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Virtual Assistant Vs. Personal Assistant

26 Feb 2020 |

By Bethany Rose Huff Guelbert


Virtual Assistants (VAs) are the latest trend in the PA/EA space. They’ve stuck around and made enough of an impact to safely say that they’re not just a fad. They’ve found their niche and they’re here to stick it out. However, they’re rapidly growing out of that niche and extending their virtual arms into the rest of the assisting world. They’re a rather binary phenomenon - you’ve either heard and read everything about them, or have no idea what they are or where they’ve come from. So, if you’re a member of the former camp, by all means skip the next section and continue onto our two-penneth on the matter. However, if you’re a VA layman, then without further ado, let’s dive in.

What is a Virtual Assistant?

Virtual Assistants are real people, who freelance their time out to those with a need for an assistant, but not (usually) on a full-time basis. VAs have established themselves as a trend setting business model that has caught the eye of businesses worldwide for many reasons, not least because they offer a great ROI. They can be found usually through Recruitment Agencies, or through an individual’s website. Contrary to some belief, a VA is not an app or an alternative to a PDA (personal digital assistant). They’re real, live people working remotely from their own home or any other remote-office of their choosing. A VA will not be outside your office door or next to you at all times, nor will they be at your beck and call at the drop of a hat as they’ll have other clients that they allocate their time to.

Advantages of a VA

For the Employer

VAs are the cheaper option to start. You needn’t pay for their NI, tax, office space, equipment or employee benefits (e.g. employer pension contributions and holiday) and they’re typically cheaper per hour due to a lack of overheads and the recruitment cycle is usually shorter.

A VA’s working hours are not fixed and provide the possibility of some flexibility. You can select and agree the hours you need based on your requirements for example 10:00-16:00 per day, 90 hours per month or whatever suits your current requirements.

VAs are based remotely, so they don’t interact with the rest of your team. This could be seen as a pro or a con depending on your outlook, but if you’re looking to keep projects under wraps and maintain secrecy in your work, this will likely be a pro for you. Of course, you never know who else the VA is working with/for, and this can be an area of discomfort for some.

VAs may be able to bring a wider variety of professional experiences to their work for you that they have drawn from other business markets. This is not untrue with a PA, however a VA dips into different industries more regularly so may have a more refreshed outlook on different markets.

For the Employee

For those in search of “being their own boss”, becoming a VA may seem like the ideal career move to allow you the freedom of choosing your own hours.

For the most part, you can work remotely anywhere with a wifi connection. The variety in surroundings can keep your work feeling fresh and keep you engaged.

VAs do enjoy a great deal of variation in their work in terms of the industries that they work in, and the nature of their support i.e. corporate, personal, familial etc.

Disadvantages of a VA

For the Employer

Many people find that having a VA can create more work than it clears up. All communication must be via e-mail/phone call, and they’ll only be working the hours specified in your agreement at the time of employment, with very little wiggle room for outside hours.

Some find the lack of versatility in a VA to be frustrating. A VA will complete the work outlined, but due to not being salaried, predetermined hours and commitment the flexibility with unforeseen tasks is very limited. If you’re looking for an assistant that can also manage tasks in your personal life, you may find that you’re better suited to a PA.

It’s important to bear in mind that VAs will also be working for other clients, so there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to prioritise your work or any last-minute emergencies that may arise.

The proximity pinch can also be felt by those who prefer to meet their assistant face to face. It’s not uncommon for you to never meet your VA face-to-face, and many find that Skype and FaceTime just don’t bridge that gap well enough.

For the Employee

Many VA agencies will push the idea that you can choose your own hours and work whenever you want, but the reality is that the hours may end up choosing you. Many VAs find that they take up temping work in order to boost income as the hours just aren’t there for VAs

For some, the variation in being a VA is a huge perk, however one of the things that many PAs love about their jobs is the relationship that they’re able to build with the person they assist and their surrounding life. This simply doesn’t happen as a VA, some find that the relationships you build as a VA to be very cold and transactional.

There’s little long-term stability for a VA, nor do VAs get afforded the ancillary benefits many businesses offer their full-time employees such as a gym membership, discount vouchers and private medical healthcare.

Advantages of a PA

For the Employer

One of the most discernible differences between a PA and a VA is the fact that your PA can be in the office, in your home, working remotely, or a mix of all the above.

The face-to-face relationship that you’ll build with your PA is invaluable. Over time they’ll grow to know your business, or in the case of a private PA, your family life inside and out. They’ll know the inner-workings of every task and appointment and be able to anticipate your wants and needs before being asked.

You won’t be sharing your PA with other clients like you would a PA. You can trust that where work is concerned, you’ll always be prioritised and in the forefront of their mind.

For the Employee

The benefits of a good working and personal relationship between a PA and their Professional, aren’t just one-sided. They’ll very much be felt by the PA as well. Consistency throughout your role can enable you to really excel in your career and get more job satisfaction than you might in a VA role.

Being a full-time PA has the advantage of growing into a ’family’ work environment where you can support, and be supported by, a consistent group of co-workers all with a common business goal.

Although many of us wish it weren’t, the financial aspect of being a VA must be a consideration for many. There’s little long-term financial stability for a VA, whereas opting for a salaried PA position offers an element of job security that being a freelance VA simply can’t.

Disadvantages of a PA

For the Employer

The main disadvantage of a PA for employers is the financial costs beyond salary, for example; tax, national insurance, benefits etc.

There is sometimes a training period that comes with a PA, however this is beneficial in the long term as your PA is becoming an extension of your business and your life and you’re able to tailor them to exactly your needs and expectations. Additionally, finding the right PA is essential as personality is as important as experience, however a good agency will be able to reduce the time you need to invest in finding that person. At Victoria Wall Associates (VWA) we have a talented team of recruitment professionals who can guide and assist with this process.

For the Employee

As a dedicated full-time PA, although you have job security you may find yourself forfeiting the variety in job content that a VA enjoys.

Full-time PAs have less opportunity to create a more suitable work/life balance as they won’t always be able to dictate their working hours. This is especially pertinent to working parents or people who are engaged in a lot of volunteer work.

So, which is better for me?

Ultimately, choosing a VA or a PA is a personal choice, and is largely dependent on circumstance. Professionals who need an assistant to pick up the slack on a few extra tasks here and there in the short term, may derive more benefit from a VA. However, those with busier and larger schedules who need an assistant that is able to anticipate their needs, take the initiative and provide more comprehensive assistance, may find that they’re better suited to the skills and expertise of a PA.

Conversely, determining whether the next step in your career will be in the form of full/part-time employment or freelance/self-employment should be a decision that’s made with the same level of consideration and scrutiny as a businessperson making their next hire. It’s an equally personal choice and is just as dependent on circumstance. Those looking to firmly prioritise their personal life over work may find that the fluidity and freedom that comes with freelancing to be preferable. However, those who are either looking for more financial stability or to really build relationships with their employer and colleagues, will assuredly find a greater level of satisfaction through being a full-time or part-time PA.

Hopefully the thoughts and points above have helped you along your way to deciding which route is for you. At VWA we have over 200 accumulated years of knowledge and experience with interviewing, psychometric profiling and placing elite, highly trained PAs and EAs in the London area and we would be happy to assist you in this regard. Ask one of the team to find out more by calling us, e-mailing recruit@vwa.com.

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