of the drastically different working relationship that exists between you and your VA. In this blog, we will take a look at some of the key factors to keep in mind when hiring and managing virtual employees.
A Virtual Assistant isn’t just steps away
Because a Virtual Assistant works outside of your office, it isn’t as easy to check in with them on the status of a recent project. With a traditional employee, you have the luxury of being able to simply walk to their office and check in at any time during working hours. With a VA, it requires more time and coordination to chat. You will need to either correspond via email (which means you need to allow for a lag in response time) or you need to schedule a phone or Skype call. This is also why it is extremely important to set up milestones for the VA so that you can have pre-set deadlines for when a project (or specific components of the project) need to be finished.
A VA might work for many different employers
It is very common for a VA to work for several different employers simultaneously. They often don’t hold a full time job with a singular employer, which means that they make a larger income by splitting their working time between as many employers as they can (and want) to take on. Having several employers often creates conflicting agendas, misaligned priorities, and great number of other stress-inducing factors that inevitably affect VA’s productivity.
A VA might wear many different hats
Because a VA works for multiple employers, they also typically wear many different types of hats. For example, a VA that works for you as an editor could be working for a few other employers as a content writer. Or they might also be a part-time virtual secretary, etc. This means that all of their time might not be spent on the type of task that you hired them for. This isn’t always good or bad. The VA could be proficient in many different types of work, but sometimes it can lead to a lack of focus. This is why effective pre-hire screening, including looking at recommendations and reviews, with focus on VA’s ability to multi-task is so important.
Your VA might be from a different cultural background
You can hire a Virtual Assistant from anywhere in the world because working together virtually means you are no longer restricted by geography. This might mean that your new VA could come from a completely different cultural background than you. They could speak a different language, have different working days, celebrate different holidays, value different traditions, and even have an entirely different set of moral values. These differences emphasized by the virtual / remote nature of your engagement can seriously affect the productivity of your VA and relationship at large.
Your VA might have a drastically different standards of living
Since your VA might be from a different part of the world, they also might live in a way that is entirely different from the standard of living you are accustomed to. In many parts of the world such as Bangladesh or Philippines some families live off of a couple of dollars a week. For them, a full-time job that pays $5 per hour would translate to a pretty decent income, while in the states and many other countries this wouldn’t even come close to meeting basic needs. That provides you as employer with tremendous power which if not used correctly can damage your relationship with VA.
A VA might have little to no knowledge of your business domain
When you hire a traditional employee, they typically have experience and knowledge that is specific to your business domain. With a VA, it is common for them to have never worked with someone in your specific field. For example, your new VA might have a lot of experience designing websites, but little to no experience working on a website for a travel agency. A good VA that has the general expertise you need is still a fantastic asset, and any VA that is worth their salt will grow to know more and more about your specific field the longer they work for you.
Your VA might not always be available during the hours you need
A typical VA has a somewhat flexible schedule with working hours that vary from week to week. Their workload per employer might also change, meaning that one week they might have more time to devote to your needs and the next week they might have less. This is another reason why it is imperative that you have a clear-cut contract with your VA that specifies what the requirements of your working relationship are. If you choose to pay hourly, then make it clear how much work you expect to receive within the allotted hours. Or if you pay based on completed project, be sure and establish an acceptable timeline and parameters so that you both know what to expect.
Your VA might only work with you on a limited basis
It is very common for a VA to work with you on a single project or series of projects, rather than as a full-time or even a part-time employee. This changes the relationship significantly because lack of continuity may translate to a degree in lack of motivation. Think of difference in service you get in an airport restaurant catering to “faceless traffic” vs. a restaurant in your neighborhood serving a fairly stable clientele.
Your VA’s work attitude might be different
When someone decides to become a Virtual Assistant it is typically a decision based on a lifestyle they hope to have. This means that they probably aren’t interested in working a 9-5, Monday thru Friday job or living a startup non-stop work lifestyle. That could be for many different reasons, including working around the schedules of their spouse or their children’s schools, or simply to have the flexibility to be at home with their young children. It could also be because they want to be able to travel and work from anywhere they can plug in a computer and find Wi-Fi. That translates to a drastically different attitude about work from that of a traditional employee who likes a more traditional weekly schedule.
Your VA might not be as invested in the success of your business
It’s also important to remember that because a VA isn’t a regular employee, they won’t have the same kind of investment in the success of your business as a traditional employee. And why would they? You are simply one of many employers for them, so if your business fails, it doesn’t have the same kind of impact on them that it would if they counted on you for all of their income.
Your VA might have conflicting interests
Finally, as we went over in the previous point, your VA is not going to be invested in the success of your business. They are really operating as their own entity and they work to provide a salary for themselves from home. This means that they might have interests that conflict with yours. For example, your VA might take on way more jobs than they can do effectively because their primary motivation is to make as big of a salary for themselves as possible. Another VA might spend more time working for you each week than they should so they can bill extra hours.
So, is it a bad idea to hire a VA? Of course not! Hiring a Virtual Assistant can be a tremendous asset to your business. But the working relationship is not the same as it would be with a traditional, in-office employee, and that isn’t always a bad thing. Not only does the VA get more flexibility, but so do you. Your working relationship with your VA can change and adapt over time much more easily than it can with an employee with an iron clad employment contract. Plus you get the benefit of hiring a VA from anywhere, meaning you are no longer restricted to those that live in the right geographic area. And there are plenty more of benefits to hiring a VA.
What are your thoughts on the differences between VA’s and traditional employees? Do you think I missed any major differences? Do you prefer hiring virtually or in-office? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.