It was like any other morning. I fired up my computer, checked email and started prioritizing the day ahead. Despite my usual sense of optimism, I couldn’t help but feel a little concerned. It had been several days since I heard from my virtual assistant -- we’ll call her Jessica -- which was definitely not like her. For more than a year, we had worked closely together on practically everything. Although she was not an employee, I thought of Jessica as an extension of my brand. She helped me keep things organized, took excellent meeting minutes, collaborated on new ideas and even shared a laugh or two. Her prompt service and rapid turnaround was one of her greatest strengths. Now, after a few days of no response, I was beginning to question everything.
More time passed. I never heard another word from Jessica. It’s like she just disappeared. I’ll occasionally see her chat status as “online,” but I’ve stopped trying to contact her. In this article, I’ll share four lessons learned from this experience.
1. Don’t ignore the warning signs.
In hindsight, I should have seen the situation coming. Unfortunately, I’m often too forgiving and willing to overlook minor annoyances. A forgetful moment here, an oversight there -- everyone makes mistakes, right? Of course, no one is perfect; however, when examined in their entirety, a pattern of events had developed that I failed to notice.
Be on the lookout for these warning signs from your virtual assistant(s):
- Forgets simple instructions. By definition, a virtual assistant should be someone who is highly organized. His or her job is to make your life easier, not complicate matters. A reliable virtual assistant will be proactive and make detailed notes, rather than constantly asking how things are to be done.
- Unexpectedly misses meetings. Scheduling conflicts do occur, although very few happen due to real emergencies. When a calendar overlap is identified, your virtual assistant should offer plenty of forewarning and seek a new date that works for everyone. Waiting until the last minute, or after the fact, is simply unacceptable.
- Makes excuses. There are only so many pet crises that actually impact one’s work schedule. It’s OK to be compassionate with your virtual assistant, but, on the other hand, it’s also possible that you’re on the receiving end of an excuse.
2. Be strategic when giving system access.
I was either too trusting or too lazy when I hired Jessica. Within a week of starting her contract, I had made her an administrator on several of my company’s most important systems, including my project management software. I later found out that she was also an “owner” of several important Google Docs folders, which was especially difficult to unwind upon her mysterious departure.
Before hiring another virtual assistant, pause to consider your approach to freelancer onboarding and offboarding. If you needed to, could you flip a switch and instantly restrict access to outgoing contractors? Of your existing assistants, which of them have more access than is actually needed? Spend time reviewing each user’s permission levels and adjust accordingly.
To further limit your risk, it can also be wise to take a staggered approach to onboarding. Rather than giving access to everything on day one, share only those systems necessary to get work done. As you build trust with the contractor, you can then expand his or her access to include additional systems or administrative privileges.
3. Formally review your virtual assistants.
Virtual assistants are usually freelancers who serve multiple clients. Although they’re not your employees, it’s still a good idea to provide regular feedback by means of a formal review process. Doing so provides an important forum to express concerns or warning signs you’ve observed and to drill down into the root causes.
To structure your review process, it can be helpful to do the following:
- Create an assessment form for your virtual staff.
- Schedule an hour-long, review session twice a year for each virtual assistant.
- As the annual review approaches, s invite the virtual assistant to submit the form as a self-assessment.
- Also submit the assessment from your perspective.
- At the review meeting, compare notes and share candid feedback.
- Save the assessment data and meeting notes in a drive for safekeeping.
The review process is your opportunity to objectively examine the situation. If you realize that a virtual assistant is actually making your life more complicated, then it’s probably time to move in a different direction.
4. When you start to beg, something is wrong.
The best virtual assistants are motivated by accomplishment and your total satisfaction. Therefore, when you find yourself begging for simple updates, you know something is seriously wrong.
For example, I probably said things like this to Jessica before she vanished:
"Did you ever enter that one task I sent you last week?"
"Are you going to send the meeting invite we discussed? I never saw it come through."
"Can you post the link to the meeting minutes? I needed that yesterday."
Remember, your virtual assistant should keep you organized -- not the other way around. Stop begging for things you could do yourself in a matter of minutes.