Allowing employees to work from home will have a negative impact on corporate culture and productivity.
At least, that’s what a lot of entrepreneurs thought a year ago.
Since then, the labor landscape has transformed, and virtual employees have proven that they do not succumb to distraction or slack off when given more autonomy and freedom, in what has seemed like a global case study for remote work.
Instead of working fewer hours and being less productive, most remote workers reported working more hours and becoming more productive after they left the workplace.
Remote employees spent 58 more hours on core work during the year and were 20% more likely to accomplish their daily chores than in-office workers, according to RescueTime, a time monitoring and distraction-blocking software firm with millions of users.
This surge in productivity is unsurprising for established organizations that rely on a remote workforce, such as BELAY, a staffing firm that provides virtual support teams. BELAY has been witnessing this phenomenon directly for the past decade through its network of contractors who provide virtual help in the form of assistants, bookkeepers, site maintenance specialists, and social media strategists.
Their virtual teams are not only productive but also happy, garnering “best workplace” awards despite not having a physical location.
The “secret sauce” of the virtual assistant model is the spread of talent across geography, lifestyles, and hobbies, which helps businesses raise profit margins and productivity while also increasing employee excitement and pleasure.
BELAY declared record-breaking figures in its fourth quarter of 2020 and first quarter of 2021 financial reports when many other companies were undergoing layoffs and hastily shrinking. It appears that virtual assistants are the new normal.
Taking Care of the Overpower
When it comes to starting a business, executives and entrepreneurs frequently ask, “When should I hire an assistant?” Tricia Sciortino, CEO of BELAY, says the answer is straightforward: as soon as you can afford it.
“You don’t have to worry about email, invoicing, or bookkeeping,” she explains. “Someone has to take a load off if you’re developing or want to grow.”
Allowing CEOs to focus on their company’s growth and, more crucially, their own personal peace of mind by delegating the minutiae of backend support responsibilities to a competent professional.
“We serve into a lot of overwhelm,” Sciortino explains. “There are so many moving parts: financing, sales, marketing, and billing, to name a few. ‘You don’t have to hold all of those plates,’ we want to say. We have folks that can take some of it off your plate so that you can lead from a place of mental and physical health.
Most executives could use a personal assistant, but why virtual? Simply said, virtual assistants only function when there is a need for their services. Virtual assistants, unlike in-office employees, do not come to work for a set amount of hours each day.
Instead, they use their working hours to benefit their own work-life balance as well as the CEO they represent, lowering overhead and increasing productivity.
“To tell you the truth, the flexibility is incredible,” Sciortino says.
“Because my assistant handles so much for me, I am able to be an executive, strategize, plan, lead, and make hard judgments.” She relieves me of tasks that I don’t need to be doing, such as email, travel booking, and project planning. I enjoy doing all of that, but I don’t want to work 70 hours a week.”
Finding and hiring a new employee takes an average of eight weeks for a company to complete.
Not to mention going through mountains of résumés, scheduling interviews, and meticulously checking references. Because they have a database of verified, ready-to-go contractors and an analytic method for matching client demands, most virtual staffing firms can cut that timeline in half.
Even with these benefits, trusting a stranger takes some getting used to. It’s easy to overlook the complexities of in-person work relationships, as well as how much camaraderie and loyalty are formed through seemingly insignificant exchanges such as water cooler banter and carpooling to events.
Even knowing how someone’s office looks, how clean their desk is, and what photos hang on their cubicle walls can create a sense of security. In an online-only collaboration, the subconscious cues are lost.
Instead of jumping right to giving sensitive information, Sciortino recommends gradually transitioning tasks to a new virtual assistant at a rate that is comfortable for both sides. Starting with the task you most want to get rid of and progressively adding new layers of labor, this is what you should do.
If scheduling is your most time-consuming office task, hand over the keys to your calendar and trust your assistant to write the emails and make the phone calls necessary to avoid multiple bookings.
Then make a priority list of what you’d like to have lifted off your plate—travel planning, follow-up phone calls, research, filing, and inbox management—and take baby steps until you’re comfortable with it. To avoid damaging both of your efforts, be sure that you empower as you entrust.
Confident team-building takes time, and in a digital-only workplace, that development will include participation from both the employer and the helper.
That can be accomplished by scheduling a weekly video chat appointment when tone and body language are better represented than through emails or text or scheduling a bi-weekly video chat appointment to replace the communal vibe of an in-office staff lunch.
The idea is to meet as naturally as possible, despite the fact that you may be thousands of miles—or even oceans—apart.
“Relational capital is huge,” Sciortino argues, “particularly in assistant relationships.” “Executives must be involved in the trust-building process…. Trust will emerge if you invest in the relationship.”
The Virtual Workplace in the Future
There is a learning curve to working with a virtual assistant. Because the distinctions between work and home are often blurred in digital office culture, various limits are required, and digital weariness is a real problem that leaders must be aware of. However, whether employees are in the building or not, creatively establishing guardrails for the benefit of both the team and the bottom line occurs. Productivity will be a given if your team is trustworthy and skilled in their tasks, whether they work independently or simply down the hall.
In 2020, the decision to send workers home seemed ad hoc. Remote employment appeared to be a pandemic-induced stopgap at the time, but it’s clear now that global acceptance of a virtual staff—particularly assistants—is here to stay.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders alike now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to jump on board while the movement is still gaining traction.
“The need for virtual assistant services is stronger than ever,” adds Sciortino. “More individuals are looking for help with their jobs, and we’re seeing the industry grow in ways we’ve never seen before.” We’re seeing opportunities for virtual assistants to help across a wide range of industries.”