How to Excel as a Virtual Assistant
Now is the time of the VA. Whilst they’ve been around for years, working as a Virtual Assistant is no longer the preserve of entrepreneurial freelancers willing to bet on themselves; aside from exceptions, everyone in the EA community is now a VA. For those lucky enough to have migrated to home working whilst in a role, there will have been Operations and IT support ensuring a smooth transition. By contrast, those jobseekers currently in the market find themselves having to face a remote hiring and onboarding process, and many will have turned to virtual temp, contract and freelance work as an interim just to make ends meet. If you are new to being a Virtual Assistant, here are some key points to keep in mind:
It sounds obvious, but you need the use of a good computer or laptop which isn’t on its last legs. If your current device is just about good enough for checking personal emails and online shopping but wobbles a little when attempting more venturous fare like streaming, it may be time to upgrade.
Similarly, if you have something small and portable which is great for on-the-go lifemin, think about how annoyed you might get when you try to use it for a job which usually involves two large screens. Will constant flicking from inboxes to calendars slowly irritate you? Will using a touchpad instead of a mouse eight hours a day slowly begin to grate? If the answer is yes and you can afford it, then investing in the necessary add-ons, if not a new device, might be a smart move.
If you’re near to securing a permanent of longer-term assignment be sure to enquire about this with the recruitment team – you may get much of what you need from them!
The same can be said for Software. Old devices sometimes mean a finite number of updates, and if everyone is using the latest version of something then that’s an issue. Most companies will still be using Microsoft Office suite, so both a facility with its various disciplines as well possession of the newest formats is key. IT departments will usually push more specialised software onto your computer so proactive investment in a download is usually unnecessary. That being said, YouTube is awash with free demos so if you notice particular packages cropping up in the roles you typically perform, it wouldn’t hurt to make yourself as familiar as possible.
It doesn’t matter how good an EA you are, you can’t work virtually with a choppy connection. It’s also not something you can really solve by half measures like hotspotting your laptop whenever things get a bit slow. Also, don’t assume that a connection which works ok for shopping and streaming will perform adequately once the complex packages you need have been pushed onto your computer. Connecting to the company you’re working for can bring excessive strain which slows things to unmanageable levels.
Obviously, you can’t change the dimensions of your home, but be aware that the expectation of virtual work is that it’s just as professional as the office-based equivalent, i.e. it should be conducted in a professional environment without distractions. If you can shut yourself off from family members, housemates or pets, you should do so. Background noise or someone casually walking behind you during a virtual meeting must be avoided wherever possible.
Whilst there is inevitably a greater flexibility to remote working, there isn’t a lower performance expectation than when you’re in an office. You need to be as available and responsive as you would normally and for the same hours. If you are popping out you still need to let your line manager know, and you can’t fudge it by taking your mobile with you knowing 90% of your usual tasks can be performed on it, and that you can always dash back to your desk from wherever you are should an emergency happen.
You can’t reasonably be expected to acquire a second mobile, but you should be comfortable giving out your personal number as it now serves the same function as your handset. Balancing the twin concerns of being available and setting boundaries can be difficult as you don’t want to be contactable 24/7, but you do need to be available and happy for a phone conversation, and have a professional voicemail greeting.
To excel as a VA you need the same qualities as a normal employee, only more so. That is to say, you’re operating without the same checks and balances that an office environment provides. Common-sense, proactivity, discipline are all essential, as is that extra bit of flexibility. It’s so easy to slip into bad habits when you’re working from home. Being ever prepared to hop on a Zoom without having to frantically dash off and brush your teeth and hair is a must. It’s about trust. Companies are trusting you to deliver the same performance which it goes without saying you’d give if you were in an office.
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