As a company that provides virtual assistants to clients all over the world, we naturally believe in the value that offshore VAs can bring to business owners, companies, entrepreneurs, or people that are just really busy.
However, we won’t deny that there are challenges to overcome in making sure a virtual assistant can work productively and become, to all intents and purposes, an integral member of your business team.
No challenge is insurmountable though, and almost all of those involved in working with a VA can be overcome with the right approach to communication.
Good Communication Solves Everything
There are a few technical constraints to working with remote partners today. The real challenges relate to the relationships between virtual assistants and their clients.
Good communication is vital to achieving a state of harmony in which your VA is no less a part of your team than if you were sharing physical office space.
Of course, if you’re not accustomed to collaborating with virtual assistants, the differences in communication compared to a conventional working environment are not necessarily obvious. That’s why we’ve pulled together the following ten tips for communicating effectively with your virtual assistant.
1. Don’t Underestimate the Benefits of Visual Communication
If you want to build a great working relationship with your virtual assistant, try and create opportunities to use visual as well as verbal communication.
When you talk to your VA on Skype, for example, use video calling instead of just the voice facility.
There’s no extra effort involved and in fact, you’ll probably find the calls easier, as you and your VA will be able to use the 50 or so percent of communication capacity that’s missing in a “voice only” conversation.
2. Make a Point of Communicating Regularly
It’s important to talk to your virtual assistant on a regular basis, not just when you want a progress update or have new instructions to share. A weekly—or even better—daily call to check in with your VA will help you both become less cognisant of the remote element of working together and enable you to build a rapport similar to that which you’d have with a co-located team-member.
3. Don’t be Afraid of Over-communication
In the early days of your outsourcing arrangement, there is really no such thing as over-communication. It’s natural to be wary of swamping your VA with checks, double-checks, and questions about their understanding of your requirements, but remember that you are the customer and you have the right to be as inquisitive as you wish.
4. Use This Three-question Technique
If you’re able to commit to a daily Skype call with your virtual assistant, don’t feel that it needs to be a long conversation.
In fact, the following three questions will give you peace of mind about your VA’s progress and provide your assistant with a prompt to speak up about any concerns (VAs in some countries may need this little extra prompt, as some cultures consider it as a sign of weakness to admit to having difficulties with a task).
The three questions are as follows:
- Which open tasks are still to be completed?
- What new tasks will you start today?
- Are you stuck on any tasks or do you need help with anything?
5. Use Instant Communication Channels Where Possible
Email is not the ideal medium for effective client/VA communication. It’s no longer the fastest way to communicate online, nor is it the most efficient. Instead of turning every discussion point into an email chain, use online chat tools such as Skype, Google Chat, or Slack.
6. Be Organised with Email
Of course, some communications lend themselves to the use of email. When you do share information via email though, get into the habit of one “email, one topic,” as this will make email organisation easier and eliminate the confusion that can ensue from writing multi-topic messages.
7. Be Generous with Feedback
One thing we hear a lot from the VAs working here at Virtual Done Well is that it would be nice if their clients provided more feedback on performance. Instead what tends to happen is that clients only speak up when a task has been completed—and then only if there are problems with the delivered work.
We understand that it can be uncomfortable giving feedback and that many clients may not be familiar with the right way to go about it, but the difference it can make to performance is immense.
If you’re able to offer specific and objective feedback (addressing positives as well as negatives) on a regular basis, you will not only see improved results, but your working relationship with your VA will become stronger and more open, paving the way for delegation of increasingly critical or complex activities.
8. Remember to Ask for Feedback Too
Feedback works best if it flows in two directions. While our VAs sometimes say they wish they could receive more feedback, we know they aren’t usually very well versed in providing it. If they were, then it’s to be assumed that more clients would give feedback to their VAs, because they would have heard from their VAs just how beneficial the process is.
Try not to give your virtual assistant the opportunity to be a wallflower—ask them for feedback regarding the way you communicate and manage the relationship.
9. Don’t Leave Your Virtual Assistant Hanging
We’ve mentioned the need to encourage your virtual assistant to speak up and be communicative, but that’s all for nought if you’re never available. If you can’t respond fully to your VA’s email or chat message right away, drop him a quick line to acknowledge his contact and give him an idea of when you’ll be able to get back to him.
10. Share Your Calendar
You can reduce the likelihood of being contacted by your VA at a bad time by sharing your online calendar. If your virtual assistant can easily see when you’re likely to be available and when not, he can make informed decisions about calling or messaging you.
This will enable better use of time for both of you, but of course, you would need to be sure your calendar is kept updated with time slots marked as “available for contact” and “do not disturb” or something similar.
Communicate Your Way to Greater Productivity
A virtual assistant (or perhaps even a team of virtual assistants) can increase your business and personal productivity as well as any conventional hire. The technology exists and the VAs has the necessary skills to serve your business from any location in the world.
At the same time, attention to the communication needs of remote workers will help you to get the best from them and save a lot of frustration for everyone concerned.
If you follow the tips provided in this post, you’ll be well on your way to a productive, fruitful, and long-lasting business relationship, even if it is a long-distance one.